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08-02-2024 16:39

Address by the Commissioner for the Environment, Ms Antonia Theodosiou, at the Conference on “Access to Environmental Justice and Protection of Environmental Defenders”

Our planet is facing some of the biggest challenges ever known: climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, resource depletion. The primary causes of the above are reckless human activities, the exploitation of natural resources on an unprecedented scale, exacerbated consumerism at some parts of the planet, and lack of regulations.

Without urgent action the existing ecological, economic, and social crisis will intensify on a global scale. The environmental crisis is a global issue that transcends borders and demands for international cooperation. However, shortcomings in regional, national, and local systems of environmental governance exacerbate the planetary crisis.The good news is that many current strategies and initiatives for environmental governance offer hope.

The aim should be the support of the Government, of businesses, and of the Civil Society, to strengthen inclusive and effective systems for the promotion of environmental justice, human rights, and sustainability, starting now!

The Aarhus Convention, the relevant environmental harmonization legislation in Cyprus, national and European policies, local decision-making structures, and the civil society, are all significant, interconnected, and inseparable factors for an effective environmental governance based on principles that include information, participation, transparency, and accountability.

Cyprus has signed the Aarhus Convention on access to information, public participation in decision‐making and access to justice in environmental matters in 1998, and ratified it in 2003. Especially since 2004, following Cyprus’s accession to the EU, the first two pillars of the Convention – access to environmental information and public participation in environmental decision-making – implemented into EU law, are institutionally and to a large extend practically observed.

Mr Forst was elected in 2022 as the world’s first Special Rapporteur on Environmental Defenders within the scope of the Aarhus Convention of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). The purpose is to establish a rapid response mechanism to address cases of sanctions, prosecution, harassment, and other forms of reprisals against anyone exercising their rights under the provisions of the Convention.

I welcome him to Cyprus along with his colleagues, during their first country-visit following an invitation from the Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development, and the Environment. During our meeting yesterday at the Office of the Commissioner for the Environment, I had the opportunity to discuss with him matters related to his mandate and, mainly, concerning the situation of environmental defenders in Cyprus.

Upon completion of the Special Rapporteur's visit, I will await his report. Within the competencies and responsibilities of the Office of the Commissioner for the Environment, in meaningful collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development, and the Environment, the Public Authorities, the legal and the academic community, and, of course, with the Civil Society at all levels, my goal is to leverage the findings of the report and take relevant actions to enhance the government's participation in the process of the protection of environmental defenders within the scope of the Convention.

I will not elaborate further on the Conference topics, since presentations from the Department of Environment, case studies presented by academics and legal experts, and discussions will follow.

In closing, it is important to mention is that Civil Society in Cyprus is already quite active, having resorted to justice in cases where they believe harm is done to the environment, and incorrect decisions have been made by the competent authorities.

Best wishes for a successful Conference.

Thank you!