1 The Aarhus Convention promotes access by the public to environmental information and their involvement in associated decision-making. In 2002, two Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) Working Group meetings were held in February and June. The First full Meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention took place in October 2002 where non-binding Guidelines and a Decision on public participation were agreed.
2 The Aarhus Convention Guidelines bring contained use within their scope, but only in the following limited manner - the need for public participation in decision making is confined to those GM contained use activities which require emergency plans under the Genetically Modified Organisms (Contained Use) Regulations 2000 (GMO(CU) (Regulation 20). There are logical links here between high risk activities which, if the GM organism escaped, may seriously affect human health or the environment; the need for emergency plans; and the involvement of the public in decision-making. The Guidelines are flexible and describe different ways of going about the process of public participation.
3 In addition to the Guidelines, the First Meeting of the Parties to the ?arhus Convention agreed a Decision. Essentially this Decision established a further Working Group to further explore the options for developing a legally binding approach to the Convention with respect to GMOs. This provides more time (until 2004) for different legally binding approaches (which might or might not include contained use in their scope) to be considered and for experience of the implementation of the guidelines to be gleaned.
4 Advanced unedited versions of the Decision and the Guidelines adopted at the meeting can be found at www.unece.org/env/pp/mop1/decision.1.4.e.doc
5 There has been considerable European activity on the ratification of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (the first Protocol to the Convention on Biodiversity) that covers transboundary movements of GMOs. The Commission had put forward a proposal for a regulation to implement those aspects of the Protocol not covered by existing EC law. The main aspects were:
6 The current proposal, which reached political agreement at the 17 October Environment Council meeting, excludes GMOs in contained use from the Advanced Informed Agreement Procedure. However, any exporter of GMOs for contained use activities will still have to ensure compliance with the relevant national legislation of the country of import. There are also requirements for transport and labelling of GMOs destined for contained use in other non-EU Countries. And there are also requirements on EU Member States to provide information to the European Commission and the proposed Biosafety Clearing House on decisions made by Member States on class 3 and 4 contained use activities and any summary risk assessments generated by EU regulatory processes. This may have administrative consequences for HSE but mainly relates to the information that is already publicly available.