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Latin America and the Caribbean Adopts Its First Binding Regional Agreement to Protect Rights of Access in Environmental Matters
Today the representatives of 24 Latin American and Caribbean countries who were gathered in San Jose, Costa Rica adopted 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), an unprecedented legal instrument for the region.
At the conclusion of the Ninth Meeting of the Negotiating Committee of the Regional Agreement on Principle 10, the government delegates, along with representatives of the public and experts from international bodies, agreed to the final text of the accord, which had been under negotiation since 2014 and which also enshrines the protection of human rights defenders in environmental matters.
The closing ceremony was led by Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís and Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the United Nations regional organization that acts as technical secretariat of this agreement.
Other participants included Edgar Gutiérrez, Costa Rica’s Minister of Environment and Energy; Marcelo Mena, Chile’s Environment Minister; and Alejandro Solano, Costa Rica’s Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs and Worship.
“The agreement that has been achieved here in Costa Rica marks a turning point; it is very good news for a continent that needs it a great deal for its fight against crime, poverty, inequality and hate. It is also crucial for the very survival of our species,” President Solís said during his remarks at the meeting’s end.
The President indicated that it is necessary to bring people into environment-related decisions, making them participants in development, since “the right to a healthy environment is a human right,” he stated. He also highlighted the legal relevance of the agreement and of “environmental democracy” as a new legal term that implies the participation of all in the protection of the environment.
Meanwhile, Alicia Bárcena stressed the importance of this process that culminates today with the adoption of the first binding regional agreement on environmental democracy. “With this agreement, Latin America and the Caribbean attests to its firm and unequivocal commitment to a foundational democratic principle: the right of people to participate in a significant way in the decisions that affect their lives and their surroundings,” she indicated.
Bárcena added that this regional agreement, along with the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, respond to the international community’s quest for answers aimed at changing the current development pattern “in order to build peaceful, more just, caring and inclusive societies, in which human rights are protected and the protection of the planet and its natural resources is guaranteed.”
“The great merit of this regional agreement lies in placing equality at the center of rights of access and, therefore, of the environmental sustainability of development,” the senior United Nations official indicated. “This is a second-generation accord that links the environment to human rights and rights of access, and which undoubtedly will contribute to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Agenda.”
According to the final text approved today, the agreement’s objective is “to guarantee the full and effective implementation in Latin America and the Caribbean of the rights of access to environmental information, public participation in the environmental decision-making process and access to justice in environmental matters, and the creation and strengthening of capacities and cooperation, contributing to the protection of the right of every person of present and future generations to live in a healthy environment and to sustainable development” (Article 1).
In addition, Article 9 indicates that “each Party shall guarantee a safe and enabling environment for persons, groups and organizations that promote and defend human rights in environmental matters, so that they are able to act free from threat, restriction and insecurity.”
The agreement also establishes the creation of a Conference of the Parties (Article 15), which will be convened by ECLAC no later than one year after the agreement has entered into force and which will hold ordinary meetings at regular intervals, in accordance with what the Conference decides.
The text states that the agreement will be open to the signature of all countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (33 nations) at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, from September 27, 2018 to September 26, 2020, and that it will be subject to the ratification, acceptance or approval of the States that have signed it.
In the final act of the Ninth Meeting of the Negotiating Committee of the Regional Agreement on Principle 10, the signatory countries invite all Latin American and Caribbean States to sign and ratify this agreement as soon as possible. They also thanked ECLAC for its support and the public for its meaningful participation during the negotiation process.
In addition, they request that ECLAC take the necessary steps to submit the final text to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, so that he shall be the depositary for the agreement, and express that the adoption of this legal instrument will be reported upon at ECLAC’s thirty-seventh session, the institution’s most important gathering, which will be held in Havana, Cuba on May 7-11, 2018.