A number of Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries recently took a huge step forward in ensuring environmental democracy for their citizens. At a UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) meeting in early November, these countries agreed on a road map to ensure full implementation of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration.
Principle 10, otherwise known as the environmental democracy principle, affirms that all citizens have a say in the environmental and development decisions that directly impact them. In one of the few bright spots of the Rio+20 sustainable development conference this past June, 10 LAC countries—Ecuador, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay—adopted and publicly signed the Principle 10 Declaration. This month’s ECLAC meeting in Santiago, Chile marked the first gathering of Government representatives after this historic Declaration. Most importantly, governments adopted an agreed-upon road map defining a process to draft a Principle 10 Action Plan, which will be submitted for adoption in early April 2013.
A Closer Look at Principle 10
Principle 10 is part of the Rio Declaration made at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992. Principle 10 embodies the ideals of the Access Initiative and is the foundation of the Aarhus Convention (UNECE) and the Partnership for Principle 10. Principle 10 states: “Environmental issues are best handled with participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level. At the national level, each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities, including information on hazardous materials and activities in their communities, and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes. States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available. Effective access to judicial and administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy, shall be provided.”
What Is Significant About the Santiago Meeting?
The LAC Principle 10 Declaration signed at Rio+20 marked the first time that developing countries formally considered adopting a regional, legally binding instrument to ensure effective implementation of Principle 10. The Santiago meeting was the first step towards actualizing the Declaration—a move with huge implications for the rights of Latin American and Caribbean citizens.
A few other significant things happened, too, including:
Brazil officially became the 11th country to adopt the declaration and roadmap.
The Governments of Chile, Mexico, and Dominican Republic agreed to lead the process of outlining an Action Plan for implementation.
Representatives from each government declared their commitment to take active measures to bring environmental information into the public domain, doing everything possible to guarantee ready, rapid, effective, and practical access to that information.
Governments recognized the need to exchange and intensify regional and international cooperation. Initiatives to facilitate cooperation and potentially integrate into the work include the United Nations Environment Programme’s work to promote voluntary guidelines on developing national Principle 10 laws; the Organization of American States’ American Strategy for promoting public participation in decision-making; and the new Open Government Partnership, which has a number of natural resource commitments on transparency and public participation.
Governments agreed to actively work with civil society in this process. They’ll conduct various forms of national consultations and ensure participation of a wide range of civil society partners.
What’s Left to Do?
The recent Santiago meeting was a promising development, but there’s still more work to do to further the development of a legally binding convention in the LAC region. At upcoming meetings, countries will need to:
Decide on the type and form of regional agreement or legally binding convention to be created;
Figure out exactly how to solicit greater civil society participation in decision-making processes, as well as ensure widespread consultation on commitments and expectations; and
Increase the number of countries participating in this process, especially those in the English-speaking Caribbean nation. Jamaica is currently the only English-speaking Caribbean country participating in this process, which is open to all members of ECLAC.
Ensuring Environmental Justice for All
Many NGOs and other experts largely regarded Rio+20 as a disappointment. Even Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and head of the UN Environment Programme, recently remarked that “We all share to a greater or lesser degree a sense of frustration that Rio+20 did not deliver all of the opportunities that it could have.”
But when it comes to Principle 10 and the LAC region, there’s a huge opportunity to make progress. The Santiago meeting shows that at least one of Rio+20’s outcomes has started to yield real results. Now, we’ll need to continue watching this process and ensure that LAC countries live up to their commitments in this area.
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