For some time now, Uzbekistan has been engaged in various activities under the UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention).
An international round table entitled “Aarhus Convention: Effective public participation for good governance, healthy environment and sustainable development” was held in Tashkent on 1–2 June 2023 with the aim of exploring the benefits and opportunities offered by the Aarhus Convention.
The Aarhus Convention provides a solid framework for Governments to promote transparency, the rule of law and good governance, as well as to effectively engage the public in decision-making on diverse environmental matters, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with its Sustainable Development Goals. These values also lie at the heart of the activities supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the “Green Central Asia: Enhancing environment, climate and water resilience” initiative launched by the German Federal Foreign Office and implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, which co-financed the event.
The round table brought together over 70 participants, including representatives of public authorities from Uzbekistan and from other countries that are Parties to the Aarhus Convention, the Convention’s bodies, Aarhus Centres, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), international organizations and international financial institutions.
The event aimed to support the implementation of the concept of environmental protection in the Republic of Uzbekistan until 2030 adopted by a decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan of 30 October 2019 and the implementation of the recommendations of the 2020 Environmental Performance Review of Uzbekistan.
Opening the meeting, His Excellency Mr. Aziz Abdukhakimov (Minister for Ecology, Environmental Protection and Climate Change of Uzbekistan) noted that:
“The Aarhus Convention will allow our population and various organizations to be aware of the environmental situation in the world and receive important information directly. Adherence of Uzbekistan to the global standards in the field of environment and nature protection will create the grounds for further development of international cooperation. Today’s round table is also an important milestone for ensuring a healthy environment and sustainable development.”
Mr. Aurimas Saladžius (Chair, Meeting of the Parties to the UNECE Aarhus Convention) pointed out that: “Uzbekistan in joining the Aarhus family bears testimony to the country’s commitment to good governance, healthy environment and sustainable development. This can be achieved swiftly by promoting transparency, access to information, public participation, non-discrimination, non-persecution and justice in relation to environment matters.”
Ms. Matilda Dimovska (UNDP Resident Representative in Uzbekistan) emphasized the key importance of ecosystems and their biodiversity for climate change mitigation and adaptation. She noted that: “The livelihoods of many people depend on natural resources and their management. Article 49 of the new Constitution of Uzbekistan introduced a new right to a favourable environment and reliable information about its condition. That is why the opportunity to draw attention to the importance of public participation for good governance, a healthy environment and sustainable development is the right and timely step.”
Ms. Sylvie Goyet (Deputy Co-ordinator of OSCE Environmental Activities) noted that: “Through the implementation of its pillars, the Aarhus Convention reveals itself to be a central instrument in supporting people’s environmental rights and in strengthening environmental cooperation, two essential elements of the OSCE approach to security and confidence-building.”
Ms. Caroline Milow (Manager of GIZ Programme “Green Central Asia”) stressed that: “Cooperation in the framework of international environmental instruments is one of the priorities of the joint Regional Action Plan elaborated by the Central Asian partner countries within the “Green Central Asia” initiative. The event will hopefully contribute to the rapid accession of the Republic of Uzbekistan to the Aarhus Convention and thus enable 35 million Uzbek citizens to gain more access to information, public participation and access to justice on environmental issues.”
Furthermore, the participants shared experiences of different Governments, Aarhus Centres, NGOs and other stakeholders in the implementation of the Convention and its Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers, including with regard to legal frameworks, institutional settings and practical measures.
The participants discussed the importance of the rule of law, transparency, effective dissemination of environmental information using modern digital technologies, public participation in environmental decision-making at the national and international levels, access to justice and the practice of the establishment and operation of Aarhus Centres across the pan-European region.
The participants also considered practical examples demonstrating that going digital and transparent on compliance with environmental, social and governance requirements along global and complex value chains can enhance access to and trust in information for responsible choices on products placed on the market. The Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers and the UNECE traceability and transparency policy recommendations, data exchange standard and digital solutions can provide a mechanism to support the attainment of Sustainable Development Goal 12 and the implementation of the Aarhus Convention with regard to public access to information on environmental impacts of products from critical economic sectors.
The participants further considered future steps towards the accession of Uzbekistan to the Aarhus Convention.
Concluding the meeting, Ms. Sarangoo Radnaaragchaa (UNECE Regional Advisor) underlined that: “The efforts of Uzbekistan towards accession to the Aarhus Convention demonstrate the country’s willingness to enhance participation of the public in decision-making and the serious pledge regarding a transparent and participatory approach to implementing the 2030 Agenda and many other international commitments. The current round table, along with the 2020 Environmental Performance Review and the ongoing project on the development of a national state-of-the-environment report, aim to support these aspirations.”
The round table was organized by the secretariat of the UNECE Aarhus Convention in cooperation with the Ministry of Ecology, Environmental Protection and Climate Change of the Republic of Uzbekistan, GIZ, UNDP, OSCE, and other partner organizations.