Aarhus Convention finally ratified by UK

The Aarhus Convention, a treaty designed to give the public more control over political decisions relating to the environment, has finally been ratified by the UK government.

Drawn up through the United Nations several years ago, the Aarhus Convention enables public involvement in three areas of “environmental democracy”, allowing access to environmental information, participation in environmental decision-making, and access to justice in environmental matters (see related story).

UN secretary general Kofi Annan called the Convention: “the most ambitious venture in the area of environmental democracy so far undertaken under the auspices of the United Nations.”

The Convention directly supports one of the guiding principles of sustainable development, placing importance on a transparent system of governance which has the full involvement of stakeholders.

It also sets out international standards on how to engage the public in environmental issues, improving the quality and effectiveness of decisions through their involvement.

A spokesperson for Defra told edie that, despite the delay, ratifying the Aarhus Convention showed the UK government’s commitment to the best principles of environmental democracy both at home and abroad.

“Over recent years the EU and the UK have taken steps to improve people’s ability to have a say in the quality of their environment,” he stated, “and we are also encouraging other countries to make progress in this area.”

Friends of the Earth rights and justice campaigner Alison Dilworth said the move was a major step forward, allowing the public a much greater opportunity to shape decisions affecting their environment, such as the planting of GM crops and granting of waste licenses.

“This important convention is finally becoming law in this country after a seven year delay, and people’s rights to protect the environment will become stronger as a result,” she commented. “The government must ensure that these rights are properly implemented and enshrined in the UK law.”

The Aarhus Convention entered into force on 30 October 2001, but despite signing up in 1998, the UK government has delayed ratifying until now. It will come into force in the UK on 23 May 2005.

By Jane Kettle

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