From Rio to Aarhus 

In 1992, in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development adopted a declaration, known as the "Rio Declaration", which moved forward the concept of the rights and responsibilities of countries in environmental matters.

Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration, or the principle of access to information and participation in decisions, states the following: "Environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level."

The Aarhus Convention on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters, drafted under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), aims to put this principle into practice. The Aarhus Convention covers the European continent in the broadest sense, including some countries of Central Asia. 

The Convention was adopted in 1998 in the Danish city of Aarhus, and signed by 39 countries including Belgium, as well as by the European Community itself. It came into force at international level on 30 October 2001. In our country, the Convention has been in force there since 21 April 2003. Currently, 47 countries have ratified the Convention.

The Aarhus Convention grants the population the following rights:

- access to environmental information,

public participation in the decision-making process on environment,

access to justice in environmental matters.

In addition, a GMO amendment (on genetically modified organisms) and a PRTR Protocol (on pollutant emissions and transfers) have been added to the Convention.

Implementation of the Aarhus Convention

Since the European Community has also ratified the Aarhus Convention, it has taken over the provisions concerning access to information, public participation and access to justice into Community law (Aarhus EU).

Belgium too, has incorporated these provisions into Belgian law. Both the federal authority and the Regions have adapted their law (federal laws and regional decrees and ordinances) to apply the Convention in respect of their competences (CCIEP). In the meantime, Belgium has prepared two reports on the implementation of the Aarhus Convention.

More information:

  • The national portal www.aarhus.be (The Aarhus Convention in Belgium) provides general information on the Convention, its pillars and their transposition in Belgium by the federal authorities and the three Regions.
  • The page "The federal government is committed to your environmental rights" explains how these three pillars of the Convention are implemented, specifically at the federal level in legislation and practice.