Due to a range of national and international initiatives over the last decade, public access to environmental information improved considerably during the 1990s, according to official conclusions from the Athens conference. In addition to the OECD recommendation the EU passed a directive on access to environmental information in 1990, whose rules have now been strengthened and broadened under the pan-European 1998 Århus convention (ENDS Daily 25 June 1998). Furthermore, the European Court of Human Rights rules in 1998 that access to environmental information was a human right in certain situations.
More could nevertheless be achieved by all major actors, and especially governments and business, the conference concluded. The public is still "meeting difficulties" in several countries to access some official environmental information, participants observed. While environment ministries tend to have taken a lead, environmental information held by other ministries is often less accessible. Many quasi-public bodies that hold environmental information do not consider themselves bound by rules governing public authorities.
Access to information from governments could be improved by clarifying legal frameworks and better implementing citizens' rights in practice, according to conference chairperson Anne Teller, a Belgian government official. Governments should also raise citizens' awareness of their information rights and enhance transparency through greater use of electronic communications.
Regarding corporate information, conference participants saluted pollutant release and transfer registers (PRTRs) such as the US toxic release inventory both as sources of key information and as catalysts for change in industry. Among areas for progress noted by participants were sharing data across national borders and using PRTRs to monitor progress with international environmental treaties.
It was also suggested that companies should enhance the information they provide by supplementing basic data with information on environmental effects, eco-efficiency, product information, risk analysis and socio-economic data.
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