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Serious lack of environmental information jeopardises Government commitments

May 24, 2004

A study has found that information available to the public on environmental law - from noise nuisance to pollution – is seriously lacking, which could weaken international Government commitments.

People who suffer the effects of environmental damage want to know how they can take action and get help. The government is in the process of ratifying a UN convention(1) that promotes access to environmental justice. This includes being able to access environmental information.

The study, by Cardiff University(2) on behalf of the UK Environmental Law Association(3), found major websites that offer detailed information on environmental law (eg the Environment Agency site, NetRegs) were too specialised for the public and not written in plain English. Others, which are aimed at the public (eg Citizens Advice Bureau) do not provide enough information to answer even basic environmental questions, but redirect enquiries elsewhere.

The study concluded that there was an urgent need for better electronic information on environmental law. “There is a need for an e-library that would provide ordinary citizens in the UK with access to qualitative environmental law information”, the study says.

The study consulted other organisations (including the Environmental Law Foundation, Friends of the Earth, Black Environment Network and Women’s Environment Network), which deal with public enquiries about environmental matters. It concluded: “all consultees agreed that an environmental law library, which was free and accessible to the public, did not exist and was required. Information on environmental law would assist citizens in understanding their rights and obligations and therefore would encourage public participation in the democratic process”.

UKELA is now working with the Cardiff University study team to raise the money to set up an e-library on environmental law. Funding partners are sought who can help take the project forward.

Notes to the editors:

The UK is a signatory to the Aarhus Convention on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters, and is in the process of ratifying it. Signatories must: “ensure that environmental information progressively becomes available in electronic databases which are easily accessible to the public through public telecommunications networks”
2. The study was carried out by the Centre for Business Relationships, Accountability, Sustainability and Society (BRASS) at Cardiff University.
3. The UK Environmental Law Association is a charity which aims to make the law work for a better environment. Its members include lawyers and non-lawyers.
4. Further information is available from UKELA or BRASS. Please contact Vicki Elcoate 01306 501320, 07715361844, or Vicki.elcoate@ntlworld.com.

UK Environmental Law Association - Better law for the environment
Registered charity 299498; company registered in England number 2133283
Registered office: One Glass Wharf, Bristol, BS2 0ZX

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