BLOG: How can I access information about my environmental rights?


Finding out about your environmental rights and how you can access information on the environment can be daunting. At Community Law & Mediation, we want to give you the tools to know your environmental rights and act upon them.

In this article, we will provide you with information on the Aarhus Convention, the international agreement which sets out our environmental law. We will also outline what Access to Information on the Environment (AIE) is and how to use it.


Jargon Buster:

Environmental RightsThe right of every person of present and future generations to live in an environment adequate to his or her health and well-being.
Access to Information on the Environment (AIE)The access to information on the environment (AIE) regulations give citizens the right to access environmental information held by, or for, public authorities. 

What are my environmental rights?


Your environmental rights are set out in the Aarhus Convention.

The Aarhus Convention is an international agreement which was established by the United Nations Economic Commission in 1998, and it entered into law in Ireland in 2012.

This law protects: “The right of every person of present and future generations to live in an environment adequate to his or her health and well-being.”

Your right to “live in an environment adequate to your health and well-being” is protected by three environmental rights:

  • Right of Access to Information – This is your right to know. 
  • Right of Access to Public Participation – This is your right to have your say.
  • Right of Access to Justice – Your right to access legal remedy if your rights are infringed.

What type of environmental information can you access through the Aarhus Convention?


You can access a wide variety of environmental information through the Aarhus Convention. The way in which you can access information is through making an Access to Information on the Environment (AIE) request.

You are able to request information on the following environmental issues:

Environmental IssueMeaning
Air Quality / Air PollutionThe degree to which the air in a particular place is pollution-free.
Noise Level Control / Noise PollutionUnwanted or disturbing sound in the environment that affects the health and well-being of humans and other living organisms.
Soil QualityA measure of the condition of soil relative to the requirements of one or more biotic species and or to any human need or purpose.
Water QualityThe condition of the water, including chemical, physical, and biological characteristics, usually with respect to its suitability for a particular purpose such as drinking or swimming.
Water AllocationThe specific volume of water allocated to water access entitlements in a given water year or allocated as specified within a water resource plan.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGs)The emission into the earth’s atmosphere of any of various gases, especially carbon dioxide, that contribute to the planet warming.
Land UseInvolves the management and modification of natural environment or wilderness into built environment such as settlements and semi-natural habitats such as arable fields, pastures, and managed woods. 
Waste ManagementThe strategy used to dispose, reduce, reuse, and prevent waste. Possible waste disposal methods are recycling, composting, incineration, landfills, bioremediation, waste to energy, and waste minimization.
Energy Production or DistributionThe total production / distribution of primary energy by all energy producing enterprises in the country in a given period of time.
Information on Environmental Policies / Measures TakenAny measure by a government or corporation or other public or private organisation regarding the effects of human activities on the environment, particularly those measures that are designed to prevent or reduce harmful effects of human activities on ecosystems.
Information on Human Health & SafetyThe physical health or safety of individual human beings in context of our environment.

You can access written, visual, aural, electronic or any other materials, as long as it relates to the environment.

How to request access to information on the environment?


There are six steps you can take when submitting an AIE request:

 

Consider what you want and why you really want it:

Before submitting your AIE request, ensure that you know what type of information you want to receive in your request. It is also good to back this up with why you want this information. Information you can request includes, meeting minutes, briefing papers, audits, data and inspection reports.


Know who to target:

You must select individuals to direct your request to. You can consider multiple sources  for this, including Departments, Local Authorities, Semi State, State-Bodies and Agencies.


Key pieces of information to include in your AIE request:

There are several key pieces of information you should always include in your AIE request. You should always provide your name and contact details and it is important to state that you are making an AIE request, as opposed to Freedom of Information (FoI) request. You will always want to be specific about the information you want to receive. It is ideal to specify the format – typically electronic is best. You should state that your request be dealt with “as soon as possible”. You should request an acknowledgement letter.


Keep note of the date you made your request:

It is recommended that you make a spreadsheet to manage your AIE requests. This is helpful for when you are making multiple requests, have multiple targets and multiple deadlines. It is key that you record the dates in which you sent your AIE request. You can then estimate the due date for your request – which should be 4 weeks into the future. It is good to also keep note of the officer handling your request and include a notes section to update with the progress of your request.


Ensure you follow up on your requests:

It is good to stay in contact with the officer dealing with your request. This is especially positive if you may need to refine your AIE request. Make sure to do this all in writing so that you have a paper trail of all communication. Before your request due date, you can follow up with the officer dealing with your request. Create a timeline of events and actions, this can be inputted into your spreadsheet.


What to expect on your AIE Request deadline day:

You should be provided with a letter outlining the decision making process, a schedule of all records (released or not), several possible outcomes (all/ some documents released, documents redacted, additional month required due to complexity, refusal of AIE request). If you do not receive a response within four weeks, this could be due to a genuine delay or that your request has been refused.


Does it cost money to access environmental information?


There is no fee to make an AIE request. However, the regulations do allow a public authority to charge a reasonable fee for the cost of supplying the environmental information if the cost exceeds €100.

It is recommended to be (1) detailed in your request and (2) to request that the information is provided via electronic copy to help save costs.

Can my Access to Information on the Environment request be refused?


A public authority can refuse an AIE request. They may also only allow a partial release of information – which means only some of the information is permitted to be shared.

If you are refused information, you must be given a reason for the refusal. You can appeal to the Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Information and ultimately to the courts if refused information. If you appeal a case, you don’t have to pay for the cost of the other side if you are unsuccessful.

AIE request template


[Address of authority]

Dear Sir/Madam,

Under the European Communities (Access to Information on the Environment) Regulations 2007 (SI 133 of 2007, as amended) (the AIE Regulations) and Directive 2003/4/EC (the AIE Directive), I am seeking the following records:

[Whatever you are looking for goes here: Any documents (including but not limited to correspondence (letters, e-mails, etc.), briefings, reports, notes of telephone conversations, and notes of meetings) relating to ______.]

I would prefer to receive this information electronically, that these documents are provided in their original format, along with a schedule of documents.

Yours Faithfully,

[Your Name]

How does Community Law & Mediation support your environmental rights? 


Community Law & Mediation is an independent community law centre providing free legal advice, advocacy, mediation and education services. In 2021, we set up a dedicated Centre for Environmental Justice offering free legal advice, community education, and law reform services in the area of environmental justice.  

We run monthly clinics helping members of the public with environmental issues such as health concerns arising from air or water pollution, illegal dumping or lack of access to clean water. We deliver training to organisations, community groups, and activists. At a broader level, we seek to advance legislative and policy change through strategic casework and law reform. 

Support with environmental justice:


If you are experiencing environmental justice issues and want more legal advice, please contact Community Law and Mediation:

–           Phone: (01) 847 7804

–           Email: info@communitylawandmediation.ie


This blog is the first of our three-part Environmental Rights blog series. Our next blog about public participation, will be available to read next week.


In October, we ran a three-part Environmental Rights webinar series. To watch back on our Environmental Rights Webinar Series 2022, click here.

Blog – Budget 2023: focus now must be on the Energy Poverty Action Plan and a long-term strategy to alleviate energy poverty while also meeting our climate targets

With short-term relief very much the priority in Tuesday’s Budget, the focus must now  be on delivering structural change through the Energy Poverty Action Plan and the Climate Action Plan 2023, both due to be published shortly.  Long-term solutions to the energy and climate crises must be delivered, centring on the needs of low-income households, tenants, rural dwellers and the Traveller community.

The Economic and Social Research Institute estimates that 43% of households could now be in energy poverty. The energy poverty crisis is compounded by the fact that almost half (48%) of Ireland’s housing stock is energy inefficient, with poorly insulated homes locked into fossil fuel dependence. Our damp and energy inefficient housing stock accounts for almost one-fifth of Ireland’s carbon emissions, with Irish homes being 60% more energy-intensive than the average EU home. While the measures introduced in yesterday’s Budget will provide some short-term relief from increasing energy prices, much more is needed to ensure low-income households, tenants, rural dwellers, and the Traveller community in particular can enjoy warm homes and low energy bills. The failure to increase the fuel allowance scheme in Budget 2023 puts increased pressure on households already experiencing energy poverty, and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Ireland’s Energy Poverty Strategy lapsed in 2019, creating a vacuum in accountability and in long-term planning and policy in relation to energy poverty and leaving many in our society exposed to the latest energy price shocks. In the forthcoming Energy Poverty Action Plan, it is essential that  low income households, tenants, rural dwellers and the Traveller community are protected  in relation to both energy poverty and climate challenges.

The Action Plan must be rooted in a rights-based approach to ensure that – through consultation and collaboration with relevant anti-poverty, housing, health, community, social justice and human rights bodies – it is poverty and equality proofed. Access to adequate levels of energy is a precondition to the realisation of many rights impacting our lives, health and living standards.

Our submission on the Energy Poverty Action Plan can be read in full here and calls for the following:

  • Double the Fuel Allowance rate from €33 to €66 and widen the eligibility for the Fuel Allowance by including those receiving Working Family Payment and those in receipt of Jobseekers Allowance for less than one year.
  • The retrofit of Ireland’s entire social housing stock to a B2 standard this decade
  • A tailored retrofit plan for the Private Rental Sector with clear milestones, targets and funding. Also, introduce new grants for deep retrofits for landlords in the private rental sector on the condition that long-term leases and rent control are guaranteed to tenants
  • Targeted measures to ensure that low-income households, tenants, rural dwellers, and the Traveller community can avail of energy upgrades and SEAI grants
  • A dedicated retrofitting programme for households solely relying on solid fuel heating systems, as recommended by @irishrurallink
  • Deployment of Local Community Energy Advisors throughout every local authority to engage and inform people who would most benefit from energy efficiency upgrades, as recommended by @SVPIreland
  • Acceleration of the phase-out of fossil fuels and prioritisation of Energy Efficiency: The Review of Ireland’s Energy Poverty Strategy recognises the “growing connection between alleviating energy poverty and achieving national climate action objectives”
  • Regulation of energy pricing: Provide for the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU) to remove standing charges on energy bills and to ensure all energy providers allocate the lowest energy rate to all their users.
  • Consistency with Climate Justice: We recommend that the new Energy Poverty Strategy prioritises win-win climate action policies that help address inequality and ensure that the cost of climate mitigation and adaptation measures does not fall unfairly on marginalised and vulnerable groups
  • Nationalisation of the Energy System: Consider nationalising Ireland’s energy system to facilitate the just development of efficient, clean energy for the public good.
  • Place the Energy Poverty Action Plan on a statutory footing to ensure policy coherence and a whole-of-government approach. To ensure accountability and long-term political commitment towards the eradication of energy poverty, the Action Plan should commit to delivering an Energy Poverty Act in 2023.

 

CLM’s Centre for Environmental Justice response to COP26

A failure to protect rights and deliver justice

Procedural and substantive justice go hand in hand

If equity and justice are not integrated into the COP process, they will not be delivered in its outcome. It is unsurprising then that the “most exclusive COP ever” populated with over 500 fossil fuel lobbyists (including Ireland’s) – larger than any national delegation, amidst a global vaccine apartheid, and staggering accommodation costs in Glasgow (some landlords charged £36,000 for apartment rentals for the fortnight)[1] that those most impacted by the climate crisis were further pushed to the margins.

Rose Wall, CEO of CLM remarked that:

“Lessons must be taken from COP26 at the national level. We must ensure that the voices of those most impacted by climate change and climate action in Ireland are prioritised in the transition to a completely decarbonised economy and society.”  

Whose voices count in determining the pace of a Just Transition?

Incremental progress at this point is unacceptable. Current commitments have us on track for a deadly increase in global temperature of 2.7°C. The barometer for “ambition” should not be weighed against previous UNFCCC texts, but science and equity. This is not a problem that will impact our children and grandchildren – its impacts are being felt right now. Without urgent action to maintain global temperature increase below 1.5°C, significant threats will be posed to the enjoyment of human rights by all.

It is welcome that Ireland has joined efforts to move beyond oil and gas, but greater action – and urgency – is required. We must prevent the development of oil and gas wells from existing exploration licenses and legislate to ban the development of liquefied natural gas terminals and the importation of fracked gas. We must substantially reduce overall energy demand to ensure that the transition to a decarbonised economy and society does not create human rights violations through the extraction of minerals.[2]

Ms. Wall continued:

“We must acknowledge that a target of climate neutrality, or net-zero, by 2050 “at the latest” will not reduce global temperatures. Winning slowly is the same as losing. The latest Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change report – which the Irish Government has expressly endorsed – is clear: in order to remain below a 1.5°C temperature threshold in accordance with the Paris Agreement, cumulative emissions must be reduced “within a carbon budget.” This requires rapid and sustained reductions in emissions – starting now – not “climate neutrality” thirty years from now. The Annex of Actions to accompany the Climate Action Plan 2021 must therefore be published as a matter of urgency. In addition, the proposed carbon budget for 2030 must be adopted as soon as possible to ensure 51% reductions in emissions are delivered in line with Ireland’s legal obligations.”

Failure to provide a funding facility for loss and damage is unacceptable

It is unacceptable that the Glasgow Climate Pact provides no funding facility to address loss and damage. Further dialogue is not enough. Communities on the frontlines of this crisis – who have contributed least to the problem – are going underwater, both physically and financially. Support for mitigation and adaptation is not enough – some losses will be irreversible, and as this is a global crisis, the solution must too be global. We have seen throughout the pandemic what is possible in terms of States’ financial levers when an issue is treated as a genuine emergency.

Carbon markets will not deliver justice

Carbon markets fatally undermine the objective of the Paris Agreement to maintain global temperature increase to 1.5°C. There is no evidence that offsets work, and large polluters should not be granted rights to commodify nature while delaying reductions in emissions. For instance, offsetting the emissions of Shell alone would require a land mass three times the size of the Netherlands.[3]

The movement for climate justice is only growing in strength

Rose Wall concluded:

“We are thankful to the grassroots activists that were present at COP26 to ensure this outcome wasn’t worse. The unity and mobilization that was displayed at COP26 ensured that the voices and demands of those most impacted were heard. As Greta Thunberg says, we don’t need to look for hope – we create it. Our fight for climate and environmental justice continues.”

[1] https://www.ft.com/content/af8182e9-c287-424b-86de-99ce0f32239c

[2] https://londonminingnetwork.org/2020/12/resisting-green-extractivism/

[3] https://actionaid.org/news/2021/shells-net-zero-climate-plans-need-land-three-times-size-netherlands-carbon-offsets

About Community Law & Mediation and the Centre for Environmental Justice

Community Law & Mediation (CLM) is a community law centre and charity, established in Coolock in 1975. It assists more than 4,000 people each year in communities experiencing disadvantage, through free legal advice, advocacy, mediation and community education services.

CLM’s Centre for Environmental Justice opened in February 2021. It is the first of its kind in Ireland and its objective is to empower communities experiencing disadvantage on environmental justice issues and to advance legislative and policy change through –

  • Free monthly legal advice clinics on environmental justice
  • Training and information resources for community and environmental groups
  • Law reform and policy work.

For further details on this press release, please contact:Elizabeth Devine, Policy & Communications Manager:

Email: EDevine@communitylawandmediation.ie

Phone: 087 697 5677