A Regional Problem; Environmental Impact Across Latin America and the Caribbean
The advancement of the extractive industries in Latin America and the Caribbean in recent decades has caused diverse socio-environmental conflicts due to large reserves of natural resources. Communities have been displaced, the environments that people rely on for their livelihood are polluted. The communities affected don’t often have the resources and power to fight against the large international corporations or state-owned organizations running the operations. And those fighting for justice and human rights can face evictions, prosecution, harassment, violence, and some have even been murdered.
Currently, the possibilities for citizens to participate in the decisions being made that impact the environment are very limited.
One solution comes in the form of the Escazú Agreement that emerged from the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio. Following the conference, a number of countries in the region formed a working group to develop a treaty founded on Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, which stated that “environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens. To this end, each individual should have appropriate access to information, the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes and effective access to judicial and administrative proceedings.”
The Escazú Agreement is the first treaty in the region concerning the environment and, significantly, is the first in the world to include provisions on the rights of environmental defenders. To date it has been ratified by 12 countries, including Ecuador. By guaranteeing free access to public information, actively sought public participation and environmental justice, it means that there are fewer barriers to people trying to defend the environment, and also lends support to those defenders by ensuring that their rights are being legally protected. This last point is especially important, as this kind of protection has never before been included in any environmental agreement and marks a huge step forward in connecting human rights to environmental justice.
A Historic Agreement for Environmental Justice
Since sustainability and environmental protection are key aspects of Ecuador’s action plan, the quick and efficient implementation of the Escazú Agreement is a particularly important commitment. Prior to beginning the implementation, each nation has to first ratify the agreement. The first step is to make sure that the political and institutional structures in the country are compatible with the terms of the agreement. In Ecuador this process was undertaken by the Ministry of the Environment, Water and Ecological Transition as well as the Hemisferios University, who led the way on a number of comprehensive initiatives and projects. They have worked together with civil society organizations to come up with ways to implement the agreement, established a roadmap for how to do so as quickly as possible, and created a governance model to define what kinds of different stakeholders will work together and how.
With the legal compatibility requirements resolved and the roadmap established, Ecuador was able to ratify the agreement and prepare to begin implementing it.
Mobilizing its expertise and experience when it comes to enabling participation and transparency, OGP has supported the government in initiating a number of initiatives aimed at making the Escazú Agreement come to life by convening stakeholders both nationally and internationally.
Ratifying and Developing Solutions Through Cooperation
The ratification of the agreement is the crucial first milestone towards implementing this commitment. Within Latin America, Ecuador has taken a pioneering role, leading the way for other signatories of the Escazú Agreement to follow in their footsteps. Besides encouraging and moderating the interaction between the government and civil society organizations within Ecuador, OGP has made efforts to connect the various actors across borders. During the 2021 Open Gov Week, for example, more than 400 people joined OGP, ECLAC, and Universidad Hemisferios to learn more about the opportunities provided by the Escazú Agreement and how OGP works with governments, civil society organizations, academia and others to create more environmentally just and transparent societies.
Escazú Is Underway
The Escazú Agreement is the region’s first treaty concerning the environment and the first worldwide that includes provisions on the rights of environmental defenders. It is now ratified by 12 countries, all of which are now preparing for its implementation. The Escazú Agreement therefore provides a historic opportunity for climate justice and environmental democracy. Ecuador is leading the way when it comes to implementing the agreement and many other countries have shown great interest and commitment to follow in their footsteps. Although this is an ongoing process, these first steps are extremely encouraging, and for the people of Ecuador it means that there is some hope that they will be stronger in exercising their right to defend the environment.