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United Nations: New Protocol to Make Reporting of Pollutants in Europe Legally Binding

(July 22, 2009) On July 10, 2009, France ratified the Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (done at Kiev, May 21, 2003)—the first legally binding pact of its kind—and in so doing triggered the agreement's entry into force 90 days thereafter, on October 8, 2009. Thirty-six countries and the European Community have signed the Protocol; France is the 17th state to ratify it. The document is a protocol to the 2001 Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (the Aarhus Convention) of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). (Press Release, UNECE, New International Treaty Requires Industries to Report on Pollutants (July 17, 2009), available at [with hyperlink to text of the Protocol and other relevant data]; Introducing the Aarhus Convention, UNECE website, (last visited July 21, 2009).)

UNECE Executive Secretary Jan Kubiš hailed the agreement as “a milestone in the advancement of public access to information about sources of environmental pollution in the UNECE region.” (Press Release, supra.) According to the UNECE, the new U.N. Protocol will “blow the cover of Europe's biggest polluters.” Under its provisions, member countries must “report every year on the amounts of certain types of pollutants released in the air or transferred to other facilities by industrial sites as well as smaller, widespread sources such as traffic and agriculture.” (UN Pact to Expose Europe's Biggest Polluters, UN NEWS CENTRE, July 17, 2009, available at These inventories constitute the pollutant release and transfer registers. The information gathered is then made accessible to the public through the Internet. (Id.; Press Release, supra.)

According to the U.N., public disclosure of pollutant release information has been shown to impel companies to improve their environmental performance, giving citizens of the 37 member parties “a powerful tool” with which to fight for a cleaner environment. The United Kingdom and Germany, among other parties to the Protocol, have already released their registers on the Internet. Annual reports by EU Member States on the release and transfer of pollutants listed in the Protocol have an anticipated publication date of September 30, 2009. The United States is not a party to the Protocol, but it has released a Pollutant Release and Transfer Register. (Press Release, supra.)