The EU is in breach of the international Aarhus Convention, that grants the public rights regarding access to information, public participation and access to justice in environmental matters. To stop its violation of international law, the EU needs to revise the Aarhus Regulation before the next Meeting of the Parties of the Convention in October 2021. The vote of the European Parliament’s ENVI Committee on 22 April will be the first test for the EU on whether it will be up to implement its international commitments and provide access to justice to its citizens.

Although the European Commission’s proposal for the revision of the Aarhus Regulation is a welcome step, it still falls short of providing access to environmental justice. At the request of the Commission, the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee (ACCC, secretary of the Convention), provided an opinion on the Commission’s proposal, concluding it was far from being enough to fully implement the Convention.

Against this backdrop, the ENVI Committee of the European Parliament will discuss and vote on the revisions to the Aarhus Regulation on 22 April. Members of the European Parliament have a unique opportunity to amend the Regulation to guarantee access to environmental justice for NGOs and citizens. This is a much needed revision to provide the same rights to Europeans as corporations and Member States.

Harriet Mackaill- Hill, Governance Policy Officer at Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe said: “The EU cannot afford to be in breach of its international law commitments and in violation of the rule of law. A compliant Aarhus Regulation is necessary to be able to challenge acts that harm not only the planet but human lives and livelihoods. This accountability is crucial if we are to reach climate neutrality.

MEPs in the Environment Committee are given a chance to shape the future of this fundamental right of access to environmental justice, to show their support to impacted communities on the frontline of climate change, and make sure the EU can set the example in upholding the rule of law.”

In a recent decision, the European Court of Justice has dismissed the People’s Climate Case – the climate case against the EU which was initiated by families and the indigenous Sámi youth-  by arguing that citizens cannot challenge EU legislation unless they are affected in a “unique and peculiar” way, such as big companies. Unless citizens and NGOs are provided access to the EU courts through the revision of the Aarhus Regulation, the EU courts would keep closing doors to people hit by the climate and other environmental crises as they fear it would open the floodgates to numerous cases that citizens would bring in order to challenge the EU on environmental grounds.

ENDS

For more information please contact: Goksen Sahin, CAN Europe Project Manager, goksen@caneurope.org

NOTES TO THE EDITOR:

Background information:

  • In 2017, the EU was found to be in breach of its obligations under the Aarhus Regulation by the UN’s Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee and the European Commission was given a deadline of October 2021 (7th MOP) to revise its relevant legislation.

  • In October 2020, the European Commission proposed its draft legislation to amend the Aarhus Regulation in order to address the findings of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee.

  • In January 2021, the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee advised the EU Commission to further amend the draft legislation as the version proposed in October 2020 was still falling short of what is required to meet the obligations of the Aarhus Convention in terms of access to justice.

  • The Commission’s proposal will be voted on 22 April in the European Parliament’s Environment Committee where MEPs have a possibility to amend it.

Useful Documents and Links:

Access to Justice Observatory: Environmental Justice Network – Ireland https://ejni.net/resources/access-to-justice-observatory/
ClientEarth Communications: https://www.clientearth.org/latest/latest-updates/news/it-is-time-to-unlock-eu-courts-so-we-can-better-protect-the-environment-1/