Public participation plays a crucial role in integrating economic, social and environmental objectives, i.e. in enhancing sustainable development by acting as a tool to raise public awareness of the delicate balance between economic and environmental trade-offs. Sustainable development can be achieved only through the involvement of all stakeholders in decision-making. This has been stated well by the United Nations :
"Although regional in scope, the significance of the Aarhus Convention is global. It is by far the most impressive elaboration of principle 10 of the Rio Declaration, which stresses the need for citizen's participation in environmental issues and for access to information on the environment held by public authorities. As such it is the most ambitious venture in the area of 'environmental democracy' so far undertaken under the auspices of the United Nations."
Kofi A. Annan,
Example: Introducing the Aarhus convention
The UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters was adopted on 25th June 1998 in the Danish city of Aarhus at the Fourth Ministerial Conference in the 'Environment for Europe' process.
The Aarhus Convention is a new kind of environmental agreement. It links environmental rights and human rights. It acknowledges that we owe an obligation to future generations. It establishes that sustainable development can be achieved only through the involvement of all stakeholders. It links government accountability and environmental protection. It focuses on interactions between the public and public authorities in a democratic context and it is forging a new process for public participation in the negotiation and implementation of international agreements.
The subject of the Aarhus Convention goes to the heart of the relationship between people and governments. The Convention is not only an environmental agreement, it is also a Convention about government accountability, transparency and responsiveness. The Aarhus Convention grants the public rights and imposes on Parties and public authorities obligations regarding access to information and public participation and access to justice.
Since the adoption of the Convention, two meetings of Signatories have been held. As a result of these, five tasks forces and working groups have been established, covering the topics of compliance, pollutant release and transfer registers, genetically modified organisms, electronic information tools and access to justice. Also the issue of strategic environmental assessment has been explored by the Meeting of Signatories and they have engaged themselves in the drafting of a new protocol on the issue.
Sixteen countries are required to ratify, approve, accept or accede to the Convention in order to bring about the entry into force. Progress towards entry into force has been relatively rapid. The Convention entered into force on 30 October 2001. For recent up-dates, please check the news on: www.unece.org/env/pp/welcome.html