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08-02-2024 16:35

Address by the Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment, Dr Maria Panayiotou, at the conference on “Access to environmental justice and protection of environmental defenders”

It is with great pleasure and honour that I welcome you to today’s conference on “Access to environmental justice and the protection of environmental defenders” that is coorganised by our Ministry, the Department of Environment in particular, the Commissioner for the Environment, the Law Department of the University of Cyprus, and the Federation of Environmental Organisations of Cyprus.

I wish to extend my warmest thanks to Mr Forst and his team for accepting our invitation to conduct this country visit and for your willingness to contribute to our effort in raising awareness on the protection of Environmental Defenders and in enhancing the implementation of the Aarhus Convention in Cyprus in general.

The scope of today’s Conference is for the Special Rapporteur of Environmental Defenders to present his newly established mandate to the public and for the local experts to illustrate aspects of accessing rights to environmental justice as provided by the Aarhus Convention, in an effort to inform all relevant stakeholders.

Our invitation to Mr Forst was targeted towards raising awareness, building capacities and cooperation among authorities and the public as regards defending the environment, in line with provisions of the Aarhus Convention, which is a priority for our Ministry. We acknowledge that enhancing the public’s ability to participate and voice their views and concerns about their environment helps enforce environmental law and therefore reinforces our efforts towards the protection of the environment, which is a top priority for the Republic of Cyprus, as clearly stated in the programme of governance of the President of the Republic, Mr Nikos Christodoulides.

Cyprus has ratified the Aarhus Convention and as the competent authority for implementing the provisions of the Convention, we are continuing significant efforts in transposing and implementing them in our national legislation and procedures in order to safeguard the rights for everyone to a safe and healthy environment. The government has already provided tools enabling access to environmental information and is investing in making environmental data even more accessible by modernising our data gathering, databases and data sharing systems.

Public participation has been improved in a very positive way in our environmental decision-making practices, mainly through the deployment of a combination of online tools, participation in committees and mandatory public presentation of projects. All these facilitate the active, efficient and timely involvement of the public in the planning and decision-making stages, and allows the environmental authority to make more informed decisions. Efforts have been also made to ensure access to justice for environmental matters and to a certain extent, the public has managed to practice their rights when it was necessary.

However, being aware that there is still room for improvement, we are using this conference as a starting point for collaboration towards progress.

More specifically, your presence here, Mr Forst, represents a combined effort to enhance especially the 3rd pillar of the Convention, access to justice for environmental matters and to protect environmental defenders exercising their rights according to the Aarhus Convention by eliminating any possibility of unfair treatment against them. This effort not only reinforces our shared values and goals, but also propels us towards a better and more effective implementation of the provisions of the Convention.

As a final remark and in my capacity as the Minister of Environment, I openly state our willingness to support the work of the Special Rapporteur as well as cooperate with him and all our local stakeholders with a goal to safeguard that Cypriots can effectively practice their rights to defend the environment.

Thank you all for your presence here today and I wish you fruitful deliberations.