Timely work by USCIB and other business groups around an intergovernmental conference paid off when parties to the Aarhus Convention rebuffed efforts to widen possible public environmental disclosure rules to include proprietary product information.
The scene was the fourth meeting of parties to the convention, which took place June 27 to July 1 in the Moldovan capital Chisinau. Attending on behalf of business and industry were Helen Medina, USCIB’s director of life sciences and product policy, attended the meeting in Moldova and was joined by Alessandra Salamini (Monsanto), Michelle Orfei (Croplife International) and Robbie Schreiber (European Crop Protection Association).
Formally known as the UN Economic Commission for Europe Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, and named after the Danish city where it was signed in 1998, the Aarhus Convention links environmental protection and human rights, laying our procedures for public access to information, participation and redress in local, national and cross-border environmental matters. Some 40 European and other countries are party to the convention.
“The Aarhus Convention is not just an environmental agreement,” noted Ms. Medina. “It is also about government accountability, transparency and responsiveness. It grants the rights to the public, and it imposes obligations on countries and public authorities regarding access to information, public participation and access to justice.”
Industry representatives were interested in how the convention work program for 2012-2014 would be implemented, especially the work plan for a task force aimed at widening the range of information – including privately held product information – made available to the public. In the end, parties to the convention opted to delete the reference to product information.
“This was a win for us, brought about largely because, prior to the conference, industry did a lot of work on educating the European Union about the slippery slope of giving the public have direct access to product information from the private sector,” Ms. Medina said. “In the end, it was the EU that changed the language.”
USCIB and other industry groups will continue to monitor future discussions to see how this language in the work program translates into practice.
Business also sought to learn how Aarhus Convention principles are being promoted at the global level and in other international environmental discussions. Stakeholders at the Chisinau meeting issued a declaration, “Rio Plus Aarhus – 20 Years On,” which highlights the importance of promoting Aarhus principles of openness, transparency, wide participation and accountability in international environmental decision-making in preparation for the Rio+ 20 Conference in 2012. In this context, the business delegation delivered an intervention which highlighted the need of wide stakeholder engagement in matters relating to sustainable development.
On the last day of the meeting, USCIB’s Ms. Medina delivered a business statement highlighting the positive role companies can play in providing practical solutions to complex global environmental challenges. She stressed the need for improved governance and policymaking, as well as a multi-stakeholder approach, in tackling such environmental challenges as climate change, energy security, waste management, water scarcity and population growth.