The sixth session of the Meeting of the Parties (MOP 6) to the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention) continued on Tuesday, 12 September, in Budva, Montenegro.
Opening the General Segment, Ms. Ivana Vojinović, Deputy Minister of Sustainable Development and Tourism of Montenegro reminded, in her welcoming address, the requirements of the Aarhus Convention and their implementation by Montenegro, which, as an Ecological State, always gives great importance to sustainable development and its responsibility towards the generations to come.
Regarding the status of ratifications, the Aarhus Convention Secretariat informed that there were no new ratifications since 2014, keeping the number of Parties to the Convention at 47. The number of ratifications of the Amendment on Public Participation in Decisions on the Deliberate Release into the Environment and Placing on the Market of GMOs (GMO Amendment) increased from 28 to 31 with ratifications by Georgia, France and Malta. This brought the number of ratifications required for its entry into force to just two Parties. In an intervention, a European ECO Forum representative expressed regret over the fact that the Russian Federation had not yet acceded to the Convention. The representative of Guinea-Bissau, Mr. Mário Batista Camala, informed that his country was already applying all the principles of the Aarhus Convention and expressed hope that other African countries would also follow.
Turning to substantive issues, the MOP first addressed access to information, including electronic information tools. The representative of the European ECO Forum,
Ms. Mara Silina, delivered a keynote speech on access to information pointing out several challenges but also stressing the crucial role of the continuous work of the Task Force in improving the access to, dissemination and reuse of environmental information. After Belarus shared information on the work it undertook, a draft decision on promoting effective access to information was provisionally adopted by the MOP.
Moving to the second pillar of the Aarhus Convention, Ms. Loredana Dall’Ora (Italy), Chair of the Task Force on Public Participation in Decision-making, presented the highlights of the Task Force’s activities since MOP 5, notably its vital role in bringing together the authorities from number of countries and creating a platform for dialogue, aiming to practically address the challenges related to the implementation of the public-participation in decision-making. In an ensuing keynote statement, Ms. Anke Stock, representative of the European ECO Forum, shared a few concerns related to speeding up the public participation process in some of the countries and the participation of representatives of marginalized groups. Many delegations spoke on this item including Belarus, Switzerland and a number of NGOs, stressing the critical importance of public participation and sharing good practices and problems. Then, the MOP provisionally adopted a draft decision on promoting effective public participation in decision-making.
As regards to access to justice, Mr. Jan Darpö (Sweden), Chair of the Task Force on Access to Justice, presented its main accomplishments since the last MOP, including the development of a jurisprudence database. He stressed the importance of keeping back to back meetings with lawyers, judges and other important stakeholders, developing training material and enriching the database of cases. In an ensuing keynote speech, Mr. Miroslav Gavalec, judge of Supreme Court of Slovakia, observed the substantial positive impact that the Convention had in judicial aspects. Followed statements from other delegates who shared experience from their respective countries and areas of expertise, as well as those who affirmed their support to the draft decision on promoting effective access to justice, which was later provisionally adopted by the MOP.
With regards to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), Mr. Helmut Gaugitsch (Austria), Chair of the second joint round table on public awareness, access to information and public participation regarding living modified organisms/genetically modified organisms (LMOs/GMOs) delivered a keynote speech where he listed recommendations on concrete steps for a way forward, notably the development of a “pocket guide” describing the benefits and challenges to promoting transparency and public participation in LMO/GMO related matters. Followed reports on status of ratification of the GMO Amendment and activities from the delegates from Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Ukraine, as well as interventions by representatives of the United Nations Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the EU and the European ECO Forum.
The MOP then addressed the procedures and mechanisms facilitating the implementation of the Convention, starting with the reporting mechanism. The Chair presented a summary of the synthesis report on the status of implementation of the Convention, outlining progress made and identifying significant trends, challenges and solutions. Following interventions by Switzerland and the EU and by a representative of NGO Landvernd, the Chair invited the MOP to consider a draft decision on reporting, which the delegates provisionally adopted.
As to the compliance mechanism, Mr. Jonas Ebbesson, the Chair of the Compliance Committee, reported on the Committee’s activities since the last MOP, focusing on the findings and recommendations adopted, the issues of compliance as well as the measures taken to make the Committee’s work more effective. Following interventions from Romania, Ukraine, Belarus and the European ECO Forum and a number of NGOs, the Chair presented draft decisions on compliance regarding Armenia, Austria, Belarus, Bulgaria, Czechia, European Union, Kazakhstan, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, United Kingdomand the draft decision on general issues of compliance, all of which, except for the EU, were provisionally adopted. As for the draft decision concerning compliance by the EU , the MOP decided by consensus to postpone the decision-making in this matter to the next ordinary MOP to be held in 2021. The NGO Client Earth, Norway and Switzerland expressed their deep regrets that the MOP had to make an exception to its established practice..
As for capacity-building, the Chair stressed the importance of partner organizations in assisting in the promotion and implementation of the Convention at local, national and subregional levels through capacity-building activities. Several organizations shared their views on outstanding needs for capacity-building and provided information on the activities undertaken. Finally, the Chair summarized the conclusions of the discussion, on which the MOP agreed.
Several side events completed the programme of the day, focusing on the Aarhus Convention Index, new rights and procedures for strengthening environmental democracy in France, public participation in international forums, access to justice, monitoring progress of the implementation at national levels, and empowering citizens to better tackle climate change and implement the Paris Agreement.