Public access to environmental information is governed by international agreements, European Directives and UK legislation.

The UK’s Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR) provide public access to environmental information held by public authorities. The Freedom of Information Act gives people access to most other types of information held by public authorities.

The EIR implement the European Council Directive 2003/4/CE on public access to environmental information. The purpose of the directive is to ensure that environmental information is available to the public and to require public authorities to make the environmental information they hold available on request. The source of the EU Directive is the Aarhus Convention.

The principle behind the EIR is that allowing public access to environmental information encourages greater awareness of issues that affect the environment and increases public participation in decision-making. The EIR apply only to the environmental information held by public authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Environmental information held by Scottish public authorities is covered by the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004.

In other public information regulations, the UK Companies Act 2006 requires directors’ reports to include information about greenhouse gas emissions and to report on environmental risks and other matters, including the use of key performance indicators, where appropriate. This does not apply to SMEs.

This topic highlights the international framework and European Directives, and explains how public access to environmental information is governed in the UK.

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