A Submission on the Review of the European Communities (Access to Information on the Environment) Regulations 2007-20

CLM supports the enhancement of public access to environmental information, facilitating public participation in decision-making processes, and ensuring access to justice in environmental matters, in line with the principles of the Aarhus Convention.

The Aarhus Convention
The Aarhus Convention, or the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, is an international convention signed by the European Union and its member states in 1998 and ratified by the European Union on 17 February 2005. It was ratified by Ireland on 20 June 2012 and entered into force accordingly on 18 September 2012. The Convention reflects a commitment to transparency, citizen engagement, and environmental justice. Its three core pillars include access to information, public participation, and access to justice in environmental matters.

The Convention firstly grants individuals and communities the right to access environmental information held by public authorities. This transparency empowers citizens to make informed decisions about their environment and actively participate in shaping environmental policies. Secondly, the convention promotes inclusive public participation, enabling diverse voices to contribute to environmental decision-making. Lastly, it provides a legal framework for access to justice, ensuring that individuals can challenge decisions that violate environmental laws. The pillars aim to collectively democratize environmental decision-making processes and ensure that citizens play a central role in shaping policies that impact their surroundings. The Convention specifically identifies the need to guarantee all three pillars of the Convention in order to protect the right of every person to live in an environment adequate to his or her health and well-being.

Access to Information on the Environment (AIE)
Access to Information on the Environment (AIE) (together with the two other pillars) is designed to contribute to “the protection of the right of every person of present and future generations to live in an environment adequate to his or her health and well-being”. Any reform of the Regulations must produce a strong legal framework that promotes access to environmental information and recognize the first pillar as an integral part of meaningful and proper implementation of the remaining pillars of the Convention. AIE is intended to empower individuals and communities by fostering transparency, accountability, and inclusivity in environmental governance. It recognizes the intrinsic connection between informed public participation and environmental protection. Information, when easily accessible, becomes a powerful tool for citizens to engage meaningfully in environmental decision-making. It not only enables individuals to understand the environmental challenges facing their communities but also equips them to contribute constructively to the formulation and implementation of policies.

AIE should encourage public authorities to proactively disseminate information related to environmental policies, plans, and activities, fostering a culture of openness and dialogue. This, in turn, would enhance public trust in governmental institutions. Finally, AIE can act as a catalyst for environmental protection and conservation by enabling timely access to information on emissions, pollutants, and other environmental factors. This information arms individuals and organizations with the knowledge needed to hold public authorities accountable for environmental decisions. By upholding the principles of transparency, public participation, and access to justice, AIE can empower individuals to actively contribute to the preservation and enhancement of the environment for current and future generations.