The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters was adopted on 25 June 1998 in the Danish city of Aarhus (Århus) at the Fourth Environment for Europe Ministerial Conference. It entered into force on 30 October 2001.

The Aarhus Convention is created to empower the role of citizens and civil society organisations in environmental matters and is founded on the principles of participative democracy.

The Aarhus Convention establishes a number of rights to the individuals and civil society organizations with regard to the environment. The Parties to the Convention are required to make the necessary provisions so that public authorities, at a national, regional or local level, will contribute to these rights to become effective. The Aarhus Convention provides for:

Access to environmental information:

  •  The right of the citizens to receive environmental information that is held by public authorities

Public participation in environmental decision making:

  • The right of the citizens to participate in preparing plans, programmes, policies, and legislation that may affect the environment.

Access to justice:

  • The right of the citizens to have access to review procedures when their rights with respect to access to information or public participation have been violated.

The Convention’s Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (PRTRs) was adopted at the Fifth Environment for Europe Ministerial Conference in Kiev, Ukraine, in May 2003 and entered into force in October 2009. Its objective is to enhance public access to information through the establishment of coherent, nationwide pollutant release and transfer registers (PRTRs). PRTRs are inventories of pollution from industrial sites and other sources.