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Action Guide Home > Organisations > ESPOO Convention (Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context Project)

ESPOO Convention (Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context Project) image

ESPOO Convention (Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context Project)

The Espoo (EIA) Convention sets out the obligation to assess the environmental impact of certain activities at an early stage of planning. Under the Convention states are obliged to notify and consult each other on all major projects under consideration that are likely to have a significant adverse environmental impact across boundaries. The Convention was adopted in 1991 and entered into force in 1997.

The ESPOO convention compliance and enforcement system operates on the basis of national reports: the Convention requires that Parties submit national responses to questionnaires in every two or three years. This information is provided for the review of compliance. Under the review of compliance the MOP (Meeting of Parties) established the implementation committee that provides assistance and orientation but it is not a judicial body. The eight members of the Implementation Committee (IC) are elected by MOP but election is not restricted to government persons. It uses many sources for its activities: submissions by parties about compliance and a party to party system. The IC met for the first time with the new operation rules in force in October 2008.

Example of most relevant cases:

a) Submission by Romania against Ukraine.
An NGO in Ukraine made a complaint to the committee but the committee did not take action. Nonetheless, on the basis of this initiative the committee developed a long list of criteria/sources to be followed in order to make the IC aware of a case. The main difference with the Aarhus system is that the IC is not an ultimate trigger: it can decide whether to proceed or not due to the list of the mentioned criteria.

b) Poestra canal project in the Danube delta
In 2004 Romania made a submission about Ukraine (project in the Danube delta) and also initiated a separate procedure, namely an inquiry procedure which the IC has no power to interfere with. The inquiry procedure is described in the Convention as a scientific analysis whether a project is likely to have transboundary impact or not. In this case it took two years and was decided that the Convention should apply because of potential transboundary effects. MOP endorsed the findings of the scientific report and endorsed the non compliance by Ukraine with the ESPOO. A decision to take an action on Ukraine (a type of warning) was adopted and the IC is scheduled meet at the end of October 2008 (at the time of writing) to decide whether the action has to be issued or not.

c) Moxx plant case (party to party case): the EU member states brought another state in front of the tribunal of the Law of the Sea and then the Commission took action against this member state in front of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The ECJ judgement was in favour of the Commission.

In September 2004 a meeting was convened by UNEP in Geneva in order to discuss the Danube delta case with different MEAs secretariats and experts; this shows that there are other bodies interested in the process of the ESPOO convention.

The IC can act also on its own initiative when the committee becomes aware of a possible case of non-compliance.
The IC made lot of efforts to be more open and transparent, but they do not have an ultimate trigger for public participation. This could change; although in this subject parties have more discretion than under the Aarhus convention.

An amendment was made to open the convention to non ECE members (i.e. open to UN members) but is not yet in force. Another active but slow process is in South Korea: this involves the South Korea - North Korea - China - Russia - North East Asia area; these countries are interested in publishing transboundary EIAs but politics have so far obstructed an agreement. Iran and Iraq participate in the meetings; Lebanon was also interested and there are efforts to involve the Mediterranean countries (Med Action Plan UNEP).

The ESPOO convention is complemented by the SEA protocol (which is not transboundary, there is a transboundary issue but it is not its fundamental part), which is not yet in force and is open to all UN members. An automatic trigger may be needed in the future to improve the enforceability of this convention.

The secretariat of the ESPOO convention consists of two people. Sometimes external consultants are engaged for short term projects. In the case of the inquiry procedure a scientific panel has been established, consisting of an independent chair and one member of each of the two parties.

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