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.
|Environmental Rights||The 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:
|Air Quality / Air Pollution||The degree to which the air in a particular place is pollution-free.|
|Noise Level Control / Noise Pollution||Unwanted or disturbing sound in the environment that affects the health and well-being of humans and other living organisms.|
|Soil Quality||A 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 Quality||The 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 Allocation||The 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 Use||Involves 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 Management||The 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 Distribution||The 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 Taken||Any 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 & Safety||The 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]
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.