A platform for the future

2015 Aarhus Centres Annual Meeting: Environmental Challenges and Cooperation

June 4, 2015 | By Tomas Rehacek

AarhusCentresA growing network of Aarhus Centres forming a platform for cooperation, participation and partnerships in addressing environment and security issues in accordance with the Aarhus Convention, adopted in 1998, convened in Vienna on June 3-4 to participate in the 2015 Aarhus Centres Meeting. The event was organised by the Office of the Co-ordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities.

The annual meeting, in which the Regional Environmental Center (REC) was an active participant, sought to highlight the expanding role of Aarhus Centres in the ongoing transition towards environmental democracy, to dissect and discuss some of the related key topics, and take stock of activities that have been or are being implemented. Over the course of two days, several perspectives on how to achieve these ambitious goals were offered by distinguished delegations from national governments, OSCE field offices, United Nations bodies, EU institutions and local authorities, as well as Aarhus Centres, NGOs and international organizations, including the REC.

Although the promotion and ongoing cultivation of environmental democracy was one of the mainstays of the discussion, the participants tackled a number of other topics, namely: fostering existing partnerships and forging new ones, along with various forms of cooperation with civil society stakeholders, governments, local administration and private sector actors, examples of which were showcased in several presentations delivered by representatives from Central Asia, Eastern Europe, the Southern Caucasus, and the Balkans.

The remaining sessions of the first day were dedicated to specific topics such as water governance, disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation. Solving these issues is going to be of paramount importance in the years to come, and this reality was well reflected in the given presentations. The REC contributed an intervention statement that accentuated the organisation's recent DRR work. Most heavily emphasised was an ongoing DRR project, implemented by the REC and other ENVSEC partners, that targets seven countries in Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Balkans. Within the project, the REC has organised a transfer of international expertise designed to familiarise beneficiaries with existing warning systems and various aspects of DRR, such as disaster risk information management and communication practices currently in place in the Czech Republic.

The second day featured a discussion about the role of Aarhus Centres in public outreach and in providing access to environmental information, both of which are deemed crucial for effective drafting of sound environmental policies and decision making. Several presentations brought up concrete examples of work that the Aarhus Centres have carried out in these areas. The session segued into a debate on transparency, accountability and participation in environmental decision making, particularly with regard to the Aarhus Convention and its Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (PRTR), a field in which the REC has gained a strong foothold over years of PRTR-related work.

The annual meeting concluded by offering a glimpse into the future by envisioning joint actions of Aarhus Centres in the areas of gender mainstreaming, increased visibility and enhanced communication.