About Aarhus Convention

The UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, usually known as Aarhus Convention, was adopted on 25­thJune 1998 in the Danish city of Aarhus at the Fourth Ministerial Conference in the "Environment for Europe" process. At the time of adoption, it was signed by 38 states, including the Republic of Moldova, which ratified it on 7 April 1999 (though the official date, when the documents were received by the Secretariat of the Convention, is 9 August 1999). The Convention entered into force on 30 October 2001; presently, it has 46 Parties and 39 Signatories.


The Aarhus Convention is considered a new kind of environmental agreement, because it:

- links environmental rights and human rights;

- acknowledges that we owe an obligation to future generations;

- establishes that sustainable development can be achieved only through the involvement of all stakeholders;

- links government accountability and environmental protection, emphasizing the importance of governmental accountability, transparency and responsiveness;

- focuses on interactions between the public and public authorities in a democratic context, founding a new process for public participation in the negotiation and implementation of international agreements.

The Convention is said to be based on three pillars, which are the three kinds of rights granted to the public and the respective obligations imposed on Parties and public authorities:

1. Access to Information

Access to information is one of the basic human rights; that is why it is also the first pillar of the Convention, creating a base for the other two pillars.

According to the Convention, members of the public are entitled to request environmental information from public bodies and these bodies are obliged to maintain and provide this information both in response to public request and proactively. This includes information on the state of the environment, factors that affect or are likely to affect elements of the environment, policies and measures taken, or on the state of human health and safety, where this can be affected by the state of the environment. Some information is exempt from release, for example when the disclosure would negatively affect international relations, national defense, public security, the course of justice, commercial confidentiality or the confidentiality of personal data. Information may also be withheld if its release could harm the environment, such as the breeding sites of rare species.

2. Public Participation in Environmental Decision-Making

Healthy environment is not only the government’s, but everyone’s concern. Therefore, the Aarhus Convention sets minimum standards for public participation in decision-making when authorities prepare plans or issue decisions permitting specific activities that may significantly affect the environment, such as licensing of a chemical plant, waste-treatment plant or road-construction project. The public authorities should provide for the early release and circulation of all relevant information (proposals, plans, programmes, outcomes) before decisions are made, so as to allow for early and effective public participation when all options are open. The subsequent comments are to be taken into consideration in the decision-making process; otherwise, governments or public authorities have to provide reasoning for the rejection or admission of comments received. Information must be provided on the final decisions and the reasons for them as well. This way, the quality of the environmental decisions and their outcome increase, and the future of our environment, along with our own future, is really in our hands.

3. Access to Justice

The Aarhus Convention’s stability would not be attainable without its third pillar – the right of access to justice, which secures the other two rights. According to Article 9 of the Convention, the public is allowed access to“fair, equitable, timely and not prohibitively expensive” review procedures, when:

§ The right to access to information is violated, i.e. the request for information is lawlessly rejected or if the request for information in part or in full is improperly answered;

§ The right to participate in decision-making process is violated, i.e. the public decisions have been made without regard to the two other principles of the Convention;

§ Environmental laws are violated, either by private persons or by public authorities.

The decisions must be given or recorded in writing, and in the case of court decisions, made publicly accessible. So, this principle not only supports the other two, but also points the way to empower citizens and NGOs to assist in the enforcement of the law.

The Compliance Committee

To review compliance with the Convention on a “non-confrontational, non-judicial and consultative” basis, theCompliance Committee was instituted in 2002. The Committee examines the cases of non-compliance indicated by the Parties, the secretariat or members of the public, but it may examine compliance issues on its own initiative. The resulting reports and recommendations are then used by the Parties to monitor, assess and facilitate the implementation of the Convention.

To find out more about the Convention, you may visit the UNECE Aarhus Convention website, or see the original text below (pdf.).