Call for Contributions-Virtual Symposium. The Escazú Agreement enters into force: What comes next?

The Escazú Agreement entered into force on April 22, 2021. The Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean results from six years of negotiations. The negotiations followed the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Rio+20) and aimed to support the regional realization of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration. The agreement is named after the place it was adopted in 2018 in Costa Rica. After 11 ratifications, the agreement is gaining space in Latin America and the Caribbean. Yet, although it was opened for signature by the 33 countries of the LAC region, to date, 24 countries have signed it, 12 of which have also ratified it (see a helpful infographic here).

The Escazú Agreement is the region’s first environmental treaty. It notably enshrines the right of current and future generations to live in a healthy environment and to sustainable development. The agreement is legally binding and provides mechanisms for strengthening environmental democracy through public participation in environmental decision-making processes, prescribing incentives, and providing environmental information to groups that may lack access to them. Significantly, the agreement ensures a safe space for environmental activists and can minimize the obstacles faced by human and environmental defenders in the region, which faces significant violence, including murders of environmental and climate activists.

The agreement sets the stage for a sustainable and resilient recovery from COVID-19 and the “triple crisis” of climate change, biodiversity collapse, and pollution of the natural environment. It also offers a path to advance the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and effective tools for holding States accountable, defending rights, and protecting the health of people and the planet.

Yet like many other international treaties, its success depends on its national implementation. The signing and ratification process has been slow, significantly affected by the political background in each country and the COVID-19 pandemic. Significant is the lack of participation from important countries in Latin America, including Peru, Guatemala, Brazil, and Colombia, whose governments have failed to ratify the treaty over concerns over sovereignty, legal uncertainty, and business interests. Countries like Chile, El Salvador, and Honduras have refused even to sign it. If the enthusiasm for the agreement is not met with political will from countries, including by developing domestic legislation that guarantees the rights established in the agreement, the agreement will have little effect, furthering the gap between environmental laws and environmental realities in Latin America.

The GNHRE calls for contributions from our membership on the ratification and implementation of the Escazú Agreement in your respective countries. We invite regional perspectives from Latin America and the Caribbean on human rights and the environment and the effects of the Escazú Agreement on the existing national legal framework. Please submit your contributions by July 12th, 2021 to gnhrewebsite@gmail.com. See guidelines for submissions here.