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This book is the fourth volume in the European Environmental Law Forum (EELF) book series. The Fourth EELF Conference dedicated to Procedural Environmental Rights of the public was organised in Wroclaw from 14 to 16 September 2016 by the Faculty of Law of the University of Wroclaw in co-operation with the Environmental Law Center, Wroclaw, the law firm Jendroska Jerzmanski Bar & Partners and the Faculty of Law of the University of Opole. 'Procedural Environmental Rights: Principle X in Theory and Practice' is not a random collection of papers presented at the conference but rather a monograph presenting in a structured manner some of the topical issues related to this subject. It provides an overview of various aspects of the current status, development and practice of rights of access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters following their codification as non-binding principles in Principle X of the Rio Declaration. The book goes far beyond presenting merely the issues related to environmental procedural rights in Europe - it brings together the expertise of worldwide legal scholars, representing a wide range of legal cultures, to discuss the adoption and implementation of procedural environmental rights in different jurisdictions and under various legal instruments. Furthermore, it provides insight into the various aspects of procedural environmental rights ranging from theoretical issues of global application to practical problems at local level.
The importance of procedural environmental rights is currently widely recognised. They serve not only as a guarantee of the right to environment and a tool to increase participatory democracy and active involvement of the public in environmental protection but also as an effective instrument of monitoring compliance with – and enforcement of – environmental law. Following recognition of their importance, procedural environmental rights have increasingly been acknowledged in legal frameworks at the national, supranational and international level. The first comprehensive approach to procedural environmental rights at the international level was undertaken when access to information, public participation in decision making and access to justice in environmental matters were codified in Principle X of the Rio Declaration. Although the Rio Declaration belongs to the instruments of so called ‘soft law’ (i.e. having not binding legal nature but only a form of recommendations or political declarations) Principle X is commonly considered to be significant as a clear global expression of the developing concepts of the role of the public in relation to the environment. It was soon after its adoption acknowledged as an international benchmark against which the compatibility of national standards could be compared and as a forecast of the creation of new procedural rights which could be granted to individuals through international law and exercised at the national and possibly international level.
The binding international standard in relation to procedural environmental rights was set with the adoption in 1998 in the Danish city of Aarhus of the UNECE Convention on access to information, public participation in decision making and access to justice in environmental matters (Aarhus Convention). Since then a number of legal instruments regulating procedural environmental rights have been developed or are in the process of development at the national, supranational (regional) and international level.
The role of the Aarhus Convention for the development of procedural environmental rights is well acknowledged in the academic literature, It is described as “the first multinational environmental agreement that focuses exclusively on obligations of the nations to their citizens and nongovernmental organizations”, and the first binding international instrument attempting to comprehensively and exclusively address issues of citizens’ environmental rights. Furthermore, it is considered to be a “driving force for environmental democracy” in Europe, and “at the forefront” of developing the legal framework in this respect worldwide.