A Step Forward for Environmental Rights in Latin America and the Caribbean | 1st Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Escazu Agreement in Santiago de Chile (20-22 April 2022)
19 Apr 2022
Venue: Online | Webex
Organization: Earthjustice, Geneva Environment Network, European ECO Forum
This event took place on the eve of the 1st meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Escazu Agreement, to be held in Santiago de Chile from 20 to 22 April 2022. The Escazú Agreement is a parent instrument to the UNECE Aarhus Convention, aiming at empowering people with the rights to access information, participate in decision-making in environmental matters.
About the Escazú Agreement
The Escazú Agreement is the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean. It was adopted in Escazú, Costa Rica, on 4 March 2018, and entered into force on 22 April 2021. It held its 1st meeting of the Conference of the Parties in Santiago de Chile, from 20 to 22 April 2022.
After the recognition of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment by the Human Rights Council in October 2021, this meeting is a further step in strengthening everyone’s ability to act to protect ecosystems and to respond to the challenge of the major environmental crises.
[The Escazú Agreement] is a historic achievement for the region and for the world. In addition to being the most recent Multilateral Environmental Agreement to have been negotiated and adopted under the auspices of the United Nations, the Escazú Agreement is also Latin America and the Caribbean’s first regional environmental treaty. Perhaps most notably, it is the first such treaty to include specific provisions for the protection and promotion of human rights defenders in environmental matters.
Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations
There is more to this agreement, as described by Martha Delgado, Vice-Minister for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, “This agreement is a suitable vehicle for strengthening democracy, citizen participation and environmental justice, and in an intersectional way in all communities. Civil society participation is very important. The Escazú Agreement has become a reference point for cooperation. The challenge now will be its implementation.”
This is precisely one of the important tasks of this 1st meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Escazú Agreement, the establishment of the structure and functions of the Committee to Support Implementation and Compliance (article 18.1). It will also hold a high-level event to mark the first anniversary of the entry into force of the Escazú Agreement as well as the International Mother Earth Day, on the morning of 22 April.
About this Event
The meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Escazú Agreement has significance beyond its region. The equivalent instrument at the at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe – the UNECE Aarhus Convention (on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters), has greeted its first Member from Africa. The event included perspectives from outside the region on this landmark moment for the Escazú Agreement.
By order of intervention.
Secretary General, European Environmental Bureau & European ECO Forum
Roberto CÉSPEDES GÓMEZ
Minister Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Costa Rica to the United Nations and other international organisations in Geneva
Director, Environment and Sustainable Development, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility, Ecuador
Delegate, Human Rights and Environment, Permanent Mission of Mexico to the UN and other International Organizations
Human Rights Expert, Permanent Mission of Uruguay to the UN and other international organizations in Geneva
Head, Sustainable Development and Strategic Change Group, Ministry of Environment, Republic of Lithuania | Chair, Bureau, UNECE Aarhus Convention
José Luis SAMANIEGO
Director, Sustainable Development and Human Settlements Division, UNECLAC
EarthRights International, Representative of the Public at the Escazú Agreement
Marine Ecosystems Protected Area Trust, Antigua and Barbuda
Magdolna TOTH NAGY
Executive Co-Director, GUTA Environmental Law Association
Representative of Earthjustice to the United Nations in Geneva | Moderator
Jeremy Wates | Secretary General, European Environmental Bureau & European ECO Forum
There was a time when we assumed that the march towards democracy and democratization was somehow inevitable. Twenty years ago, when the Aarhus Convention held the first meeting of the parties in Luca, Italy, I was one of those optimists who took that for granted.
It is impossible to ignore the threats to democracy today and how they’ve escalated through the rise of autocrats, demagogues and dictators. No region has a monopoly on this kind of bad behavior. Russia’s war against Ukraine takes it to another level but it is part of the same general trend.
We need to be vigilant. The kind of democracy represented by the Escazú Agreement and the Aarhus Convention – generally called participatory democracy – recognizes that the involvement of the public in decision making should not be limited to occasional participation, in more or less fair elections. It should involve ongoing input of the public to certain types of decisions through structured participatory processes where the right to information and the right to appeal decisions are flanking the right to participate itself.
The participatory democracy concept also reflects the recognition that exposing decision making by public authorities to public scrutiny generally improves the quality of decision making.
- Governments alone will not be able to tackle the major environmental problems of our time, whether we talk about climate change, biodiversity loss, ubiquitous plastic pollution in our oceans, etc.
- We need to have the whole of society effort. Having mechanisms that enable the public to participate in decision making increases the chances that the public will believe in those solutions and put their back into realizing it.
- It’s not just about fitting some pollution controls on the end of a chimney. It’s about changing the whole way we do things: the way we move around, the way we house ourselves, feed ourselves and so on. It involves a huge transition in society where the public needs to play a central role in that.
Having served as Secretary to the Aarhus Convention for more than a decade from 1999 onward, I have an idea of the kind of preparations that have gone into COP1 of the Escazú Agreement, as well as the importance of establishing a strong foundation for such a treaty.
It’s standard for multinational environmental agreements (MEAs) to adopt rules of procedure, or to put in place financial arrangements, or to establish mechanisms supporting implementation and compliance. What is special about Escazú and Aarhus is that the principles of transparency and participation can and should be reflected in those operational structures and mechanisms. I’m very happy to see those issues on the agenda. It’s encouraging and inspiring to see the progress that’s been made in in a short time.
This is an important week where we can have some good news amidst the background of bad news. I hope that the ongoing collaboration between Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean in helping the development of the agreement will continue. The European side has shared their experiences, but every region has to do it its own way and find its own solutions. It’s encouraging to see in some aspects of the Escazú Agreement that have picked up issues that were missed when Aarhus was being negotiated.
A Step Forward for Environmental Rights in Latin America and the Caribbean
Roberto Céspedes Gómez | Minister Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Costa Rica to the United Nations and other international organisations in Geneva
Costa Rica has been playing a role in the process of the Escazú Agreement that has led us to COP1. I’ve been a presiding officer for the Escazú process for almost 3 years now in San Jose, so it’s an initiative that is also very close to my heart and to my work.
The first meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Escazú Agreement (COP1) is very timely, as we face the multifaceted environmental crisis in pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, and ocean management. These are aggravated more by the fact that we are not doing enough. COP1 will provide very good tools to our Latin American countries both for those who have signed it and even for some who have not. These tools can improve the way they conduct their business, involving more people in a more democratic way.
Escazú is about bringing a new mindset in democracy, a new way of doing things. Not only are there benefits in exposing public decisions to public scrutiny but there are benefits of working together from the beginning to avoid and prevent any environmental harm.
In the end, this is the spirit of Escazú: to bring people together to solve the issues that are more present for them in their local communities. To allow for much more legitimate and participatory decisions to be implemented so when they come to fruition, they do not face backlash or judicial consequences, avoid environmental harm, and guarantee the right to a healthy environment.
As said last year in Geneva, together with a group of countries, we spearheaded the efforts for the global recognition of a right to healthy environment. The human rights enshrined into the Escazú Agreement are the procedural aspects of that right; without this, this right will be very difficult to implement. That is why the recognition of the right to a healthy environment and COP1 of the Escazú Agreement have a lot in common because they have the potential to start implementing the right to a healthy environment in Latin America and elsewhere.
- Note from GEN: For more information on the procedural aspects of the right to a healthy environment, please refer to the report by the Special Rapporteur, “Right to a Healthy Environment: Good Practices”.
In this COP1, the Rules of Procedure of the COP, and the rules of the Compliance Committee are important steps that need to be agreed upon, as these will provide the base work for people and States to take advantage of this agreement. We expect that these negotiations will go smoothly. Two and a half years of work has been placed on these issues, particularly on the financial side.
There’s also one key aspect of the Escazú Agreement that is new, which perhaps sets it apart from the Aarhus Convention: human rights defenders and provisions for them.
We need to get to work on discussing how to protect the work, lives and health of environmental human rights defenders and their contributions to the environment. Because in the end, they are the ones who are bringing about the most radical and transformative changes. States need to work with them more closely, protect and guarantee that they can exercise their rights freely and without fear of prosecution or harassment, without threat.
The Escazú Agreement has specific provisions that would allow for a rich discussion and measures on how to better stop human rights offenders.
Costa Rica has not yet ratified the agreement. We are part and still have the presidency until it is handed over to a new presidency as per the rules of COP1. However, we are still strong supporters of the agreement. We are politically committed to it. We hope that our Congress ratifies it as soon as possible.
- However, even for countries like us, the agreement is already part of our legislation because we have Constitutional provisions that allow for human rights agreements that have been signed, even if not ratified, to be used by Costa Rican citizens in Constitutional courts.
- Moreover, the Consulatory Opinion 23/17 (available also in Spanish) of the Inter-American Courts of Human Rights touches upon the rights of the Executive Agreement that makes it possible for everyone that is part of the Inter-American Human Rights System to access the agreement. As such, the rectification will come soon for us.
Congratulations to all the countries that have already ratified and that are going to be taking part in this first meeting of the party in Chile. Let’s hope that the outcome is great, and that the agreement can begin to be implemented and made accessible to all communities in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Walter Schuldt | Director, Environment and Sustainable Development, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility, Ecuador
The entry into force of the Escazú Agreement is a historic achievement for being the first environmental treaty for Latin America and for including specific provisions for the protection and promotion of human rights defenders in environmental matters.
It provides every member of society with the fundamental tools to fully enjoy and defend the rights to environmental information, to participate in the environmental decisions and to access environmental justice.
The challenge is now implementation, particularly in the establishment of rules relating to the structure and functions of the Committee to Support Implementation and Compliance (Article 18). Ecuador supports the proposals to have a fully transparent and enhancing mechanism for the Committee.
Alongside the negotiations, Ecuador developed simultaneously its first Action Plan for an Open Government, which included an early diagnosis of the existing regulatory and management gaps for the future implementation of the Agreement. Because of that assessment, we developed a proposal of a multistakeholder governance mechanisms, inclusive of all stakeholders.
At COP1, the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ecuador will attend alongside the delegation of the Foreign Affairs and Environment Ministry. As part of the preparatory process, a series of working groups with more than 700 participants across the country were undertaken to identify implementation progress, gaps and needs, and start developing proposals, programs and a roadmap to present to international community.
Outcomes of the process resulted into the development of legal and public policies, especially regarding transparency and access to environmental information and participation, include:
- National Action Plan for an Open Government
- Executive Decree 59, which states in Article 2 the need promote the implementation of the Escazú Agreement
- It had special emphasis in the respect and application of its principles contained in Article 3 of the Agreement. It also involved the development of overarching public policy for several other environmental programs.
- Changing the name into “Ministry of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition”, it has a cross-cutting policy that expand the responsibility to protect the rights of nature to all sectors and actors of our economy and society, also enshrined in the Constitution. It had a vision of ecological transition that became one of the priorities of the National Development Plan.
- Under the Information Pillar, Ecuador developed the National System of Environmental and Sustainability Indicators, an Agricultural Geoportal, a National Energy Assessment, and a Biodiversity National Database.
- Under the Participation Pillar, the REDD+ Programs include a process of free, prior, and informed consultation with local communities and indigenous peoples for the development of climate change mitigation and adaptation projects. Moreover, there is a positive emergence of local producer platforms and the development of local environmental education councils in several provinces.
- Under the Environmental Justice Pillar, there is an establishment mechanism of prosecution by the State to several cases of illegal deforestation, possession and trade of wildlife and several judicial decisions including by our Constitutional Court.
- Some of these occurred even before the entry into force of the Escazú Agreement, condemning different acts as crimes against flora and fauna using some of the provisions of the Agreement. The General Prosecutions Office also established a special unit for the investigation of crimes against nature.
There still are gaps and barriers:
- lack of knowledge in several public entities about the existence of the Escazú Agreement,
- lack of capacity to implement and facilitate its access, and
- lack of coordination between different levels of public administration.
There are several opportunities, with COP1 being the main opportunity to expand the knowledge and start the implementation of Escazú. It is also important to connect this with other international upcoming processes: Stockholm+50 Conference, the Ocean Conference, the Basel Rotterdam and Stockholm Triple COP, COP15 of Convention on Biological Diversity, the Desertification COP, COP27 on climate change, and the negotiations for an Internationally Legally Biding Agreement on Plastic Pollution.
All these opportunities are very important tools for Latin America, providing an opportunity to enhance bottom-up participation, not only in the implementation of the Escazú Agreement, but in the implementation and participation of all actors in all these other environmental processes.
Montserrat Rovalo | Delegate, Human Rights and Environment, Permanent Mission of Mexico to the UN and other International Organizations
For Mexico, the Escazú Agreement is a relevant instrument to strengthen democracy, citizen participation and environmental justice. It has become a reference point for cooperation and regional integration, representing a commitment to promote environmental governance and sustainable development.
The Escazú Agreement is prevention tool. Mexico has a very strong mandate to mainstream human rights and gender issues in different environmental fora. The big challenge ahead is its implementation. Mexico has already passed legislation related to access rights on environmental matters, which has influenced the drafting of the Escazú Agreement.
However, there is still work to do. Some of the actions Mexico has been taking as a roadmap to implement this Convention:
- Mexico has promoted a multi-sector collaboration and created working groups at the governmental level to attend each type of access right. One group each for the following: access to information, public participation, access to justice, and to formulate a roadmap for implementation.
- Mexico has undertaken parallel work with the academia for the development of indicators that can help identify and evaluate the effectiveness of the policies and actions promoted by different actors to implement the Agreement.
- Mexico has launched a series of dialogues with representatives of civil society to learn from the different contributions already in place in relation to access rights but also to see how they can strengthen the general efforts taken by the Government.
COP1 has several objectives, such as the establishment of Rules of Procedure of the Conference of the Parties, the rules relating to the structure and functions of the Compliance Committee, financial provisions, and strategies for effective implementation of the agreement ahead. Mexico expectations from COP1:
- Having national efforts concentrated to achieve the objectives set Escazú Agreement by putting in place processes to include civil society, academia, the private sector, youth, indigenous people, women, and the general public in decision-making processes, as well as in spaces where they can share their experiences.
- Establishing synergies between the three rights promoted by the Escazú Agreement and the SDGs.
- Having coordinated response to different environmental and social challenges regionally. The Escazú Agreement allows for different countries in the region to join ideas and forces to attend social and challenges that may be common to many.
Mexico believes that COP1 will serve as a forum to strengthen this cooperation and as an example for other regions to implement similar mechanisms.
Carla Giovanoni | Human Rights Expert, Permanent Mission of Uruguay to the UN and other international organizations in Geneva
Uruguay has long promoted and maintained human rights commitments regarding access to information, access to public participation and access to justice as key pillars of sound environmental governance. It has been doing this not only nationally, but also at the international level: Uruguay is one of the States at Rio Conference+20 held in 2012 declaring the political will to work together to materialize the application of the 1992 Rio Declaration Principle 10.
The Escazú Agreement is the first instrument that contains specific obligations and provisions on human right defenders and those working on environmental issues. We not only need to acknowledge the crucial role of environmental human rights defenders in contributing towards reaching global climate and sustainable development goals, but to strengthen our region’s capacities to guarantee a safe and enabling environment for the work of environmental human right defenders.
The Escazú Agreement is groundbreaking for it reflects the importance of the access to environmental information, public participation in decision-making process and access to justice in environmental matters. All these are linked to guaranteeing the Right to a Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment. It was an honor to support the historic Human Rights Council Resolution that recognizes this right in the UN system. Still, there is a long way to ensure a practical impact on the ground of this recognition, including the recognition in other UN bodies, other international treaties, and more Constitutions and legislations in order to accelerate our global response to the triple global environmental crisis. What will be discussed in the COP1 will strengthen the synergies with this recognition
With regards to COP1:
- The adoption of balanced, practical measures that foster transparency and the effective implementation of the Escazú Agreement would be important to send a positive signal to the countries that have not yet ratified it.
- As a general rule, the meetings will be held every two years at ECLAC Headquarters in Santiago, unless the State Parties decide otherwise, and that additional meetings will be organized for the first years of the Agreement in accordance with the Article 15 of the Agreement as there still is a lot to do.
- Uruguay is committed to promote this regional treaty at the international level by organizing events:
- Side event on the Escazú Agreement at the UN High-Level Political Forum 2021 on Sustainable Development, organized with Costa Rica and ECLAC
- Side event within the framework of the Stockholm+50
Uruguay aligns with what was expressed by ECLAC’s Executive Secretary Alicia Bárcena: the Escazu Agreement is an agreement between states but above all, it is an Agreement between each state and its societies.
It collects regional priorities, recognizes and develops fundamental democratic rights and places equality at the center of development, seeking to incorporate all sectors of society to face environmental challenges. This has also been recognized by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as the treaty provides a cornerstone for environmental democracy, international cooperation and multilateralism.
Uruguay is firmly committed to advancing the effective of this Escazú Agreement and to express the need also to redouble efforts in the region for more Latin American and Caribbean countries to ratify it.
Aurimas Saladžius| Head, Sustainable Development and Strategic Change Group, Ministry of Environment, Republic of Lithuania | Chair, Bureau, UNECE Aarhus Convention
The First Meeting of the COP to the Escazú Agreement is a reminder that environmental democracy is of relevance now more than ever.
The Aarhus Convention Parties and stakeholders from the region were strongly engaged into the process that led to the Escazú Agreement.
- Since its adoption in 1998, the Aarhus Convention has been a model example of the application of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. Twenty years after its entry into force in 2001, the lessons learned demonstrate how environmental democracy can help sustainable management of resources, promote transboundary cooperation and lay the foundations for peaceful, inclusive and just societies.
- Testimonies by governments and stakeholders showcase success stories in different countries. The Convention brought more transparency, it increased participatory approaches, and free access to information became a standard practice. It also contributed to a growing use of administrative and court procedures by public and these achievements bring many hopes for the future.
At the same time, the lessons learned also served as a reminder of the importance of democratic values.
- Many societies are moving away from them towards greater restrictions on civil liberties, and environmental activists are increasingly the targets of repressive measures and retaliatory actions. In order to allow people exercising their environmental rights to be free from fear, under Article 3 of the Aarhus Convention, Parties shall ensure that persons exercising their rights in conformity with the provisions of the Convention shall not be penalized, persecuted or harassed in any way for the involvement.
- In the current historic moment Europe is experiencing, we are once again reminded of the importance of democratic values and free speech. Therefore, it is important to ensure environmental defenders’ safety not only inside their home countries but international level as well. In this regard, it is worth applauding the adoption of the landmark decision establishing the Aarhus Rapid Response Mechanism for the Protection of Environmental Defenders taken in October 2021.
Both the Escazú Agreement and the Aarhus Convention provides solid frameworks and international standards for promoting transparency, good governance, participatory decision making and the rule of law which are at the heart of sustainable development.
These treaties are effective tools at the service of governments and civil society to further SDGs in particular SDG 16. Additionally, it is worth applauding the Escazú Agreement for embracing strong provisions safeguarding environmental defenders.
The tremendous work for achieving Escazú illustrates the value of environmental democracy in practice and the Aarhus Convention Parties stand ready to continue sharing their knowledge and experience with you.
Hopes and Challenges for COP1
José Luis Samaniego | Director, Sustainable Development and Human Settlements Division, UNECLAC
Hosting this event in Geneva really makes it feel that COP1 of the Escazú Agreement is being shared in a community that is not solely based in the LAC region but has a global outreach.
The Escazú Agreement has several outstanding features; the process was unique as it allowed for very meaningful public participation. It was characterized by experts’ participation, which eventually led to a much stronger agreement than would have been otherwise.
ECLAC Expectations for COP1
- The highest expectation ECLAC has is to see countries agree to meaningful participation of the public, of academia, of the private sector – as it has been the practice throughout the whole nine rounds of negotiation of the Escazú Agreement – translated into the rules of procedure.
- To establish the financial arrangements necessary for the operation and implementation of the Agreement:
- Article 14: Voluntary Fund
- Article 15.4B: Discussion and adopt by consensus the financial provisions necessary for the functioning and implementation of the present Agreement
- Article 18: Agreement on the rules for the composition and functioning of the Committee to Support Implementation and Compliance.
For more information on the various Articles of the Escazu Agreement, please visit this link.
- Increase in the ratification and in the effectiveness of the Agreement, considering the increased support of key stakeholders throughout the region. Escazú is a preventive agreement that is aimed at lowering social and economic and environmental risks in decisions made. It is a positive factor to have increasing participation also of the financial community in events and discussions and hopes this will be strengthened are high.
- The latest events for the organization of COP1 had the World Business Council of AFD (Agence française de développement) and the World Bank alongside the public.
This supports the desire of having the Escazú Agreement rallying up plural participation and convincing the broader public that it is an appropriate instrument to make investment and development decisions while taking care of people and communities.
- We hope that COP1 will also stimulate other processes. As Escazú is changing the narrative of what it means to care for the environment while making sound investments, we expect opposition within Congresses of countries like Colombia, Costa Rica and Chile for further ratification to lessen and key extractive industries – mining, oil, forestry – to support the procedures. In brief, we hope COP1 will convince more actors that the Escazú Agreement is the right means to decide on investments with property information, participation, and access to justice.
- Establishing indicators of performance and having cooperation for implementation throughout Latin America entails producing periodic reports on the state of implementation of Escazú. This also means cooperation must be guide agreements on substantive matters: similar problems should have somewhat similar approaches to solutions. Consequently, we must harmonize public policies, and regulatory frameworks, allowing for the greener, more environmentally sound industries to appear in the region, making actions more compatible with nature and with societies.
Once COP1 puts in place the rules, the procedures, the financial mechanism and the Implementation Committee, we hope this will open the door to stronger cooperation in substantive matters throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, leading the way for a more sustainable development.
Natalia Gomez | EarthRights International, Representative of the Public at the Escazú Agreement
Civil society and the general public in the region are going to COP1 with great hopes. Three main ones:
- Escazú must become a treaty that countries have signed to change the reality for people in Latin America and the Caribbean, ensure a right to a healthy environment and promote climate action in the region. The two latest IPCC reports tell us that the moment to act is now. To halt the climate crisis, action should be made through rights-based policies that include people, indigenous and all communities in the adoption of climate policies. We already have that tool to make sure that climate action is effective in this region.
- COP1 is also a moment for renewing the political commitment of the region to Escazú. Chile and Costa Rica were the two countries leading the process for so many years, despite Chile not signing the agreement. Nevertheless, the presence of the President of Chile in the opening ceremony represents a coming back to the Escazú process and a great example of political leadership that we are hoping Chile can have. There are so many other countries that are still missing, like Colombia or Brazil. We are really hoping that this COP is also a moment to raise that commitment not only by State Parties but by those signatories that are in due of ratifying the agreement.
- COP1 will be adopting the rules of procedure for future COPs. From the public perspective, it is crucial to ensure these rules of procedure strengthen the significant participation of the public in the COP and in all the different bodies that have been created by the Agreement. Escazu has not only been recognized because the agreement created all these important standards on access rights and the protection of defenders in the region, but it has also been recognized because of the way that it was negotiated, and the standards in terms of civil society, public participation in the negotiation. Our expectation is that those standards are strengthened to allow civil society, environmental defenders and indigenous representatives can exercise effective participation during COP and in any other body that is created.
The rules of the Committee to Support Implementation and Compliance are the core element from the civil society perspective. The COP will discuss the proposal put forward by Costa Rica, Panama, Saint Lucia, and Uruguay.
- This proposal is a very strong one and is supported by civil society because the Committee to Support the Implementation of Compliance is key to ensuring support to parties and to authorities to implement the Agreement and ensuring there is accountability from states and ensuring transparency on how those obligations are implemented at the national level.
- The Committee will offer an expert interpretation of the agreement, key to providing legal support to the Agreement for authorities to apply it at the national levelm and that committee also has significant and broad participation of the public.
Main elements that civil society hopes the rules will contain:
- The establishment of an independent Committee where members can exercise, their job in an independent way.
- The granting of the possibility for the public to submit to the Committee communications about the compliance of the agreement. This is the key element of COP’s negotiations as this rule allows for real accountability and transparency by State Parties in regards to their obligations in Escazu and the way that they are implementing the agreement. This was something that civil society tried to achieve in the Agreement – as it is in the Aarhus Convention, but it was not possible. Therefore, its inclusion in the rules is the main result we await.
- The establishment of the mandate for the Committee to adopt protection measures in favor of the members of the public that file communication and allowing them to establish that they are in a situation of risk of attacks or threats or intimidation. This specifically develops Article 9 of the Escazú Agreement and the four pillars that were adopted in terms of recognition and protection of environmental human rights defenders.
Ruth Spencer | Marine Ecosystems Protected Area Trust, Antigua and Barbuda
The Escazú Agreement has a powerful impact on local communities in Antigua and Barbuda, as it gives people a voice in environmental decision-making. Various and specific environmental laws are contained in Antigua and Barbuda’s legislation but are not enforced and local people are not sufficiently educated about these laws to complain about implementation.
The ratification of the Escazú Agreement by the Government of Antigua and Barbuda represents a strong message and opportunity to advocate and speak about the environmental wrongs that are occurring, such as commercial investments in protected areas. These bring no gain to the environment. The gain goes to investors, not to the people, while negatively impacting our biodiversity.
- For instance, on the island of Barbuda, a millionaire residence is being built on a Ramsar Site. This is just one among many investments in wetland areas. People do not have a lot of information on these but can see the changes taking place as lands are being cleared, trees, and mangroves are being destroyed.
- We, the people know these projects should not take place without consultations but we have no say in this development that the plan. It seems as if these developments are state secrets, because you only find out about them when you see something or some information is leaked.
The biggest hope for COP1 is that the Caribbean region can have a greater voice. This event is a great opportunity to build networks, partnerships, and capacities. Capacities are essential to give us the tools to understand legislations, project appraisals and how to conduct cost-benefit analyses to assess projects ongoing. We have to build capacities in social accountability so that people can hold the government accountable to the laws and the legislation that are in place.
We also must build strong alliances because when individuals speak out about environmental wrongs, they are called economic terrorists, they are harassed and threatened or even lose their job. Luckily, unlike many Latin American countries, killings of environmental activists are not frequent in Antigua and Barbuda. Therefore, my expectation from Escazu is to build networks and partnerships and to see the establishment of rules of procedures that amplify our voices to conduct advocacy.
Magdolna Toth Nagy | Executive Co-Director, GUTA Environmental Law Association
COP1 of the Escazú Agreement will be a crucial meeting as it will have the discussion and the establishment of basic documents for the architecture and the roadmap for the implementation of this outstanding agreement. The Rules of Procedure and the rules of the Committee to Support the Implementation and Compliance of the Agreement are important building blocks for the implementation of Escazú. Rules should not only ensure the efficient implementation of the agreement but favor its transparent and participative development.
- This entails establishing opportunities for the representatives of the public to participate in the different leading bodies of the agreement, not solely during future COPS or in subsidiary bodies, but also have at least one representative in the body of the so-called Presiding Officers.
- There are hopes that the Committee to Support Implementation and Compliance will include mechanisms to allow members of the public in the different countries to submit communications when they experience infringements of their rights during the implementation period. The current Draft Document is welcome, but it is essential that formal and informal drafting groups of the representatives of the public also feed the different documents or meetings.
Civil society played a key role during the negotiation and the promotion of the ratification of this agreement. Representatives of the public, civil society actors and environmental activists coordinated action, organizing different campaigns, debates, dialogues and thus contributing to this successful ratification in many countries.
- There are other countries where this process still needs to happen and hopefully the number of Parties will rise from 12 to at least 24 signatory countries. Apart from them, there are other 11 included in the scope of this agreement, amounting to a total of 33 countries.
Next Steps and Main Challenges for the Agreement
- COP1 should put in place a functioning structure and start as soon as possible its practical implementation, beginning with the set-up of the Committee to Support Implementation and Compliance. We would like to see successful progress in the implementation not only at the regional level, but at the national and sub-national levels as well. This will ensure that the public of the Latin American region, the most affected groups – including environmental and human rights defenders and indigenous communities – witness a difference in how they can practice their access rights and defend their interests when exercising their rights to a healthy environment when future environmental decisions will be taken.
- Dialogues should be organized not only at the regional level during COPs or different subsidiary meetings but also at the national and local levels. This can allow responsible national authorities representing different stakeholders to discuss obstacles to the implementation of the agreement and how to remove these taking measures towards improvement. There should be increased awareness on both sides: of obligations and capacity-need of the authorities responsible for implementation, and of rights and how those rights can be exercised vis-à-vis the Escazú Agreement for representatives of the public and the most affected groups.
- Adequate, stable and predictable financial and human resources should be secured for the implementation of Escazú. Judicial capacity-building of authorities and of the public and civil society is needed on regional, national and local levels. We hope that the donors from the Latin American region and outside the LAC region will contribute to supporting the capacity-building efforts and the implementation of the agreement at the various levels.
Each agreement should find its own way to implementation, but the exchange of experiences and good practices and cooperation between the Escazú Agreement and the Aarhus Convention can greatly contribute to the successful implementation of both. The whole architecture of the Aarhus Convention stands ready to support the successful implementation of the Escazú Agreement.
José Luis Samaniego
- The expectations of governments, from the point of view of the Secretariat, and the expectations from the public can be reconciled as Escazú has been an exercise of democracy. Indeed, we are convinced that Escazu is pushing the envelope in terms of democratic practices. We hope countries can accommodate the expectations of the public and include them for having an interesting discussion.
- There is an increasing sense of empowerment within Latin America and that shows in other instances like the cooperation in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) where Mexico played a fine role. It is very likely that Escazú elects Uruguay as president of the Bureau, recognizing its role as positive force within the agreement. Lastly, it is important to thank the Aarhus Convention for all the support provided during these 10 years of negotiation as we now proceed to the First Escazú COP.
Magdolna Toth Nagy
- The Aarhus Convention Secretariat will continue being in touch, hoping that all ECLAC colleagues see the usefulness in our contribution. Together, the Aarhus Convention and the Escazú Agreement can also take part in other global processes, in different international fora and take joint initiatives. We should further discuss how these forms of cooperation could evolve more.
- Civil society, the public and indigenous organizations in the region have very high expectation for COP1 to be a space of effective participation from the public. I call on all State Parties to support proposals put forward, especially the proposals for the roles of the Compliance Committee. We believe this to be the heart of the negotiations as it allows the public to bring communications to that Committee, ensuring accountability and transparency on the implementation of the Escazú Agreement.
- We wish States, civil society and all stakeholders a fruitful COP and the achievement of results aligned with the spirit of the Agreement. We hope we can all move together to advance the effective implementation of the Agreement and its wider ratification. While doing it, we must stress at the same time that this represents an effort to strengthen our regional cooperation and our democracies and also to do better in applying a human rights approach to environmental policies.
- It is important that the rights to access information, public participation, access to justice are not just outcomes of the different instrument of this COP, but also that those rights are realized and materialized in the process to the adoption of these outcomes. We also hope this COP gives a good example for other regions as well.
- We really should take advantage and enhance the connection between this COP1 and the work being undertaken in Geneva. Escazú can serve a tool to implement the recently recognized right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, to profit from the establishment of a Special Rapporteur on Climate Change and Human Rights and all work undertaken by the Human Rights Council and other organizations Geneva.
[Read more on the work of the Human Rights Council on the environment at the 49th Session of the Council.]
- The Escazú Agreement should serve to create synergies not only within the region, but also with other global processes, and serve as an example to other regions on how to enhance bottom-up approach when reaching and implementing environmental agreements.
Roberto Céspedes Gómez
- The spirit of Escazu and what it has showed during the negotiation process and after is that there has always been a close collaboration between civil society, State Parties, academia, private enterprises, and NGOs such as the OECD. To preserve the spirit of Escazú, this collaboration should also be present in Santiago at COP1.
- After two years of isolation, COP1 should only be a productive moment but also a celebration of Escazú being implemented and having reached the necessary ratifications for it to come into force. We must be guided by a spirit of collaboration and bring about a strong but also flexible rules. The rules of the Compliance Committee should allow for a large and significant participation of the members of the public and also be flexible for the members of the committee to find their own voices and ways to work.
- I want to congratulate the parties of the Escazú Agreement once again in the hopes in the hopes to continue the mutually beneficial cooperation between the Aarhus Convention and the Escazú Agreement. I have no doubts that this agreement will bring positive change Latin America and the Caribbean and will in turn contribute to the global promotion of democratic values.
- Getting a strong compliance implementation mechanism in place, the independence of the committee and the possibility of public participation are essential, whether these are winnable this week or not. Indeed, ensuring the public participation in the processes the of the Agreement really makes a difference in the.
- An MEA is not just a set of rules, a set of documents, a set of agreements: it also is about a community. At the heart of every MEA there is a community of people. Those individuals and what they invest in it makes a real difference to the outcome. This is not a romantic idea as we have seen how this positively affected the of the Aarhus Convention.
- Whatever comes out of it in terms of documents and agreements formal decisions at this COP1, it is important to remind that it also is an opportunity to strengthen and continue to build that community at the centre of the Escazú Agreement.
- We look forward for the two communities of the Aarhus Convention and the Escazú Agreement can also progressively form one big community that can have quite an influence on the current environmental issues.
In addition to the live WebEx and Facebook transmissions, the video of the event will be available on this webpage.