How can you access environmental information?

Public authorities are failing to provide citizens with information on environmental matters across the EU, a new report finds. Today, META gathers some tips to help citizens and NGOs access this information.

Information is knowledge and knowledge is power. Unfortunately, a new report by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) highlights limits to accessing environmental information in the EU.

Recent data shows that more and more citizens want to access information held by EU, national and local institutions as well as industry groups. In 2018, the EU received 6,912 requests for information, a 9.5% increase compared to 2017.

The EU and its member states are signatory to the Aarhus Convention, which grants environmental rights to citizens and environmental groups, including information sharing, public participation and access to justice.

However, most governments and institutions don’t provide sufficient data regarding the decisions concerning environmental matters.

Examples from the report show the barriers citizens and NGOs face in accessing information, including excessive costs, burdensome procedures and legal challenges.

In one instance, the EEB requested documents on permits for 25 large combustion plants. For each of these documents, the group was asked to pay €2,000, getting to a grand total of €50,000 for all the requests. The EEB successfully contested the payment and eventually received the information they requested, but stated that many groups may not be able to go through the same process.

The report reminds that environmental information should be easily accessible, in accordance with the Aarhus Convention.

In a previous report, the EEB found that costly procedures were also a barrier when it comes to access to justice. NGOs and citizens expressed concerns over entering lengthy legal and administrative processes, and even feared being legally persecuted for their actions.

The EEB describes how citizens or NGOs can access environmental information and how they can challenge public authorities when they refuse to share information. The graphs below give citizens legal advice on how to access information and on what to do when your information request is rejected.

How to access information in the EU?
What to do when your information request is rejected