4 June 2018
The process leading up to the signing of the Aarhus Convention is already history. This historical moment was recently reenacted when people who are also part of history met in Rome, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the treaty that is officially called the UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters.
Unusually heavy rain for this time of year struck the city when participants of the anniversary event gathered before a 16th century church at Via della Pace in downtown Rome, near the Piazza Navona. But these people were not the ordinary tourists looking at the amazing sites of the eternal city but state officials, academic professors, NGO representatives and independent researchers, all involved in a common cause, the promotion of access rights via legal means.
The Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea of Italy generously offered its resources to host an event, in fact a birthday party for the Convention, to mark the day when this remarkable legal instrument was signed, almost exactly 20 years ago. The event started with high level speeches, amongst others by Francesco La Camera from the Italian Ministry or by Andrey Vasilyev, Deputy Executive Secretary of UNECE.
Legendary figures of the process leading up to the signature shared their memories with the audience, mostly made up of government representatives of Parties to the Convention. Jeremy Wates from the EEB highlighted that a key element of the Aarhus negotiations was to get together with people with whom you disagreed. Magda Tóth Nagy, from the Regional Environmental Center, refreshed our memories of the past by showing non-digital pictures from the mid-1990’s, to everybody’s good cheer. Jerzy Jendroska, member of the Aarhus Compliance Committee, recalled that in the beginning, it was not sure that the Convention would apply to EU institutions. Jonas Ebbesson, chair of the Aarhus Compliance Committe mentioned that the USA even questioned the legitimacy of the Compliance Committee, back in 1998. Representative of Earthjustice Yves Lador raised the question whether European countries would sign this Convention today.
Esra Buttanri from OSCE explained that her organisation deals with the Convention because environment and security are linked. Jan Dusik from UNEP expressed his view that by promoting good governance, the Convention can counter populist tendencies in Europe. Francesco La Camera pointed out that the principles of the Convection should be adequately transferred to other regions of the world. This resonated perfectly with the news from a few weeks ago about a major achievement that was also widely discussed at this Rome event: the signature of the Latin American and Caribbean “Aarhus”, the Escazú Convention.
J&E also tweeted throughout the event; you can find our tweets here.
By the time the event ended, the weather was brilliant and shiny again, giving us all good cheer and high hopes for the future.
Access to Justice is a fundamental means through which citizens and NGOs can support the implementation and enforcement of laws and policies to protect the environment. The goal of this ATOJ-EARL project is to achieve “Access to Justice for a Greener Europe”. It strives to enhance access to justice in environmental matters by providing information, training and support for the judiciary, public authorities and lawyers of eight European member states. ClientEarth and Justice and Environment are implementing this project with the financial support of the European Commission’s LIFE instrument.