Event Highlights Signing, Inspires Ratification of Escazú Agreement
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
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An event convened on 27 September to celebrate the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters (Escazú Agreement), which opened for signature earlier that day.

Panelists discussed the importance of the Agreement for the region and environmental defenders, and how to move from ratification to implementation.

Concluding remarks called for ownership of the Agreement by citizens, reiterated the need for countries to ratify and implement the Agreement, and noted that multilateralism in the LAC region remains strong.

27 September 2018: An event convened in the margins of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly celebrated the opening of the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters (Escazú Agreement) for signature by 33 countries in the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region. The Agreement, which was signed by 14 countries on 27 September, is the first to feature specific, binding provisions for the protection of human rights defenders in environmental matters.

Convened by the Governments of Costa Rica and Chile and the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and hosted at Open Society Foundations, the event was co-sponsored by The Access Initiative, Amnesty International, CIVICUS, Derecho, Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (DAR), Namati and World Resources Institute (WRI). It aimed to enable dialogue and inspire countries to sign and ratify the Agreement. As noted in the event materials, the Agreement is the only treaty stemming from the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) and the first regional environmental treaty concluded under the auspices of UN ECLAC.

In their welcome remarks, opening speakers noted that it was refreshing to celebrate a positive event in an otherwise “dark and depressing era,” as noted by Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, CIVICUS. Carole Excell, WRI and The Access Initiative, outlined the history of the Agreement, from idea to declaration to roadmap to vision to negotiation to legally binding agreement to adoption, emphasizing the leading role of women throughout the process. Erika Guevara Rosas, Amnesty International, pointed to the fact that the LAC region has the largest number of environmental and human rights defenders that have been assassinated, recognizing rural communities that are “in the line of fire.”

Rounding out the welcome panel, Stacey Cram, Namati and Aída Gamboa, DAR, flagged that the problems addressed by the Escazú Agreement are not limited to LAC countries, and that the agreement is not just a landmark for the region, but for the world. Noting that ratification is just the first step, Cram cautioned that good laws can still be poorly implemented, but expressed hope that the Agreement can trigger a wider discussion on how governments can broaden access to justice beyond the environmental realm.

Chaired by Andrew Steer, President and CEO, WRI, a panel on the importance of the Agreement for the region and environmental defenders highlighted the increased likelihood of transparency around decision-making. Peruvian indigenous activist and environmental defender Lizardo Cauper emphasized that there is now a new legal mechanism to rely on when demanding that technical documents such as environmental impact assessments (EIAs) be made accessible to non-expert audiences, and in languages other than just Spanish or English.

The following panel, led by Manuel Pulgar Vidal, Climate and Energy Leader, Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), discussed how to move from ratification to implementation. He noted the Agreement features that are already present in some countries’ constitutions, and said key questions must now be addressed on implementation mechanisms. Panelists agreed that ratification is not necessarily a prerequisite to implementation, which can begin right away. Andrea Sanhueza, a civil society representative, noted that there is no legal change needed to assess current practices on information, participation and justice to identify where the gaps lie. Describing what is needed, panelists acknowledged the importance of trust among actors, noting that engaging members of the public in government decision making increases the legitimacy of those decisions.

Panelists noted that engaging members of the public in government decision making increases the legitimacy of those decisions.

Viviana Krsticevic, Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho International (CEJIL), flagged that the Agreement’s text strikes the right tone on creating an enabling environment for the protection of rights, for example around not allowing intimidation of community members. Such aspects of the Agreement, she noted, are critical to the issue of “breaking cycles of impunity,” where those with power continue to disregard international norms, human rights and the environment.

Concluding remarks by Epsy Campbell Barr, Vice President and Minister of Foreign Relations and Worship, Costa Rica, José Antônio Marcondes de Carvalho, Undersecretary General for the Environment, Energy and Science and Technology, Brazil, Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary, UN ECLAC, and Patrick Gaspard, President, Open Society Foundations, recognized the hard work and leadership by civil society organizations, called for ownership of the Agreement by citizens, reiterated the need for countries to take the next step and ratify the Agreement, and noted that multilateralism in the LAC region remains strong in the face of cynicism and retreats from cross-border cooperation elsewhere.

Negotiations on the Escazú Agreement concluded on 4 March 2018, in Escazú, Costa Rica. [Escazú Agreement Text] [SDG Knowledge Hub Coverage of the Regional Agreement] [UN Environment Story by ECLAC Executive Secretary Alicia Bárcena] [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources]


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