Convention on Access to Info, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters(Aarhus)

The UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters was adopted on 25 June 1998 in the Danish city of Aarhus at the Fourth Ministerial Conference as part of the "Environment for Europe" process. It entered into force on 30 October 2001.

Objectives and approach

The Aarhus Convention establishes a number of rights of the public with regard to the environment. Its Parties are required to make the necessary provisions so that public authorities (at national, regional or local level) will contribute to these rights to become effective. In particular, the treaty provides for:

  • the right of everyone to receive environmental information that is held by public authorities;
  • the right to participate in environmental decision-making; and
  • the right to review procedures to challenge public decisions that have been made without respecting the two aforementioned rights or environmental law in general.
Institutional structure

The governing body of the Aarhus Convention is the Meeting of the Parties.

In the periods between meetings of the Parties, the Working Group of the Parties oversees the implementation of the work programme.

The Bureau of the Meeting of the Parties serves also as the Bureau of the Working Group.

A Compliance Committee has been established to address issues of alleged non-compliance with the Convention.

The Parties have also established the following Working Groups or Task Forces:

  • Working Group on Genetically Modified Organisms,
  • Working Group on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers,
  • Task Force on Electronic Tools,
  • Task Force on Access to Justice,
  • Task Force on Financial Arrangements, and
  • Expert Group on Public Participation in International Forums.

These bodies are serviced by a Secretariat of the Convention.

Work areas

From the Conference of the Parties, numerous areas are now being addressed under the convention: access to information, public participation, access to justice, GMOs, electronic information tools, compliance, and capacity building.

On the 21 May 2003, the Parties to the Aarhus Convention, during an extraordinary meeting, adopted the Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (PRTRs Protocol). The Protocol is the first legally binding international instrument on pollutant release and transfer registers, i.e. on inventories of pollution from industrial sites and other sources. Although regulating information on pollution, rather than pollution directly, the Protocol is expected to exert a significant downward pressure on levels of pollution. The PRTRs Protocol finally reached the number of necessary ratifications for its entry into force and will become international law binding on its parties on 8 October 2009.