Environment law update: Access to information 7

United Kingdom

United Kingdom

Freedom of Information Act

Two Codes of Practice have been made available to assist public authorities with their implementation of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. One of the codes relates to Section 45. It provides guidelines for public authorities on handling requests for information that they receive under the Act, involving the transfer of requests from one public authority to another, and consultation with others that might be affected by the disclosure of information. The second code concerns record keeping and management by public authorities under Section 46. This involves the timescale for transferring material to the Public Record Office and how long particular records should be kept before destruction.
(The Lord Chancellor’s Department, November 2002)

The Government has announced its intention to repeal or amend up to 100 legislative items which currently prohibit the disclosure of information. These will be replaced with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The announcement was made in the Annual Report on the implementation of the Act which details the Government’s progress over the last year. Also announced in the Annual Report was the introduction of a legal obligation for a publication scheme detailing the classes of information that will be published by Government departments from 30 November 2002, local authorities from 28 February 2003 and the police and armed forces from 30 June 2003. The legal obligations of the Act will eventually apply to around 100,000 public authorities, including local authorities as well as a number of private sector bodies.
(Lord Chancellor’s Department, November 2002)

Environment statistics

Environment related trends and statistics have been made available in the latest edition of the booklet, ‘The Environment in your Pocket 2002’. It includes data covering the global atmosphere, air quality, water quality and use, coastal and marine waters, radioactivity, noise, waste and recycling, land use and land cover, and wildlife. There is also some analysis of the linkages between indicators on the economy, transport, energy use and emissions of pollutants. The booklet is available free of charge from DEFRA.
(DEFRA, November 2002)

Cars

The Department of Transport has announced the introduction of a pilot scheme for providing consumers with information on the environment impact of cars. It will involve the use of colour coded labels and allow consumers to compare the environmental credentials of cars in a similar way as is currently used for EU energy labels for refrigerators and washing machines. Two formats will be piloted, based on the carbon dioxide emission bands that form the basis of the new graduated vehicle excise duty bands. The scheme will apply to new cars and to used cars registered since March 2001 and sold in commercial premises. Since January 2001 the UK has had a legal requirement to comply with an EU Directive relating to the availability of consumer information on fuel economy and carbon dioxide emissions for new passenger cars (99/94/EC).
(Department for Transport Press Release, 28 October 2002)

European Union

Environment reporting

The European Environment Agency (EEA) has proposed the development of technical standards for EU governments to fulfil their legislative reporting obligations. In its report, the EEA calls for the development of a shared environmental information framework, to be available online, through a system called Reportnet. The European Commission is due to propose new reporting requirements in 2003. The EEA says that Reportnet would be particularly useful in situations where the volume of data is usually low and the frequency of reporting typically once a year, where users are widely distributed and where few data are classified.
(EEA, December 2002)

Access to environmental information

The European Parliament and the Council have reached a conciliation agreement on a proposal for a Directive on Public Access to Environmental Information. Once adopted, the new Directive will replace the existing Directive on the Freedom of Access to Information on the Environment (90/313/EC). The new Directive is aimed at ratifying the Access to Information pillar of the Aarhus Convention adopted in June 1998. Once in force, it should provide the public with wider and more easy access to environmental information that is held or produced by public authorities. It will also oblige the authorities to take the initiative on making such information available on electronic databases, including the Internet, that are publicly and easily accessible. Such information will include data on emissions and discharges into the environment, their impact on public health and results of environmental impact assessments. The Directive will have to be implemented in member states within two years of publication of the Directive in the Official Journal.
(European Commission Press Release, 8 November 2002)

International

Environment reporting

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) has published its 2002 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines. The guidelines incorporate several significant changes from the first guidelines released in June 2000, which have arisen from testing and public comment. The GRI says that it recognises that sustainability reporting is a relatively new area compared with financial reporting, and therefore is still evolving rapidly. Organisations may use the guidelines for informal reference or to use them as a basis for a report, and in both cases the use of the guidelines are voluntary. The aim of the guidelines is to assist organisations to report on economic, environmental, and social impacts of their activities, products and services. The GRI has said that it aims to release an updated version of the guidance in 2004.
(GRI, October 2002)

Pollutant register

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) has announced that agreement has been reached upon the main features of a Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR) system. The Treaty will form a Protocol to the UNECE Aarhus Convention and should enable the public to gain better access to information on pollution by mandating a system of reporting by companies. It is intended that PRTRs will contain information relating to certain polluting substances such as greenhouse gases, dioxins and heavy metals, in a national register accessible through the Internet. The Agreement means that parties to the Protocol will have to report annually on releases and transfer of 86 pollutants by specified industrial facilities. This is more onerous that the EU’s scheme due to come into force in 2003, although many of the proposed requirements in UNECE’s scheme are optional. Talks scheduled for January 2003 will aim to resolve remaining issues including public disclosure requirements and resolving differences over the thresholds for obligatory reporting on particular industrial facilities or substances. Another issue still to be resolved is how to distinguish between pollutant release that is routine, accidental or due to external causes such as floods.
(UNECE, December 2002)

For further information please contact Paul Sheridan on 020 7367 2186 or at paul.sheridan@cms-cmck.com