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Democratic environmental rights

Democratic environmental rights include the right to access information, participate in decision-making and access justice in environmental matters. These rights guarantee the effectiveness of the right to a healthy environment. 

They also improve the quality and implementation of decisions, help raise public awareness of environmental issues, enable citizens to express their concerns and push authorities to listen and act.

Access to information

The right of access to environmental information “ensures that members of the public are able to know and understand what is happening in the environment around them.” It also ensures that the public can participate informedly in environmental decision-making processes. 

Access to environmental information means that all citizens must be able to easily access information relating to the state of the environment. Public authorities should not only provide citizens with environmental information when asked, but they should also proactively share this information when it is likely to be of public interest.

This information may relate to air and water quality, protected areas and biological diversity, among others. For example, if a group of people live near a chemical factory, they should have the right to know whether they are in an area where their health could be at risk due to high levels of pollution (see European Court of Justice human rights, Guerra v. Italy).

The right of access to information is contained in Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration, which states that "at the national level, each individual should have appropriate access to information relating to the environment that is held by public authorities , including information about hazardous materials and activities in their communities.” Access to information is also provided for by the Aarhus Convention (mainly applicable in Europe) and the Escazu Agreement (mainly applicable in Latin America).

Effective access to information is a prerequisite for successful public participation, as it ensures that citizens participate informedly. 

Public participation

The right to public participation means that everyone has the right to take part in decisions that may affect the environment. Citizens should have the right to participate in decision-making processes at local, national and international levels through, for example, a public debate or a local referendum. Public authorities and governments must take their opinions into account when making decisions. 

For example, in August 2023, Ecuador held a historic referendum asking local populations whether they agreed with the government's decision to stop oil drilling in Yasuní National Park. The majority voted in favor of stopping oil drilling. This referendum constitutes an example of good practice and an important step towards the democratization of environmental policies.

The 1992 Rio Declaration recognizes that "environmental issues are best addressed with the participation of all affected citizens, at the appropriate level." Other regional conventions also mention the principle of legal participation, such as the Paris Agreement, the Aarhus Convention, the Escazu Agreement.

The right to public participation also implies the right of the individual to form an opinion when a new administrative decision or a new normative act is likely to affect the environment. If everyone has the right to participate in the development of decisions, measures or programs of public authorities, the formation of an opinion cannot be done without transparent information. 
Access to environmental justice

Access to environmental justice is a major strategic issue for environmental law because it is one of the conditions for the effectiveness of green rights. Courts and judges play a fundamental role in protecting the environment. They are the guardians of our ecological rights.

Access to justice includes effective and affordable access to legal procedures so that citizens can challenge the acts or omissions of public authorities or companies that violate environmental law.

This right is contained in Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration, which states that "effective access to judicial and administrative procedures, including remedies and remedies, must be ensured." It is also provided for in the Aarhus Convention and the Escazu Agreement, among other texts.

The right to information, public participation and access to justice are extremely important as they recognize the importance of the role of non-state stakeholders. They guarantee their participation in public decisions by giving them access to adequate and up-to-date information and allowing them to make their voice heard. To effectively protect the environment through citizen access to environmental information, public participation and environmental justice, these principles must be recognized internationally.

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