Governance &Tools


The Aarhus Convention is a milestone in environmental democracy, granting procedural rights to the public with respect to access to environmental information held by public authorities.

The Convention is an outcome of the “Environment for Europe” process agreed by environment ministers in 1998 in Aarhus, Denmark. The objective was to allow public participation in decision-making and aims and “to contribute to the protection of the right of every person of present and future generations to live in an environment adequate to his or her health and well-being…”.

The Convention does not set standards for environmental quality in itself, but sets out rules for the public’s right to:

  • access to environmental information held by public authorities.
  • participate in bureaucratic procedures which affect the environment (e.g. granting a pollution licence to a power plant) and, to a lesser extent, to the development of plans, programmes, policies and laws.
  • gain an increased access to justice in a number of circumstances, such as wrongful decisions under the terms of the Convention or even to challenge more general contraventions of environmental laws.

The Environmental Citizens Organisation (ECO) community had much input in negotiations and it is a strong instrument providing a number of tools for campaigners to greatly improve government accountability, environmental decision-making and the involvement of stakeholders.

The Convention entered into force in 2001 and currently has 47 Parties. These Parties must ensure that their public authorities implement all three principles of the Convention in their decision-making processes. Undoubtedly, there is some progress in the areas of access to information and public participation but when it comes to the access to justice there is much more to be achieved.