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Scientific and technological evolutions create complex environmental risks. Those risks must be dealt with democratically, in the interest of the dêmos. In representative democracy, public authorities often ask for scientific expertise to help them make decisions regarding those risks. However, this expertise only covers scientific considerations, as those experts aren’t efficient on other aspects – just as important including ethics and how the dêmos perceives those risks.
Normally, public authorities would integrate these other aspects in their decisions regarding the environmental risks: based on a scientific evaluation of a given risk, the representatives would make sure it’s dealt democratically. In other words, public authorities would guarantee some sort of a democratic filter between the scientific evaluation of the environmental risk and the public decision regarding these risks. However, under the exclusive influence of scientific experts ignoring the dêmos, public authorities cannot guarantee this democratic filter. The public decision regarding the environmental risks mainly aligns with – if not only –the scientific evaluation of those risks.
In order to make up for those flaws, the idea to have the dêmos directly taking part in the conception of the public decision was born. This direct participation would enrich, nuance the scientific expertise and allow the public authorities to integrate other facets of the environmental risks in their decisions, thus restoring the democratic filter between the scientific evaluation and the public decision.
While at first direct public participation to the decision process was only ever requested for the evaluation of effects on the environment of different activities, it was later extended to more scenarios. This extension, in International Law, was observed during the Århus convention on June 25th. The contribution will examine if and how the participative system of this convention really insures a democratic way to deal with environmental risk and will point at the serious democratic weaknesses of the system.
By exploring the possibilities of the participative system of the Århus convention, this contribution will suggest ways to resolve those issues in order to insure a truly democratic way of dealing with the environmental risk.