The first binding regional agreement to protect the rights of access to information, public participation and access to justice in environmental matters (Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development), adopted on March 4 in Costa Rica, is a historic milestone for the region. For that reason, authorities and experts gathered today at ECLAC called on the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean to sign and ratify it this year so that it enters into force as soon as possible.
During the second meeting of the Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development, which is taking place at ECLAC’s headquarters in Santiago, Chile, the main actors who participated in this process – which led to the adoption of an unprecedented legal instrument for the region that is one of a kind in the world – ratified the importance of the “Escazu Agreement” (named after the Costa Rican municipality where it was adopted) and urged all the countries of the region to ratify it starting on September 27, when it will be open for signature by the delegations attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
At an event about this Regional Agreement, on the sidelines of the Forum, authorities from the governments of Chile and Costa Rica – the countries that held the presidency of the negotiation process – along with representatives of the public and of participating international bodies, stated that the regulations of this new legal instrument will help build legitimacy and social cohesion in the region’s countries, as indicated by Andrea Sanhueza, the elected representative of the public and coordinator of the gathering.
“This is a historic agreement because it consecrates for the first time the protection of environmental defenders’ human rights, which allows for ensuring that cases like the brutal assassination of Berta Cáceres (a Honduran environmental defender) will not go unpunished,” said Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the organization that acts as the technical secretariat of the process.
“This is an agreement made by us, for us and the generations to come. It is a visionary instrument without precedent, a second-generation environmental treaty because it explicitly links environmental matters with human rights and guarantees the procedural rights that are essential for implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in an adequate manner,” the United Nations regional commission’s top authority added.
Meanwhile, Norma Munguía, Director General for Global Affairs at Mexico’s Foreign Affairs Secretariat, indicated that this agreement “gives us the basic minimum floor from which we must take off in the region. Clearly this is going to have an effect on the correct implementation of the 2030 Agenda. That is why for us, having an instrument of this kind is reason for pride and happiness.”
For his part, Juan Angulo, acting Director of the Division of Environment and Maritime Affairs at Chile’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said: “The agreement contributes decidedly to compliance with the 2030 Agenda, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), through the rights mentioned and the fact that they cut across any decision that entails the use of natural resources.”
María Fernanda Frías, from Chile’s Ministry of the Environment, stressed that the inclusion of the protection of environmental defenders is unprecedented in the history of these agreements. “For the same reason, we understand the importance of guaranteeing a safe and conducive setting in which people, groups and organizations that promote and defend human rights in environmental matters can act without threats, a lack of protection or insecurity. We call on all parties to maintain this commitment and to continue working to ensure this right,” she said.
To conclude the event, Olga Marta Sánchez, Minister of National Planning and Economic Policy of Costa Rica, pointed to the fundamentally democratic nature of this agreement in which 24 nations participated, with the support of ECLAC, and to the unprecedented and extraordinary participation of elected representatives of civil society in the region.
“I think it is fundamental to explain here the intimate binding tie between the Escazu Agreement and the SDGs, as one of the paragraphs in the text states, which is based on the three pillars of the 2030 Agenda: social, environmental and economic. And if there is one thing that we have learned from the entire process of implementation of the SDGs, it is that today no development agenda in any country can be divorced from these three elements,” Minister Sánchez stressed.