November 27, 2022

What is the Escazú Agreement?

Read Time:4 Minute, 32 Second


(CNN Spanish) — Protecting environmental defenders and guaranteeing access to information, participation and environmental justice: these are the pillars of the Escazu Agreementa historic pact to which 14 Latin American and Caribbean countries are already part, one of the most dangerous in the world for those who fight for the conservation of the Earth.

The Colombian House of Representatives approved this week an agreement that, in reality, has already come a long way: it was adopted in 2018 in Escazú, Costa Rica, after two years of negotiations. And two years later, with the ratification of 11 countries, it entered into force.

The regional agreement is based on a key assumption: living in a healthy environment is a right that states must guarantee. And it must be understood in the context of a region that, as Unicef ​​maintainsis one of the areas with the fewest mechanisms for transparency and access to information on the environment while, at the same time, it is one of the areas where there are more crimes against environmental defenders.

Information, participation and justice: the three pillars of the Escazú Agreement

The agreement seeks to guarantee the population’s access to information related to the state of the environment, to the projects that may impact it, and to the decisions made on the subject. This implies rules to respond to requests for information —for example, it establishes that the authorities must respond to requests within a maximum period of 30 business days, among many other provisions—, and a guide to the information that the states themselves must generate and publish, which deals with topics as diverse as the use and conservation of resources, contaminated areas, permits granted by the states, etc.

The second pillar is that the population be consulted and participate in decision-making processes on the environment, while a third pillar refers to access to justice in cases in which citizens are excluded from decision-making processes or in which they must receive reparations for actions harmful to the environment.

The agreement also contemplates a series of measures to improve capacities related to this issue and for cooperation between those who are part of it.

defend the defenders

“Each party will guarantee 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,” the agreement also says.

States, by virtue of the mechanism, undertake to protect the rights of those who defend the environment and also to investigate and punish “attacks, threats or intimidation” suffered by defenders of nature.

The Escazú Agreement can be considered “a great victory for a new generation of young people, leaders, social and community organizations that are defining a different course, a course of transformation for the possibilities of maintaining the nature that remains in the conditions of climate threat and strong impacts such as the pandemic and in general the phenomena of transformation of ecosystems,” explained Professor Manuel Pérez, director of the Department of Rural and Regional Development of the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, in statements to the press that he shared with CNN .

But, above all, it must be understood as a “new narrative of negotiation and agreement” that assigns the State greater responsibility and requires it to be accountable in environmental matters.

In fact, if the states do not comply, under Escazú the conflicts can be transferred to the International Court of Justice, Pérez explained.

Colombia approves ratifying the agreement

Colombia is the country where the highest number of murders of environmental defenders was recorded in 2020, according to the Global Witness organization. The number rose to 65, and Colombia was followed by Mexico (30), the Philippines (29), and Brazil (20).

On October 10, the Chamber of Representatives of Colombia approved the Escazú Agreement, as part of the environmental agenda with which the new Government of Gustavo Petro was elected. During the mandate of Iván Duque, who signed the treaty and presented the project in Congress, his government coalition had shelved it. This legislative step gives the green light to the ratification (the revision of the Constitutional Court and the presidential signature are pending).

Brazil, great absentee (until now) from the Escazú agreement

The agreement is open to the 33 countries that make up the Latin American and Caribbean region, but not all of them have given their approval. Those who have not yet joined to the initiative are Belize, Brazil, Costa Rica (despite the fact that it was adopted precisely in that country), Dominica, Granada, Haiti, Jamaica, Paraguay, Peru and the Dominican Republic.

Why, four years after its adoption, have so many countries not ratified it? Pérez explained to CNN that “in Latin American countries they sense pressure from extractive industries” on which they depend and in this context there may be a lack of political will.

Among those that do form part are Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Panama and Chile —the most recent incorporation— where the Senate approved it at the end of May of 2022.

President Gabriel Boric, by the way, was one of those who opened the first Conference of the Parties, a meeting mechanism provided for in the agreement, which took place in Santiago in April this year. His message, when the country had not yet ratified the agreement, had no gray: “Either we save ourselves together or we sink separately.”





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