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UNEP welcomes entry into force of Aarhus Convention

Nairobi, November 2001 - The Aarhus Convention is an environmental rights convention. It recognizes citizens' environmental rights to information, participation and justice, and aims to promote greater accountability and transparency in environmental matters.

The convention has a three-pillar structure that, specifically, aims to:

Ø Allow members of the public greater access to environmental information held by public authorities, thereby increasing the transparency and accountability of government;

Ø Provide an opportunity for people to express their opinions and concerns on environmental matters and ensure that decision-makers take due account of these;

Ø Provide the public with access to review procedures when their rights to information and participation have been breached, and in some cases to challenge more general violations of environmental law.

These underlying principles are derived from Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.

United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, referred to the Aarhus Convention as "the most ambitious venture in environmental democracy undertaken under the auspices of the United Nations" and " a remarkable step forward in the development of international law". He further stated that "environmental rights are not a luxury reserved for rich countries" and called on the international community to "use next year's World Summit on Sustainable Development to strengthen our commitment to environmental rights - not only in Europe but throughout the world."

Echoing the Secretary-General's words, Klaus Toepfer highlighted the global significance of the Convention and reiterated UNEP's role as a global advocate of the public right-to-know principle expressed in decision GC20/5 adopted at the twentieth session of UNEP's Governing Council. In a related decision, GC20/4, the Governing Council requested UNEP to seek appropriate ways of building capacity in and enhancing access to information, public participation in decision-making, and access to justice in environmental matters and to study various models of legislation, policies and guidelines.

As the global environmental authority, UNEP is well positioned to exercise its catalytic role in promoting the Aarhus Convention principles globally through the implementation of GC20 decisions 20/4 and 20/5. The development of the global environmental information portal, UNEP.Net, is a practical response to enhance access to data and information on environmental matters.

UNEP and UNECE have joined forces and forged partnerships to implement the Convention through a number of initiatives including:

· training courses in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia;

· the establishment of an Electronic Tools Task Force (one of five supporting the convention);

· raising awareness of the convention at international environmental meetings; and

· the dissemination of information materials highlighting the three fundamental principles of the convention.

UNEP is also developing strategic partnerships with other stakeholders worldwide to ensure that the inter-locking issues of access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters is an integral part of our agenda.

For more information, please contact: Gerard Cunningham, Coordinator, UNEP Infoterra Network, Partnership Management Unit, Division of Early Warning and Assessment, United Nations Environment Programme, P.O. Box 30552, Nairobi, Kenya. Tel: (254 2) 623275; Fax: (254 2) 624269; email: or Tore J. Brevik, Spokesman/Director of Communications and Publication Information, UNEP, P.O. Box 30552. Tel.: 254-2 623292; fax: 623692; email: At ECE, please contact Jeremy Wates, Secretary, Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention), United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Environment and Human Settlements Division, Bureau 332 Palais des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland Tel: (41 22) 917 2384; fax: (41 22) 907 0107; email: ; website:

UNEP Information Note 01/37



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