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The Aarhus Convention Task Force on Public Participation in Decision-Making for the 6th Time Discussed Current Challenges and Issues
The sixth meeting of the Aarhus Convention Task Force on Public Participation in Decision-making was held from 10 to 11 February 2016 in Geneva. The meeting aimed to discuss the main obstacles to effective public participation, exchange good practices to address those obstacles, share experiences with the implementation of the Maastricht Recommendations on Promoting Effective Public Participation in Decision making in Environmental Matters (http://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/env/pp/mop5/Documents/Post_session_docs/ece_mp.pp_2014_2_add.2_rus.pdf ), and convey a thematic session on energy-related planning.

Mari Chakryan, Armenian Aarhus Centers press officer also participated in the meeting with the support of the OSCE Yerevan Office in Armenia.

The first item of the agenda was related to the obstacles, challenges and good practices in relation to public participation in decision-making.

It was welcomed the Albania’s experience, where according to the speaker, the legislation has complied with the Aarhus Convention, determined the forms and deadlines properly informing the public. In addition to the official websites, dailies, the notification there is carried out through the social networks.

However, some participants, including Jersey Jendroska, representative of the Compliance Committee marked that the use of social networks is not enough, because in the rural communities the population is not actively using the Internet to obtain more information, especially to receive such information and is unaware of the planned actions related to the environment.

Mari Chakryan, representative of the Armenian Aarhus Centers cited the experience of Armenia, when on the initiative of the Aarhus Center, involving NGOs and experts visits are organized to the areas of planning activities and consultation meetings are carried out with residents and representatives of local authorities, making more effective public awareness and their active participation in public hearings. Moreover the Armenian Aarhus Centers also support residents to submit their concerns and recommendations to the relevant authorities in the set terms.

The second item of the agenda was related to Implementation of the Maastricht Recommendations. It is important to mention that the meeting also emphasized that the Recommendations provide helpful guidance on implementing articles 6, 7 and 8 of the Convention, and especially how to address a number of key challenges identified by the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee and others.
It was highlighted the translation of the Maastricht Recommendations into the native language in order to make them serve as a guide for officials ensuring compliance of the public participation procedure with the Convention.

Vira Khoroshavina, representative of the Aarhus Convention Secretariat, presented the analysis based on questionnaires given to the parties in advance. From the Armenian answers the letter mentioned a few ones, according to which Armenia has not yet spread the Maastricht Recommendations, has not presented those to local governments and NGOs and has not translated it yet.

As for future plans, according to the expert, Armenia answered that they are going to organize seminars to disseminate information through local Aarhus centers.

It should be mentioned, that the section of the news of the Armenian Aarhus Centers website have been posted information about the Maastricht meeting held in 2014, including the documents of the above mentioned project (http://aarhus.am/?page_id=6013&lang=en), besides this it has been posted in documents section of the website, disseminated through the internal networks and social networks, applied it in the places during the meetings and clarifications (http://aarhus.am/?page_id=736&lang=en ).

With regard to the discussion under the theme energy-related planning Ms. Iskoyan presented the situation in Armenia. Speaking about the small hydropower plants in Armenia, marked that there were complaints by citizens with regard to decrease of irrigation water, rivers dry up, the damage to the ecosystem, but the problem has been fully settled by the legislation.

Representatives of NGOs of several countries expressed astonishment, because the SHPPs sector is not regulated and the losses are more than benefits in their countries.

The representative of the Armenian Aarhus Centers added that the Ecolur NGO jointly with the RA MNP is conducting monitoring of SHPPs with the support of the UNDP and only one of 75 studied SHPPs has complied with the project and the norms.

She pointed out that this fact once again proves that the need to comply the legislation with the Convention is still on the agenda, especially the introduction of public participation procedures. As the Compliance Committee has already 5th time registered in its decisions regarding Armenia.

It was exemplary the experiences of France and UK, in terms of notification about the legislation improvement and ensuring proper public participation.

However, some participants underlined that despite nearly 20 years of efforts in this direction, the issue of proper public participation in decision-making continues to remain on the agenda.

Amalia Hambardzumyan, chairwoman of “Khazer” ecological-cultural NGO attributed the issue to the lack of public participation motivation. According to her, the citizens will be really demanding and actively participate in decision-making process if they will have property right to the natural resources.

Additional information about the meeting can be found at the following link: http://www.unece.org/env/pp/aarhus/ppdm6.html#/

Mari Charkyan
Armenian Aarhus Centers press officer
E-mail: aarhusnews@gmail.com