Foto von Mathias P.R. Reding von Pexels

13. September 2021

On 7. September 2021, Slovenian and German NGOs co-organised the Fifth Aarhus Workshop.

The NGOs invited governmental officials, legal scholars and experts as well as researchers to discuss the intertwining between human rights, climate laws and the Aarhus Convention in the European Union. The central question was, how civil society (organisations) are involved in environmental and climate policy processes at EU and Member State level.

The Aarhus Convention adopted in 1998 by the European Union and its Member States lays the foundations for the right to be informed, be able to effectively contribute own ideas of a climate-neutral Europe and also have the opportunity to take legal action. Due to this treaty civil society and NGOs have the right to go to court and challenge EU-decisions, when environmental and climate laws are presumed to be violated. Examples for those administrative decisions are approvals of new fossil fuel projects, fishing quotas, approvals of state aid for nuclear power plants and so on. Since the European Union is criticised for not allowing citizens and NGOs to review their decisions, there will be a new regulation implementing the Aarhus Convention. Therefore, it has been carefully discussed at the Workshop, whether the new regulation and other EU laws will finally fully comply with the Aarhus Convention.

For this reason, the Aarhus Workshop played a key role in bringing together a variety of stakeholders and raising awareness on how to improve citizen’s and NGOs (legal) involvement in climate and environmental protection. Around 50 participants from environmental associations, foundations, universities, governmental organisations as well as legal professionals mainly from Slovenia, Germany and Brussels region joint the Aarhus Workshop to tackle the implementation deficits within the European Union and also at Member State level. Moreover, this joint Workshop, taking place merely a few weeks before the seventh session of the Meeting of the Parties of the Aarhus Convention (so-called “MoP 7”; from 18. to 21. October 2021 in Geneva) served as a crucial, decisive occasion, a springboard into a cleaner, greener future, where citizens are actively participating.

Speaker:

  • Dr. Vasilka Sancin, Associate Professor at University of Ljubljana & Director of Centre for International and Business Law
  • Dr. Roda Verheyen, LL.M., Environmental Lawyer of Rechtsanwälte Günther Partnerschaftsgesellschaft
  • Mag. Senka Šifkovič Vrbica, Environmental Lawyer at the Institute for Spatial Policies (IPoP)
  • Sebastian Bechtel, LL.M., Environmental Democracy Lawyer at ClientEarth Brussels
  • Mag. Tanja Pucelj Vidovič, Focal Point for Aarhus Convention at the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning
  • Matthias Sauer, Head of Unit of Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety
  • Alistair McGlone, Director at Alistair McGlone and Associates Ltd & former member of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee
  • Dr. Maša Kovič Dine, Assistant Professor at University of Ljubljana
  • Dr. Maria Alexandra de Sousa Aragão, Professor at the University of Coimbra
  • Aljoša Petek, Environmental lawyer at PIC – Legal centre for the protection of human rights and the environment

 

In our first vivid panel discussion on the upcoming Meeting of the Parties of the Aarhus Convention (MoP-7) the panellists Mag Tanja Pucelj Vidovič; Matthias Sauer and Alistair McGlone discussed whether or not the European Union is granting its EU citizens and NGOs sufficient access to justice. Dr. Michael Zschiesche, Managing Director and Chairman of the UfU board, emphasised that: “The double standard by the European Union needs to stop. EU citizens and NGOs must be able to hold the European Union accountable, when their decisions harm the environment and the climate, as civil society can hold Member States accountable in environmental matters.”  Alistair McGlone further strongly underlined, that “The EU should champion accountability and the international rule of law to avoid damaging its reputation as a global leader in environmental forums.”

A second panel discussion covered the interplay between public participation in environmental decision-making and environmental and climate litigation. Dr. Maša Kovič Dine, Dr. Maria Alexandra de Sousa Aragão and Aljoša Petek, – put it this way: “Proper planning and approval procedures with early, inclusive and effective public participation on Member State and EU level can prevent lengthy and expensive legal disputes in courts. Active citizenship prevents long-term financial costs by environmental degradation.

All panellists agreed, that the current participation formats do not meet the needs of the younger generation, which is heavily engaged in climate protection and sustainable development.

Presentations:
Human Rights, European & National Climate Laws and the Importance of the Aarhus Convention
– Slovenian environmental NGO’s perspective on Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the European Union regarding environmental matters

Press Release:
How the European Union violates international environmental law since two decades

NGOs that organised the workshop:

About the workshops:

A total of five online Aarhus Workshops were organised by UfU in 2020 and 2021. On 11 May 2020, 30. June 2020, 17 November 2020 and on 24 March 2021 interested participants from Belgium, Germany, Portugal and Slovenia took part in the digital Workshops. A joint position paper “German Portuguese Slovenian Civil Society Declaration on Access to Justice for Citizens & NGOs at European Union Level“ was published. UfU thanks all who contributed to the five Aarhus Workshops. All persons involved made this series of events a success.

All Aarhus Workshops are part of the project “European Implementation of the Aarhus Convention in the Digital Age (EU-AarKo)” of the Independent Institute for Environmental Issues ­ UfU e.V. This project is financially supported by the German Environment Agency (UBA) and the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety within the framework of the sponsorship of environmental associations.

For any questions around the Fifth Aarhus Workshop, please contact Kathleen Pauleweit (UfU) kathleen.pauleweit@ufu.de or Aljoša Petek (PIC) aljosa.petek@pic.si.

More information on environmental democracy on European Union level can be found here (German): http://www.aarhus-konvention.de/

For more information about the EU-AarKo project and its background, click here.