The Convention sets out minimum requirements for public participation in various categories of environmental decision-making.
Specific projects or activities
Article 6 of the Convention establishes certain public participation requirements for decision-making on whether to license or permit certain types of activity listed in Annex I to the Convention. This list is similar to the list of activities for which an Environmental Impact Assessment or Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control licence is required under the relevant EU legislation.
The requirements also apply, albeit in a slightly more ambivalent form, to decision-making on other activities which may have a significant effect on the environment. Activities serving national defence purposes may.be exempted.
Decision-making on genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
Decision-making on GMOs is not included on the Annex I list. However, Parties are required to apply the provisions of the article to decision-making on the deliberate release of GMOs to the environment 'to the extent feasible and appropriate'.
Furthermore, the issue of GMOs is given emphasis in both the preamble and the accompanying Resolution.
The public participation requirements include
- timely and effective notification of the public concerned
- reasonable timeframes for participation, including provision for participation at an early stage
- a right for the public concerned to inspect information which is relevant to the decision-making free of charge
- an obligation on the decision-making body to take due account of the outcome of the public participation, and
- prompt public notification of the decision, with the text of the decision and the reasons and considerations on which it is based being made publicly accessible.
The 'public concerned' is defined as 'the public affected or likely.to be affected by, or having an interest in, the environmental decision-making', and explicitly includes NGOs promoting environmental protection and meeting any
requirements under national law.
Programmes, plans and policies
Article 7 requires Parties to make "appropriate practical and/or.other provisions for the public to participate during the.preparation of plans and programmes relating to the environment". It can be argued that the term 'relating to the environment' is quite broad, covering not just plans or programmes prepared by an environment ministry, but also sectoral plans (transport, energy, tourism etc.) where these have significant environmental implications.
Though the Convention is less prescriptive with respect to public participation in decision-making on plans or programmes than in the case of projects or activities, the provisions of article 6 relating to reasonable timeframes for participation, opportunities for early participation (while options are still open) and the obligation to ensure that "due account" is taken of the outcome of the participation are to be applied in respect of.such plans and programmes.
Article 7 also applies, in more recommendatory form, to decision-making on policies relating to the environment.
General rules and regulations
Article 8 applies to public participation during the preparation by.public authorities of executive regulations and other generally applicable legally binding rules that may have a significant.effect on the environment. Although the Convention does not apply to bodies acting in a legislative capacity, this article clearly would apply to the executive stage of preparing rules and regulations even if they are later to.be adopted by parliament.
For more on the content of the Aarhus Convention, please refer to the Implementation Guide.