Aarhus Diary – 26th WGP & ExMoP3, 22-24 June 2022

Author: Emma Pagliarusco

During the past year, we have talked a lot about the three pillars of the Aarhus Convention: the rights of public participation, access to information and access to justice in environmental matters. We have written handbooks and articles; as well as organized workshops to raise awareness and build capacity among young people on these procedural rights that usually remain in the shadows.

As the Aarhus Convention is a key instrument within the UNECE region and beyond to promote, protect and fulfil the right to actively participate in environmental decision-making, YEE is constantly at the frontline in ensuring that decisions take into consideration the interests of youth. This also consists of attending the Aarhus-related processes, composed mainly of the Meeting of the Parties (MoP) and the Working Group of the Parties (WGP). Attending these meetings is crucial to influence decision-making, raise awareness and advocate for our interests.

In October, we attended the MoP, where our advocacy coordinator Pegah and project lead Laura delivered statements raising the need for youth organizations to receive more funding and denouncing the European

Union’s failure to comply with the Aarhus Convention. Read more about this in our handbook.

From 22 to 24 June, Clara Botto, Environmental Governance Liaison Officer, and I also participated in the WGP and exMoP, where we strengthened our role there and youth participation more broadly.

The meetings took place at the UN headquarters in Geneva, consisting of the 26th WGP and the ExMoP3 devoted to appointing a Special Rapporteur on Environmental Defenders (a historical moment!).

For months before, the YEE Environmental Law team had followed the preparation behind, in coordination with other NGOs (in particular with the European Environmental Bureau) which are part of the ECO Forum network (the name under which NGOs were sitting in the room).

The 26th WGP

From the 22 to the first half of the 23 June we attended the 26th WGP, which this year included two thematic sessions on access to information and on promoting the application of the principles of the

Convention in international forums. In coordination with other NGOs, we managed to secure a keynote statement on the thematic session on access to information (item 3a in the agenda).

The discussion focused on the means for advancing public access to environment-related product information: for example, the role of digitalization; the threat of greenwashing claims and the role of product passports were largely discussed by representatives of states. On behalf of YEE and Eco Forum, we stressed the universal character of the right to access information, the promotion of which has to be carried on also among the youngest generations. As a matter of fact, accessing environmental-related information is also an essential precondition for exercising the right to live in a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

We then recognized that means such as product passports can substantially help young people in accessing product information; as well as strongly reduce the risk of them being subject to greenwashing, making them particularly receptive to green claims. Representatives from states shared the good practices implemented at the national level.

We also delivered a statement on the Capacity Building and Awareness Raising item (4c in the agenda). Here, Clara stressed the role of youth organizations in building capacity and raising awareness, but also the need to secure more funding for them, YEE being the only youth-led organization present at the meeting. She also underlined the urgent need to promote education on sustainable development matters for contrasting the current and future climate crises.

The ExMoP3

Right after the WGP, thus from the second half of the 23 to the 24 June, we attended the third extraordinary session of the Meeting of the Parties (ExMoP3), which was something historical. Generally, extraordinary sessions of the MoP are held if there is some urgent matter to be discussed or a big decision to be taken. During this one, a Round Table on Environmental Defenders was held, during which environmental defenders, Parties to the Aarhus Convention and NGOs engaged in a discussion on the main trends, challenges and good practices with regard to the protection of environmental defenders in the region and beyond.

The discussion was followed by the appointment of the first special rapporteur on environmental defenders in the world: Mr Michel Forst was appointed with unanimity by the parties. The Special Rapporteur’s task is to “protect any person experiencing or at imminent threat of penalization, persecution, or harassment for seeking to exercise their rights under the Aarhus Convention”.

The urgency to build a strong framework of protection was exacerbated by the fact that right when we were having the meetings, Brazilian indigenous expert Bruno Pereira and British journalist Dom Philips were found dead after weeks of search in the Brazilian Amazon forest: they were killed some weeks before while they were denouncing illegal fishing, mining, logging and drug-trafficking activities in the forest. Clara raised the issue in the room with a statement, paying homage to their families. We from YEE recognize that the parties have to take joint action to immediately stop these facts.

After Mr Forst’s election, we also had a meeting with him together with the other NGOs from ECO Forum to discuss the priorities for his mandate. We raised the particular vulnerability of young environmental defenders in the UNECE region.

The outcomes and the way forward

The outcomes of the meetings can be found here. You can find our position reflected in point 3(a) par.ii and vi.

As a way forward, we will continue pressing for securing funding for youth organizations as a priority for ensuring that youth representatives can participate in these meetings and ensure their position is respected. Additionally, programs of awareness raising and capacity building have to be put in place to inform young people of their rights and opportunities to participate and enforce the rights of the Convention, according to us.

Within YEE, if on the one side for the upcoming year we will continue to follow the first line of the Aarhus-related processes; on the other we will strengthen capacity-building and awareness-raising activities through explainers and interactive workshops.

One of the main hurdles we face is that the principles protected from the Aarhus Convention, being mostly procedural in nature, are sometimes disregarded and detached from the youth-inclusion rationale. However, especially at this moment in history, with the UN recognition of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, we cannot conceive of procedural rights as detached from the substantial ones: being in the frontline is necessary to ensure intergenerational justice, human rights and environmental protection