The dawn of 2024 finds MEPIELAN CENTRE in full fledge of its multifarious activities. But beyond its lofty targets that drive its research and educational activities to be completed in 2024, as reflected in this edition of Bulletin, MEPIELAN has mobilized to provide an institutional response to a particularly important challenge that looms decisively at the core of sustainable governance and environmental democracy. The establishment of an Aarhus Centre in Greece as part of its activities, an initiative that has been launched and is being consistently pursued since the beginning of 2023.
The Aarhus Centres play a crucial role in promoting all three pillars of the 1998 Aarhus Convention, namely access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters, by providing platforms to engage citizens, governments and the private sector in dialogue on environmental challenges. Since 2002, the OSCE has supported the establishment, operation and networking of the Aarhus Centres, which today cover more than 60 Aarhus Centres in 15 countries across the OSCE region.
MEPIELAN’s initiative for the establishment of an Aarhus Centre in Greece implements the specific relevant objectives of MEPIELAN, as set out in Articles 3 and 4 of its Constitution, as well as its strategic programme, as provided for in Article 5 of its Constitution. It is in line with the Centre’s commitment to promote participatory environmental governance for the sustainable development of the Mediterranean region and beyond, in terms of building international common interest. And the Aarhus Convention clearly delivers a pioneering legal and governance framework for unleashing such a complex but critical transformative process.
The process started with a proposal to the UNECE Aarhus Convention Secretariat and was discussed at a preliminary online meeting in February 2023. The proposal was very well received, and with the consistent assistance of the UNECE Secretariat, contact was established with the OSCE, the Office of the Coordinator of Economic and Environmental Activities of the OSCE. In an online meeting with the OSCE Office in March 2013, a structured proposal entitled “Establishment of an Aarhus Centre in Greece” was presented, which was welcomed and opened the door for continued cooperation between the OSCE and the MEPIELAN Centre on this issue.
In this context, the MEPIELAN Centre was introduced by the OSCE to two Aarhus Centres in the Balkans and, in very constructive and friendly meetings, we exchanged views and learned about their experience and good practices. The meetings with the Directors of the Aarhus Centre of Southern and Eastern Serbia (April 2023) and the Aarhus Centre of Skopje, South Macedonia, were constructive and mutually beneficial. Further, and in the context of cooperation between the OSCE and the MEPIELAN Centre, MEPIELAN Centre was invited by the OSCE and participated as an observer in the Aarhus Centre 2023 Annual Meeting held in Tajikistan 17-18 October). Some time has passed since then and efforts are now focused on finalizing the formal establishment of the MEPIELAN Aarhus Centre in Greece.
Since its inception, the MEPIELAN Aarhus Centre is intended to operate as an OSCE project and will be established as an NGO-based Aarhus Centre, independent of the government. At the same time, it is designed to provide an institutional bridge for cooperation with governmental bodies, relevant international organisations, academic institutions and civil society. It will work closely with the UNECE Secretariat for the Aarhus Convention, the UNEP/MAP Secretariat for the Barcelona Convention system and will cooperate with the relevant Greek authorities (Ministry of Environment and Energy), the European Public Law Organization (EPLO), academic institutions and civil society.
In the framework of the Decision on the Establishment of the MEPIELAN AARHUS CENTRE approved by the MEPIELAN Centre members, this challenging and promising action will have three main features that will meet the perceived requirements of the specific context :
- It will mark an NGO-based Aarhus Centre, hosted by MEPIELAN Centre and operated as an OSCE Project
- It will function as a national centre with a regional scope, focusing on the Mediterranean region and the Balkans, as part of its recognized role under the umbrella of the OSCE and UNEP/MAP and UNECE.
- It will be activated in an expanded work area serving the idea of complementarity of implementation and innovation, thus embracing and supporting, where possible, activities such as:
– effective implementation of the three pillars of the Aarhus Convention (access to information, public participation, access to justice) at national level as well as in a transboundary context;
– promoting the much needed horizontal, cross-cutting implementation of the Aarhus Convention in the Barcelona Convention system and other environmental treaty regimes, thereby improving compliance and achieving good environmental governance;
– supporting the building of negotiating capacity of state and NGO representatives to and effectively advocate implement the Aarhus Convention in international decision-making processes, , thus reducing the spaces of non-transparency and non-participation and their impact;
– organizing an international hub to advance the public trust approach to enhance participatory sustainability governance and further strengthen the Aarhus Convention;
– providing a platform for the protection of environmental defenders in close cooperation with the Special Rapporteur of the Aarhus Convention; and,
– promoting green energy transition and energy sharing in energy communities, operationalizing energy democracy and energy justice in line with the Aarhus Convention.
Ιt is my firm belief that the activation of the MEPIELAN Aarhus Centre, with the right support, will deliver impact for a sustainable future. It will be able to identify step-change solutions for transformative change and inspire fruitful partnerships and collaborations that allow participatory environmental democracy to flourish.
As we embark on this promising journey into 2024, MEPIELAN extends heartfelt gratitude to our supporters, collaborators, and readers. The dawn of a new year symbolizes fresh opportunities, more determination for an impactful transformation for the benefit of a harmonious relationship between humanity and nature. Let us “the peoples of this planet” collectively embrace the challenges ahead with determination and enthusiasm. I wish everyone a year full of success, cooperation and meaningful contributions in the field of environmental governance. Together, let’s make strides towards a sustainable and participatory future for our planet.
Because “Μέγιστον δη παντός άρξασθαι κατά φύσιν αρχήν» (“With regard to every subject matter, it is most important to begin at the topic’s natural beginning”) Plato, Timaeus, 29b
About the author
Professor Emeritus of International Law, Panteion University, Athens, Greece, Fellow, C-EENRG, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom