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OPINION: Here's how environmental democracy can help peace in Latin America

Friday, 3 June 2022 12:00 GMT

People walk past a sign reading "Native Restoration Core" at an area with native plants and trees better equipped to grow in a drier environment, as Chile suffered its worst drought in decades, at a local park in Santiago, April 18, 2022. REUTERS/Juan Gonzalez

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Chile has just adopted the regional Escazú Agreement, aimed at ensuring that every person has access to information, participation and justice on environmental matters

Antonia Urrejola is Chile’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.

In the last few decades, Latin America and the Caribbean has faced significant challenges in its development, associated with the sustainable use of its natural resources. This has resulted in a considerable number of social and environmental conflicts, which usually result in fractured communities and weaker frameworks for investment.

This situation is not unique to our region. However, it is particularly serious in this part of the world, with a disproportionate number of environmental conflicts occurring, covering a wide range of issues such as mining, water, land use and energy. As a consequence, our region is where, more often, environmental defenders are subject to discrimination, harassment, threats, intimidation, and killings. Statistics show that tragically three out of four environmental defenders killed in 2019 came from Latin America and the Caribbean.

These challenges urgently require a long-term view to build cohesive societies that address environmental issues through decisions that are inclusive and transparent, providing opportunities for everyone to participate and contribute towards a collective well-being - in other words, building democracy in environmental matters.

The Escazú Agreement, adopted in 2018, provides an answer to this need. It is the result of a five-year process of negotiation among countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, under the co-leadership of Chile and Costa Rica.

On May 31, Chile completed its parliamentary process to become a full party to the Agreement. It is important to note that after an informed discussion, in which all concerns were addressed, the parliament supported the agreement, both in the Chamber of Deputies and in the Senate, with vast support from all sectors, across our political spectrum. This is a strong signal and a clear mandate. Access rights and environmental democracy are confirmed as a permanent feature of Chile’s foreign policy.

The main goal of the Escazú Agreement is to ensure that every person has access to information, participation, and justice on environmental matters. It is the only legally-binding accord on environmental matters successfully concluded and adopted in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Escazú Agreement provides a framework for regional cooperation and for learning from each other. It establishes a minimum standard that all governments should observe and implement, although at their own pace and in accordance with their own priorities and circumstances. The agreement looks to impose nothing, but to provide a basis for every country to build its own legal instruments and policy tools.

In one of its most salient features and contributions, the Escazú Agreement also recognizes the role of human right defenders in environmental issues, and offers them the necessary conditions to work freely, preventing any type of harassment or persecution.


Through this ratification, Chile reaffirms its strong commitment to contribute to sustainable development and peace in our region. In front of the triple crisis we are facing (climate, biodiversity loss and pollution), we must increase the level of confidence in our society to stand up to these challenges together, investing in an instrument for peace such as this agreement.

It is crucial to understand that, in these times of deep social changes and increasing demands of social participation, governments need to be facilitators of these aspirations, instead of hiding from them. It is our duty to foster a constant dialogue with and among civil society, to contribute to social cohesion. This approach is not only worth the effort; it is the only way to achieve a development that is fair, sustainable and environmentally sound. 

Chile has made important progress in recent decades in this regard. Chile has fully functioning Environmental Tribunals, a national Council for Transparency, and legislation has been passed on various opportunities to ensure access to information held by the state. Chile has been active in publishing and disseminating information on the state of the environment, on our efforts to comply with our climate commitments, and to give the public a voice through meaningful participation processes.

However, there is still much more ground to cover. The Escazú Agreement offers the opportunity to open a new chapter in national implementation and in regional collaboration. Latin America and the Caribbean holds vast treasures of biodiversity. Nature in our region is crucial not only for our own prosperity, but also for the ecological balances of the entire world. Our responsibility is to protect it, as we develop and make the eradication of poverty a priority.

The agreement represents an opportunity for building an agenda of peace and collaboration, to increase our social cohesion and the resilience of our development. It is a step towards more democracy and a renewed social contract among ourselves and with nature. As we become a party to the Escazú Agreement, Chile is committed to contribute to this new opportunity for Latin America and the Caribbean to build a peaceful and prosperous future.

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