1681989513 Latin American countries are discussing the Escazu Convention and protecting

Latin American countries are discussing the Escazú Convention and protecting environmentalists

A young woman writes the sentence "escazu now"during a protest in front of the Palace of Justice of Peru in Lima.A young woman writes the phrase “Escazú now” during a protest in front of the Palace of Justice of Peru in Lima Fotoholica Press (Getty Images)

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Latin America and the Caribbean remains the most dangerous region in the world for environmentalists. According to Global Witness, over the past decade, 68% of the world’s reported killings of environmentalists have occurred in our region. For example, in 2021 alone, three-quarters of the 200 environmental leaders assassinated around the world were Hispanics. Ending this violence is part of the heart of the Escazú Accords, a treaty signed by 24 Latin American and Caribbean countries that will hold its second meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP2) in Buenos Aires between April 19 and 21, Argentina.

Escazú is a regional agreement that aims to ensure that development, infrastructure and extractive projects, among others, have social and environmental balance. This is based on three pillars: access to environmental information, environmental participation and environmental justice, in addition to a number of articles emphasizing the protection of environmental leaders and defenders. “It is the only environmental law agreement with this approach,” says Aida Gamboa from the Peruvian organization Derecho, Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (DAR). “And despite the fact that there are some countries that already have regulations on this, Escazú implies a standard at the regional level,” he adds.

Although this is a young deal that only came into effect on April 22, 2021 and only brings the parties together for the second time, what is discussed over these three days is crucial. As Gamboa explains, during the COP2 in Escazú, the candidates will be elected for the Committee to Support Application and Compliance, which in short is a group of people designed to help the countries that have ratified the Escazú Treaty to understand and to support how to implement it on site.

Chilean President Gabriel Boric signs the Escazú Agreement on March 18, 2022 in Santiago.Chile’s President Gabriel Boric signs the Escazú Agreement in Santiago on March 18, 2022 Makro Agency (Getty Images)

In addition, explains Vanessa Torres of Environment and Society of Colombia, an essential topic is also being cooked up these days: to start discussing an action plan for environmentalists, which should have a first draft before COP3 takes place in a year. “From civil society organizations, we ask that this action plan includes face-to-face consultation scenarios with the same environmental defenders and with the participation of the same leaders,” he stresses.

But paradoxically, in this discussion of a contract that speaks of participation and access to information, civil society begins to denounce that there are many barriers to participation. “A limit has been set that only two people per organization may enter the COP2 rooms,” says Gamboa. “It’s very limiting because we also work with indigenous organizations that need this space,” he recalls.

Torres also points out that the dissemination process for COP2 was very limited and that in fact, although people can follow the discussion via YouTube, few are able to participate as active voices in the sessions. “It’s just that attending COP2 entails costs and dynamics that are sometimes complex for Indigenous and Afro communities, which means this discussion is not broad.” On the morning of April 19, the regional held Network Escazú Now, which brings together various civil society organizations that have followed and supported the process since its inception, held a press conference to warn of barriers to entry to the spaces where the agreement is being discussed.

About the Escazú Agreement

Currently, and despite the fact that Escazú has been signed by 24 countries, only 15 have ratified it. The countries that haven’t are Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominica, Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica, Paraguay, Peru and the Dominican Republic. Escazú has caused much debate in some countries. Chile, for example, even refused to sign it during the administration of former President Sebastián Piñera, but when Boric came to power it was ratified almost immediately, and the country even hosted the first COP1 in Escazú last year.

In Colombia, the law to ratify Escazú was delayed by two years in Congress during the administration of Iván Duque, but it was thought to be ratified promptly with the arrival of the Petro administration. On the other hand, in Costa Rica, the country where the agreement to be implemented in the city of Escazú was signed, both the Environment Minister Franz Tattenbach and the President Rodrigo Chaves have rejected the agreement.