Deal opens pollution info to ordinary Europeans: UN

23rd April 2010, Comments 0 comments

European citizens will soon be able to find out about pollution in their local areas at the click of a mouse and lodge complaints under a new international agreement, the UN said Friday.

Dubbed a tool for "environmental democracy" by its supporters, the Kiev Protocol obliges authorities to keep a public register of pollution incidents or emissions from sources such as chemical plants, power stations, oil and gas refineries, mines and waste dumps.

"It will enable ordinary citizens, simply using the Internet, to find out about the major sources of polluting emissions in their immediate neighbourhoods," said Jan Kubis, executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Europe.

Twenty-three European countries, including Britain, France and Germany, have so far ratified the agreement. It sets a new benchmark for public access to information on environmental threats from toxic emissions according to the United Nations.

Companies are meant to provide a detailed plant-by-plant report annually on emissions or transfers of 86 pollutants such as greenhouse gases behind climate change, ozone depleting substances, heavy metals and chemicals.

The 'Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers' entered into force last October and the registers are due to be rolled out over the coming years.

Jeremy Wates, secretary of the parent Aarhus Convention on transboundary pollution, said the countries involved agreed on the practical details and rules to ensure the agreement works and deals with complaints about pollution, during their first meeting in Geneva this week.

"This compliance mechanism allows the possibility for a member of the public to trigger a review," he told journalists, calling it "innovative".

However, plaintiffs must first exhaust their national avenues of appeal before they can approach the international group of independent experts.

The UN said the protocol was open to all and had "potentially global scope".

Last November, the European Union, also a signatory of the protocol, set up an online register of 24,000 industrial sites that covered 91 substances emitted in 2007.

© 2010 AFP

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