Representatives from 22 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean began a new round of negotiations today in Santiago, Chile for a regional agreement that will ensure access to information, participation and environmental justice, recognizing the importance of cooperation between the State, the private sector and citizens on the road to sustainable development, with equality at the center of the agenda.
The Fifth Meeting of the Negotiating Committee of the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean (Principle 10), organized by ECLAC and the Government of Chile, will run through November 25 and be attended by ministers, deputy ministers and high-level government officials, representatives of the public involved in the process, and international experts.
The meeting was inaugurated at the headquarters of the United Nations regional body in Santiago by Pablo Badenier, the Chilean Minister of Environment, Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), and Andrea Sanhueza and Karetta Crooks, elected representatives of the public. The meeting included a special welcome video from Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, who urged participants to advance democracy and environmental equity, as well as to include all citizens in decisions regarding environmental processes that affect them.
"This meeting is significant insofar as we achieve an effective instrument of environmental democracy in the shortest possible time. I have no doubt that if we join forces, we will succeed at putting equality at the center of sustainable development in Latin America and the Caribbean," said the Chilean President.
Minister Badenier stressed the importance of the process, "which is demonstrating a new model of best practices in international negotiations," he said. "Greater and better access to information, to participation and to environmental justice, will result in greater legitimacy for each country's system of environmental management, will help to anticipate and prevent environmental conflicts, and will facilitate more efficient management of projects and programs, whether public or private, thus increasing the level of protection of natural resources," said Badenier.
Meanwhile, Alicia Bárcena stressed that democracy, good governance and the rule of law are essential for sustainable development. "Our region can be the protagonist of a unique agreement that does not address a specific environmental issue but rather links the environment to human rights and redefines traditional relations between the State, the private sector and civil society," she said.
"The delegates assembled here have a historic opportunity to change the pattern of decision-making. Our democracies are in crisis and need to be rethought … In a scenario of global uncertainty and mistrust, today more than ever the countries of our region should advance together in collaboration toward sustainable development. Sustainability with equality is the other face of democracy. For this reason, citizens should be active agents of change: nothing about us without us," reaffirmed Bárcena.
Meanwhile, the representatives of the public, Andrea Sanhueza and Karetta Crooks, expressed the need for a binding agreement on environmental issues, hopefully to be achieved by the end of 2017 at the latest. "Commitment from you and your governments is necessary today more than ever: to achieve a balanced, harmonious and sustainable coexistence between economic growth and sustainable development, we must create modern legislation that responds to the challenges of the 21st century in our regional context," they sustained.
The first day of the Fifth Meeting of the Negotiating Committee on the Regional Agreement on Principle 10 included a high-level segment with the participation of the Deputy Ministers of Justice, Environment and Agriculture from Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Panama and Saint Kitts and Nevis.
At the meeting, authorities reaffirmed that the participation of all stakeholders, especially communities and civil society, is essential for democracy, as dialogue is essential to restoring trust and environmental governance. "Only with greater access to environmental information, participation and justice will we have the opportunity to make better public policies," they stressed.
Among other activities, the meeting included a Roundtable on Environmental Justice and Access Rights for Sustainable Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, organized by ECLAC in conjunction with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and attended by judges and Supreme Court justices from Argentina, Brazil, the Caribbean and Chile.
There, senior judges underscored that access to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a basic human right. Therefore, it is essential to focus on the beneficiaries of the regional instrument being negotiated. "Citizens want a citizen government in which their voices are heard. That reinforces democracy," they pointed out.
The judges reaffirmed, moreover, the relevance of education for environmental development and the search for appropriate mechanisms to take up petitions by victims in a timely way, so they can also be active participants in the resolution of conflicts.