Push for environmental information on-line

Proposal for mandatory environmental reporting under UN convention

European governments should be obliged to publish a swathe of environmentally-related information electronically, according to an environmental coalition. At a UN negotiating session on Monday, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and other groups are to propose five types of information that governments should make available on the Internet by 2000.

They want to see made publicly available: annual state of the environment reports; draft and final versions of environmental policies, programmes, negotiated agreements and legislation; applications for and awarded licences and permits together with supporting documents; and national emissions inventories.

The week-long meeting that starts on Monday is part of the negotiating process for a UN Economic Commission for Europe convention on public information and participation in environmental decision-making. The draft convention originated in the pan-European Environment for Europe process, and is expected to be finalised at the fourth ministerial conference in 1998.

Its three main goals are to improve public access to environmental information; encourage public participation in environmental decision-making; and to improve public access to environmental justice.

Sometimes seen as applying only to central and eastern European countries, the convention could also have implications for the EU. An EU directive on public access to environmental information was agreed in 1990, but a review is getting underway and could be influenced by developments in the UNECE convention.

In negotiations for the convention, the EEB is currently pushing for rules stronger than current EU law. The organisation has proposed broadening the definition of "environmental information" to include impacts on human health as well as aspects of the natural environment. It hopes that this could lead to broader availability of information such as epidemiological studies. By tracking factors such as birth defects or asthma rates, these can sometimes provide evidence of environmental impacts.

Follow Up:
UNECE, e-mail: info.ece@unece.org; EEB, e-mail: foeeire@iol.ie.

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