Within environmental law, Environmental NGOs (hereafter NGOs) – being private actors established by civil society – often enjoy special procedural rights in order to help to achieve the public interest of a sound environment. Particularly when governments fall short in their public task to protect the environment, it will be crucial that NGOs – acting as watchdogs – step in by defending the voiceless interest of a sound environment. This contribution examines how NGOs are indeed able to contribute to the protection of the environment, and which challenges exist when NGOs act in the pursuance of this public interest. Core focus goes to the right of access to environmental information as being currently provided in EU law, and several opportunities and limits will be discussed. In view of the potential great informational power of NGOs, this contribution will also shed a light on the question of accountability of the NGOs themselves, and the way how the right to freedom of expression protects their freedom of speech in case they want to make accusations of malpractice or illegal behaviour of governments or industries.
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- Public interest; NGOs; Aarhus Convention; Procedural rights; Environmental information; Freedom of expression; Strategic Lawsuits; PRTR Protocol; Compliance; Confidentiality