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OAS Dialogue Discusses Possibility of Aarhus Convention for the Americas

OAS27 October 2011: A public dialogue on governance and public participation in sustainable development decision-making included extensive discussion of a proposal to seek a commitment at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20) for a regional instrument on implementation of the 1992 Rio Declaration's Principle 10 on public participation, access to information and access to justice.

At the 27 October 2011 dialogue, sponsored by the Organization of American States (OAS), panel members agreed that, apart from a few examples such as Mexican laws on access to information and public participation, most Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries have fully implemented neither Rio Principle 10 nor the OAS' own 1999 Inter-American Strategy for the Promotion of Public Participation in Decision-Making for Sustainable Development (ISP).

One panel member revealed that The Access Initiative, an NGO coalition, is seeking a commitment at Rio+20 to launch negotiations on a regional instrument for the Americas to harmonize interpretation and implementation of Principle 10, perhaps modeled after Europe's Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters. Some participants cautioned that negotiations for binding international instruments usually are lengthy, and ratification and implementation periods even longer. Others said, given the diverse legal, political and civic traditions and regimes in the Americas, any resulting instrument may prove too "watered down" to be effective. NGO participants suggested, however, that both negotiations and the existence of such an instrument could spur LAC governments into national action not undertaken otherwise. Some panel members suggested that results might be achieved more quickly if the OAS facilitated the collection, exchange and dissemination of information on the region's best practices in implementing Principle 10 and ISP.

In the end, participants generally agreed that governments and civil society organizations should actively provide information on best practices, and the OAS should serve as a platform for dialogue on launching negotiations for a regional treaty based on best practices.

The meeting was part of a series of "hemispheric dialogues" intended to generate recommendations on institutions and governance for sustainable development for both the World Congress on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability and the UNCSD, both scheduled for June 2012. [IISD RS Sources]