Legal background to the Environmental Appeals Act

The Environmental Appeals Act grants associations special rights to ensure compliance with environmental or nature conservation law.

The Environmental Appeals Act (Umwelt-Rechtsbehelfsgesetz, UmwRG) entered into force on 15 December 2006. The Act makes it possible for associations whose predominant purpose is to promote environmental protection objectives to appeal against violations of environmental law, i.e. request an internal review or take legal action. To make an appeal under the UmwRG, environmental associations require a specific recognition.

The UmwRG is designed to incorporate into German law that part of the European Public Participation Directive 2993/35/EC of 26 May 2003 which deals with access to justice. The overall aim of the Directive is to preserve, protect and improve the quality of the environment and to protect human health. It seeks to achieve this aim by promoting and enhancing public participation – in particular by associations – and access to justice. The Directive goes back to the Aarhus Convention, an international convention which regulates access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters.
As a members state of the EU and party to the Aarhus Convention Germany had to transpose these objectives und provisions into its national law, and with the adoption of the UmwRG it opened the way for the ratification of the Aarhus Convention. Germany ratified the Aarhus Convention on 15 January 2007 to become the 40th party to the Convention. The European Union had already ratified the Aarhus Convention on 17 February 2005.

An environmental association recognised pursuant to Article 3 UmwRG may take legal action against decisionsof public authorities specified in Article 1 (1) UmwRG. This provision covers appeals against, for example, permits for industrial installations, waste incinerators or energy production plants, licenses under water legislation, and plan approval decisions, for example for landfills.
Unlike individual claimants recognised environmental associations can bring a legal remedy without their having to show that their own rights are affected. It suffices that they state why the decision concerned contradicts environmental legislation.

Since 1 March 2010, the recognition procedure under Article 3 UmwRG includes verification whether an association has a main emphasis on encouraging the objectives of nature conservation and landscape preservation. A statement to that effect in the recognition decision confers to associations the participation and litigation rights of a recognized nature conservation association (Articles 63 and 64 of the Federal Nature Conservation Act).

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