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Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Wind, shale gas, HS2, badgers and the Aarhus Treaty

(28th August 2013) According to The Independent:

"The United Nations Economic Commission Europe has declared that the UK flouted Article 7 of the Aarhus Convention, which requires full and effective public participation on all environmental issues and demands that citizens are given the right to participate in the process."

The Aarhus Convention (in full here in English, in full here in many other languages) aims in its 22 Articles 

" contribute to the protection of the right of every person of present and future generations to live in an environment adequate to his or her health and well-being, each Party shall guarantee the rights of access to information, public participation in decision-making, and access to justice in environmental matters in accordance with the provisions of this Convention."

It is becoming clear that the UK government has not ensured that every person has been given access to information about wind farms or been able to partcipate in the decision-making process from an environmental point of view. We will see what impact the ruling has.

The big question is whether the Aarhus Convention applies to other current environmental issues.

Shale gas 

The Convention does not explicitly cover the production of oil or gas (See Annex 1 of The Convention), which is too much of an oversight to be other than deliberate. It does, however cover oil and gas refineries and installations for gasification and liquefaction. It may cover those plants which gather shale gas together before pushing into a gas pipe network.

However, The Convention does cover groundwater abstraction where the annual volume of water abstracted is equivalent to or exceeds 10 million cubic metres and also covers pipelines for the transport of gas, oil or chemicals with a diameter of more than 800 mm and a length of more than 40 km.

Moreover, The Convention does state (Annex 1, Paragraph 20) that any activity not covered by paragraphs those activities that are mentioned explicitly in Annex 1, but where public participation is provided for under an environmental impact assessment procedure in accordance with national legislation, fall also under the Aarhus Convention.


The Convention covers explicitly "Construction of lines for long-distance railway traffic".


Unfortunately for badgers, not only has The Convention nothing to say about the management of wildlife, it contains an exclusion for short-term research and development under which current badger culling would probably fall.

In summary, we have a UN Convention, to which the UK is fully signed-up, that guarantees "rights of access to information, public participation in decision-making, and access to justice in environmental matters".  

In my view that means plentiful, accessible and factually accurate data and interpretation backed-up by scientific research, together with procedures to ensure public participation. This goes further than the recent call for public disclosure on shale gas developments that was made to the Prime Minister and its follow-up.

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