Aarhus Convention

Information - Participation - Justice

The Aarhus Convention defines special rights to support environmental protection. Environmental organisations as well as individuals are entitled to access environmental information, participation in permit procedures and take legal action in favour of the environment.

The three pillars of the Aarhus Convention: 1. Access to environmental information. 2. Public participation. 3. Access to justice

Aarhus Convention: Environmental rights for the public

The Aarhus Convention is a UN contract named after the location of its signature. It shall facilitate access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters. The Republic of Austria, as well as the European Union have signed this Convention in 2005. Yet, the rights granted must be integrated into Austrian and EU law.

The three pillars of the Aarhus Convention are:

  • Public access to environmental information
  • Public participation in environmental procedures
  • Access to justice in case of environmental violations

Transparency in environmental matters: Public access to environmental information

In Austria, the public has a right to obtain information related to environmental questions. Details on this matter can be found in the Federal Environmental Information Act as well as in the legislation of the nine Federal States (Länder). Not only environmental protection organisations, but also every single person has the right to information on the status of our environment – regardless of any specific interest.

Representing environmental interests: Public participation in environmental procedures

The affected public is entitled to participate in environmental procedures. This can happen on different levels. The strongest form of participation is party status. The party to a procedure has access to project documentation, can submit statements and proposals, as well as challenge a permit if necessary. However, public participation can also be granted to a smaller extend: The publication of documents or the possibility to submit statements including their consideration are also considered means of public participation.

Challenge environmental decisions: Access to justice in case of environmental violations

The Aarhus Convention grants every person standing to legally enforce her or his rights to information and participation in order to ensure the effective implementation of the two aforementioned points. Additionally, the third pillar provides for the effective application of regulations on environmental protection. Furthermore, environmental protection organisations must be entitled to challenge decisions in environmental procedures.

ÖKOBÜRO fight for a full implementation of the Aarhus Convention

ÖKOBÜRO director Thomas Alge and Christoph Walder of WWF Austria at a hearing before the European Court of Justice

In many areas, Austria does not sufficiently provide for the rights granted by the Aarhus Convention. ÖKOBÜRO therefore stand up for the full implementation of the Convention in Austria and are dedicated to ensure participatory rights of environmental protection organisations. We prepare legal studies for public participation, organise events on the topic and support the participation of affected organisations and individuals in environmental procedures. Additionally, ÖKOBÜRO successfully proceed against violations of the Aarhus Convention. Access to justice is also one of the central topics of our European environmental law network Justice and Environment (J&E).