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Arhus Convention


Arhus Convention



    Environmental Rights

It is now universally recognized that environmental policies and laws will be effective only if people have the right to access environmental information, acquire the ability to participate fully and actively in decision-making concerning environmental issues and access justice when necessary.

The environmental rights that citizens have today come from a wide range of environmental principles and laws that have been adopted on a global and European level. Since the 1970s, international declarations and resolutions have begun to link environmental concerns directly to human rights. In the 1992 World Summit governments adopted the historic Rio Declaration, Principle 10 which stresses that “Environmental issues are best handled with participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level.” In 1998, this Principle was turned into action by signing the Aarhus Convention on access to information, public participation in decisionmaking and access to justice in environmental matters. The Convention entered into force in 2001 and has been ratified by 39 countries to date. Cyprus ratified the Convention in 2003.


    The Aarhus Convention

The Aarhus Convention is based on the need to protect, preserve and improve the state of the environment and to ensure sustainable and environmentally sound development, since proper environmental protection is an essential factor for human well-being and the enjoyment of basic human rights. The Convention acknowledges and aims to ensure that every person has the right to live in an environment suitable for their health and well-being, and their duty, both individually and collectively, to protect and improve the environment for present and future generations. It also acknowledges that, in order to exercise this right and to fulfil this duty, citizens must have access to environmental information, must be able to participate in decision-making and have access to justice for environmental issues.

In the environmental sector, wider access to information and public participation improves quality and implementation of decisions, contributes to awareness for environmental issues, provides the public with the opportunity to express their opinions and concerns and facilitates the public authorities to take public opinions into account, the environment and living conditions which were potentially affected by specific decisions and policies. At the same time, it promotes accountability and transparency in decision-making, while enhancing public support for environmental decisions.

The rights of public access to environmental information, participation in decision-making and access to justice are the three pillars of the Aarhus Convention and it is the obligation of the Member States of the Convention to ensure and respect these rights.


    Provisions of the Aarhus Convention

      Public access to information
In a democracy, citizens have the right to access information, including environmental information, and the government has a responsibility to support the public's interest by facilitating this access. Aiming to ensure this fundamental right in practice, the Convention includes provisions regarding the type of environmental information covered, the obligations of public authorities and the procedures that must be followed.
      Public participation in decision-making
Public participation in decision-making increases transparency in procedures, thus improving the quality of decisions. Citizens should be given the opportunity to express their concerns and views and public authorities should take them into account during decision making. The Convention lays down minimum criteria for public participation when authorities formulate general programmes or license specific projects that may affect the environment. The provisions ensure public involvement from the initial stages of the decision-making process and that the outcome of the public participation to be taken into account in the final decision.
      Public access to justice.
In order for access to information and public participation in decision-making to be effective, the public must have access to justice for review of decisions and to ensure the effective implementation of the provisions of the Convention. Member States should therefore ensure that violations of access rights to information and public participation can be appealed to the court or other independent body. Administrative or judicial review procedures must be impartial, fair, timely and non-prohibitive.

    Public Access to Environmental Information

      European Legislation
To ensure the right of access to environmental information, the European Commission adopted a directive on Public Access to Environmental Information, which was aligned with the Cypriot legislation with the relevant Law 119(I)/2004.

The EU Directive recognises that “increased public access to environmental information and the dissemination of such information contribute to a greater awareness of environmental matters, a free exchange of views, more effective participation by the public in environmental decision-making and, eventually, to a better environment”. Its main objectives are to ensure right of access to environmental information held by or for public authorities on the public’s behalf, the definition of key terms, conditions and practical arrangements for the exercise of this right and to ensure that environmental information is progressively made available and disseminated to the public with the use of electronic technology, in order to achieve its widest possible systematic availability to the public. The Directive has been aligned the Law on Public Access to Environmental Information (Law 119(I)/2004).

      National Legislation
What is considered as environmental information?

“Environmental information” shall mean any information in written, visual, aural, electronic or any other material form on:

§ The state of the elements of the environment, such as air and atmosphere, water, soil, land, landscape and natural sites including wetlands, coastal and marine areas, biological diversity and its components, including genetically modified organisms, and the interaction among these elements.

§ The factors, such as substances, energy, noise, radiation or waste, including radioactive waste, emissions, discharges and other releases into the environment, affecting or likely to affect the elements of the environment.

§ The measures (including administrative measures), such as policies, legislation, plans, programmes, environmental agreements, and activities affecting or likely to affect the elements and factors, as well as measures or activities designed to protect those elements.

§ The reports on the implementation of environmental legislation.

§ The cost-benefit and other economic analyses and assumptions used within the framework of the measures and activities.

§ The state of human health and safety, including the contamination of the food chain, where relevant, conditions of human life, cultural sites and built structures inasmuch as they are or may be affected by the state of the elements of the environment, by the factors or by the measures and activities taken.

Who has the right to access environmental information?

All citizens and organized groups have the right to access environmental information. The applicant requesting information is not obliged to invoke or prove any interest.

Who can applicants contact for environmental information?

Every public authority is obligated to provide environmental information. The term public authority means any government or other public administration, including municipalities, communities, public interest and public law organizations, public advisory bodies, as well as any natural or legal person performing public administrative functions or providing public services, relating to the environment.

What is the response of public authorities to the environmental information request?

Public authorities are obliged to provide the information no later than within 1 month from the date of receipt of the request, or within 2 months in cases where the volume and the complexity of the information requested justify the delay. The applicant must be informed before the expiry of the one-month time limit for any extension and the reasons for the extension.

In order for the public authorities to better respond to requests, these should be specific. When a request is excessively vague, the public authority may request clarification from the applicant.

In what format can environmental information be provided?

When requesting environmental information of a particular format or type, public authorities must comply with this request. An exception is made when such information is either already available or deemed reasonable to be provided in another format or type and the public authorities must state the reasons for this.

Public authorities should endeavour to ensure that environmental information is provided in a format or type that facilitates reproduction and access by electronic means.

In which cases can public authorities refuse to provide information?

Public authorities may refuse to provide information in cases where the application:

§ is obviously absurd.

§ is too vague.

§ concerns incomplete material or incomplete documents and data. In this case, the public authority shall provide information on the authority preparing the material and the time it takes to complete it.

§ concerns in-house communications.

In the event that the required information is not held by the public authority to which the application is made, then the public authority either transmits the request to the competent authority or informs the applicant where to apply.

Furthermore, public authorities may refuse to provide information if their disclosure could adversely affect:

§ The confidentiality of the procedures of the public authority, where this is provided for by law.

§ The international relations of the Republic, public security and national defence.

§ The functioning of justice, the right of every person to a fair trial or the ability of a public authority to conduct a criminal or disciplinary investigation.

§ The confidential nature of commercial or industrial information where this is provided for by national or Community law.

§ Intellectual property.

§ The confidentiality of personal data or records relating to a natural person when that person has not consented to the disclosure of the information.

§ The interests of protection of any person who supplied the information requested on a voluntary basis, unless that person has consented to disclosure.

§ The protection of the environment to which such information relates, such as the location of rare species.

Public authorities cannot reject requests for access to information on environmental emissions and they must inform the applicant in writing, within the due time limit, regarding the refusal of information, indicating the reasons for the rejection and providing relevant information on the appeal procedure.

If a rejection of a request for information is considered to be unfounded, what are the citizens' rights?

Any person who considers that his/her request for information relating to the environment was ignored or rejected unduly, answered inadequately or poorly, or was not in accordance with the provisions of the law, has the right, within thirty days from the notification of the decision or the expiry of the relevant time limit in the event of inaction by the competent authority to notify any decision, to appeal to the Minister, who examines the case and decides. He/she is also entitled to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Other public authority obligations with regard to environmental information

Every public authority is required organise the environmental information which is relevant to their functions and which is held by or for them, with a view to its active and systematic dissemination to the public, in particular by means of computer telecommunication and/or electronic technology, where available. This information should progressively become available in electronic databases which are easily accessible to the public through public telecommunication networks. The information to be provided and disseminated includes:

§ Texts of international treaties, conventions or agreements, and of Community, national, regional or local legislation, on the environment or relating to it.

§ Policies, plans and programmes relating to the environment.

§ Progress reports on the implementation of the items referred to in (a) and (b) when prepared or held in electronic form by public authorities.

§ The reports on the state of the environment.

§ Data or summaries of data derived from the monitoring of activities affecting, or likely to affect, the environment.

§ Authorisations with a significant impact on the environment and environmental agreements.

§ Environmental impact studies and risk assessments concerning the environmental elements.

Moreover, in the event of an imminent threat to human health or the environment, whether caused by human activities or due to natural causes, all information held by or for public authorities which could enable the public likely to be affected to take measures to prevent or mitigate harm arising from the threat is disseminated, immediately and without delay.

Practical Arrangements

To facilitate public access to environmental information, public authorities must:

§ Appoint information officers to support the public in seeking access to information.

§ Designate areas to examine the required information

§ Compile registers or lists of the environmental information they hold, with reports of where this information can be found.

§ Public authorities may impose fees for the provision of information, which will be made public. Fees will not exceed the reasonable cost of providing information.

Information Examination Area

The examination of environmental information can be done at the Offices of the Department of Environment during working days and hours.


    Public participation in decision-making

      European legislation
For the achievement of the second provision of the Convention, the European Commission adopted Directive 2003/35/EC providing for public participation in respect of the drawing up of certain plans and programmes relating to the environment.

This Directive amends certain environmental directives which require Member States to produce plans and programmes relating to the environment, but which do not contain sufficient provisions on public participation, so as to ensure the implementation of the provisions of the Aarhus Convention. Other relevant Community instruments already provide for public participation in the preparation of plans and programmes, while the relevant provisions are incorporated in all new legislation adopted. These provisions have also been aligned with the relevant national legislation.

      Participation in Environmental Impact Assessment Procedures
Public participation in the environmental impact assessment from certain projects is guaranteed by the Environmental Impact Assessment from Certain Projects Law 140(I)/2005 and in the preparation of plans and programmes by the Environmental Impact Assessment from Certain Plans and/or Programmes Law 102(I)/2005, which contain similar provisions for application of the provisions of the Aarhus Convention.

    Public access to justice

In order for access to information and public participation in decision-making to be effective, the public must have access to justice for review of decisions and to ensure the effective implementation of the provisions of the Convention. Member States should therefore ensure that violations of access rights to information and public participation can be appealed to the court or other independent body. Administrative or judicial review procedures must be impartial, fair, timely and non-prohibitive.

Both European and national environmental legislation provides the public with the right to appeal to the Supreme Court. The legislation relating to access to environmental information and public participation provide the right of hierarchical appeal or petition to the Supreme Court in cases of non-application of provisions laid down by the Convention.



Last Modified at: 09/08/2019 11:56:09 AM
 
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Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment Department of Environment
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