2021 has been a difficult year for Latin America and the Caribbean, but it started with good news: the ratification of the Escazú agreement. This is the region’s first major environmental pact and opens a new phase, as it aims to guarantee the rights of all to a healthy environment and sustainable development. In addition, it aims to facilitate access to public information and promote citizen participation in environmental policies in the region.
This historic regional agreement has its origins in the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio + 20) and is based on Principle 10 of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.
In addition to representatives of governments and international organizations, the participation of social movements, academics, specialists and civil society in general was also important in its construction and negotiations.
The “Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean”, better known as the Escazú Accord, has was signed in Escazú, a city in Costa Rica, on March 4, 2018.
The treaty was promoted by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and signed by 22 countries, having reached a regional agreement in the negotiations chaired by Chile and Costa Rica, which also included the participation of Argentina, Mexico, Peru, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago.
A pioneering legal instrument for environmental protection
The Escazú agreement is above all a pioneering legal instrument in the field of environmental protection. Second, it is a human rights treaty which, according to ECLAC, aims to “guarantee the full and effective implementation in Latin America and the Caribbean of the rights of access to information. environment, public participation in environmental decision-making processes and access to justice. . in environmental matters ”.
These elements form the basis of environmental democracy and become a reality when political decisions on environmental management are in harmony with the interests of citizens.
The agreement also opposes all forms of inequality and discrimination. Therefore, it seeks to ensure the creation and strengthening of capacities and cooperation to contribute to the protection of the right of every person and of present and future generations to live in a healthy environment and to sustainable development.
To enter into force, the agreement must be ratified by at least 11 states. Until last year, it had passed through Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guyana, Nicaragua, Panama, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines , Saint Lucia and Uruguay.
But with the ratification of Mexico and Argentina, and the deposit – delivery of the ratification document – of this instrument to the UN on January 22, the necessary number of ratifications was reached. Thus, the Escazú Agreement will enter into force on April 22, 2021, International Mother Earth Day.
The numerous socio-environmental conflicts and the high number of murders of environmental leaders like Berta Cáceres or Samir Flores have led Global Witness (2020) to consider Latin America and the Caribbean as the most dangerous region in the world to be a defender of human rights, land or environmental activist. Therefore, the deal is undoubtedly a step forward and a key response to one of the major regional debts.
Historically, we are faced with the first international agreement that includes provisions on environmental human rights defenders. Article 9 emphasizes that “Each party shall ensure a safe and enabling environment in which individuals, groups and organizations that promote and defend human rights in environmental matters can act without threats, restrictions and insecurity”.
For all these reasons, the Escazú Accord is an unprecedented agreement that demonstrates the value of cooperation and multilateralism. It is not only the first environmental treaty in Latin America and the Caribbean, but also the only binding agreement adopted to date following the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio + 20).
The agreement also places Latin America and the Caribbean at the forefront of an environmental transformation that prioritizes human rights, with a gender perspective. It also has an approach that takes into account the needs of people and groups most vulnerable to environmental degradation and the effects of climate change.
In fact, the central point of this agreement is that the rights it guarantees also apply to decisions and policies related to climate change. It thus serves as a framework for the proper regional implementation of the Paris Agreement (2015) and for the construction of effective climate policies.
Building environmental democracy
In building environmental democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean, the Escazú Accord represents a fundamental step. It is also one of the essential bases for international cooperation and multilateralism in the areas of sustainable development, the environment and climate change.
At a time when we must think about regional revival after the Covid-19 pandemic, the agreement reminds us that we can no longer talk about the economy and the promotion of development without taking into account the effects on the environment and climate change.
Therefore, the region can and must opt for a green and sustainable recovery that takes into account not only the rights of current generations, but also of its future inhabitants.
In short, the agreement claims the urgency to think about the environment and climate change, as well as to build a real environmental democracy. It recognizes the fundamental right to a healthy environment, while giving women, indigenous peoples, young people, people with disabilities and vulnerable communities a voice to fight for their rights and have guarantees of protection in this process.
In this way, the agreement marks a turning point in the regional environmental agenda and has enormous potential in the process of building more just, equitable and sustainable societies.
Considering the many obstacles and challenges you will face after its entry into force, our task as citizens will be to work so that this instrument is not only ratified by all countries, but also so that it becomes a reality.