At a side event to the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development 2021, Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), called for bolstering access to environmental information, public participation and justice to build a more resilient and sustainable world that empowers people and protects the planet.
The event, Empowering people to protect the planet in a COVID-19 context: the contribution of SDG16 and environmental access rights to sustainable and resilient recovery, was organized by the governments of Costa Rica, France, Mexico, Saint Lucia and Uruguay, together with ECLAC, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and the United Nations Environment Programme.
Opening remarks at the meeting were given by Rodolfo Solano, Costa Rica’s Minister of Foreign Relations and Worship; Carlos Amorín, Ambassador Plenipotenciary and Extraordinary, Permanent Representative to the UN, and Alicia Bárcena. Distinguished experts from LAC, Europe, Africa and Asia also participated.
During his remarks, Minister Solano underscored that the healthier and more protected the natural environment, the better we will be able to exercise our rights.
“The right to a healthy environment is at the core of the fair, peaceful and inclusive exercise of all other human rights. And one way of contributing to a healthier environment is to guarantee human rights of access when it comes to the environment,” expressed the Minister.
Ambassador Carlos Amorín emphasized that, in the current context, Sustainable Development Goal 16 on peace, justice and solid institutions, emerges as a powerful tool for achieving transformative changes for people and the planet, in particular, the rights to information, participation and justice in environmental matters.
Alicia Bárcena, ECLAC Executive Secretary, called for rethinking social compacts around transformative development styles.
She added that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented devastation, has conditioned our possibilities for development and laid bare the pre-existing structural problems and vulnerabilities in our region. Furthermore, it has magnified asymmetries, for instance, in access to vaccines.
“At ECLAC we believe it is crucial to connect the emergency to a transformative recovery. We must reinforce the Rule of Law, strengthen more participatory democracy, safeguard rights and keep peace, preventing social conflicts while transforming our productive structure in line with the 2030 Agenda. We cannot continue doing things the same way and expect different results,” she emphasized.
She underlined that the Escazú Agreement is the first to protect the rights of environmentalists, of those who fight for life, who give their lives for life.
“This is an unprecedented agreement that protects both present and future generations. With 24 signatory countries, 12 States Party and after a process of ratification that was swifter than expected, the Escazú Agreement went into effect on April 22, 2021. This shows the region’s firm commitment to the Agreement and the will of Latin American and Caribbean countries to implement its provisions,” underscored Alicia Bárcena.
She also added that the Agreement compliments the Aarhus Convention, an ongoing point of reference for LAC, which this year enters into its twentieth year in effect.
Participants in the dialogue following opening remarks included Jamaican Minister of Housing, Urban Renewal, Environment and Climate Change, Pearnel Charles Jr., as well as delegates from Burkina Faso, Finland, France, Indonesia, UK, Thailand, Saint Lucia and Switzerland, and representatives from the Millennials Movement and the World Resources Institute.
Minister Charles emphasized that cooperation at all levels is crucial. “Designing participatory and inclusive solutions to build back better is more important than ever for Small Island Developing States in the Caribbean like Jamaica. We need leadership, solidarity and bold collective action to ensure that rights of access in environmental matters are the cornerstone of our recovery efforts,” he asserted.
The delegate from Saint Lucia, Kate Wilson, focused on the benefits the Escazú Agreement has brought to her country, considering it a core pillar in that country’s legal and policy framework.
The representatives from Finland, France, Switzerland and UK shared their experiences as States Party to the Aarhus Convention and expressed their firm support for the Escazú Agreement.
Lena Hehemann, representative from Switzerland, sustained that “the adoption of instruments similar to the Aarhus Convention provide for a rich exchange of knowledge and expertise, while also recognizing that cultural characteristics may require differentiated approaches when it comes to national implementation.”
Sofia Sandström, representing Finland, said that treaties like the Aarhus Convention are the backbone of the environmental dimension of SDG16, offering clear legal frameworks and platforms for dialogue. “We adhere with great satisfaction to the Escazú Agreement and are eager to cooperate and exchange experiences,” she underlined.
Alex Winstone, UK delegate, indicated that his country “supports the objectives and intentions of the Escazú Agreement to strengthen environmental governance in LAC,” while Thomas Legoupil of France encouraged all the countries of the region to ratify it or adhere in the near future, given the instrumental nature of the Agreement.
Likewise, the representatives from Burkina Faso, Indonesia and Thailand mentioned different national and regional developments in the matter, while the representative from the Millennials Movement called for recognizing the voices of young people in the decision-making processes that affect them.
Janet Ranganathan of the World Resources Institute closed the event asking how the Escazú Agreement has contributed to the COVID-19 recovery. “There must be financing in order for these agreements to not remain on paper only. We must invest in generating capacities in countries and in the public to implement treaties on access rights. Stable financial resources and technical expertise are key to making such treaties operational. Let us not wait any longer to take these rights seriously. Together we can raise standards for good governance.”