You’ve heard that the EU has an Aarhus Convention problem but don’t quite know where to start? Aarhus doesn’t mean anything to you but access to justice sounds like something you want? We have written a handbook to help you understand the problems of access to justice in environmental matters at the EU level. Find out how the EU is in breach of international law and what needs to be done to change that. 

We are in the middle of a climate and biodiversity crisis. Millions of people across the world are demanding action that reflects that. Urgent and ambitious policy change is required. Scientifically, but also legally. The EU institutions are bound by a range of EU laws with strong environmental commitments as well as by international agreements that require the protection of fundamental rights, including the right to life. And of course, there is the Paris Agreement where the EU committed to ‘holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

But what happens when the EU does not comply with its legal obligations? We protest we demand change, we are loud and with that we create societal pressure for a change!

However, on top of that, we can make use of one of the most powerful tools out there – the law. We can go to the courts and challenge insufficient action where it is in breach of international law. Successful cases like the Dutch Urgenda case, the Irish Climate Case, and the French Notre Affair à Tous illustrate the power of legal action. We can also challenge the insufficient acts of EU institutions. At least in theory, because going to the (EU) courts is not a simple walk in the park. It is a rocky path filled with hurdles.

Unfortunately, this often means that in practice, crucial decisions that affect the environment and climate are not challenge-able in court simply because we do not have access to justice.

In this handbook, we explain what access to justice is, what the Aarhus Convention is and how the EU is in breach of its international law obligations. 

All of this is especially relevant right now as the EU is amending the Aarhus Regulation, the piece of law that implements the Aarhus Convention at the EU level. What happens now does not just determine whether or not the EU continues to be in breach of international law (which is a big deal) but also whether and how we can challenge decisions that affect our current and future lives, health, and well-being. 

What happens now determines whether or not we can challenge key decisions affecting the climate, environment, and our future. In the context of the EU Green Deal, EU institutions will be making a lot of decisions that impact the environment, right now and in the decades to come. As young people, we want to be involved in decision-making, but we must also be able to hold institutions to account in the implementation of commitments – otherwise, they risk being just words on paper.

The law can be a very powerful tool in the fight against insufficient climate and environmental policies. Access to justice, the ability to challenge decisions, is a key prerequisite to use this tool.

With this handbook, we aim to provide an overview of access to justice issues to challenge decisions of the EU institutions. We hope that this will help you to understand the importance of access to justice and empower you to join the fight for proper Regulation on access to justice. One that is in line with international law, that is democratic, that enables us to challenge key decisions affecting our current lives and futures and that respects the rule of law.

We start with an introduction to the Aarhus Convention, then an overview of the EU’s messy relationship with the Convention before we dive deeper into the current rules for access to justice and explain why the EU is in breach of international law. As this handbook can only provide an overview of this vast topic, we provide lots of links throughout and a list of useful resources at the end.

Ready to find out everything you need to know about Aarhus?

Download the full “Understanding Aarhus | a simple handbook on access to climate justice at EU level”