Fourteen Latin American and Caribbean countries adopted an ambitious Plan of Action to improve access rights in the region, including access to information, public participation, and access to justice. The plan, which was approved at a meeting in Guadalajara, Mexico, on April 16-17, 2013, seeks to implement the Latin American and Caribbean Declaration on Principle 10 that was signed at the Rio +20 Conference in June 2012, under which countries agreed to work towards a regional instrument to improve access rights.

The meeting began with Colombia and Honduras signing on to the LAC Declaration, a major accomplishment for all parties. The 14 countries that have now signed on include: Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay.

“The new Plan of Action shows political will to transform environmental justice and transparency in the region,” said Carole Excell, Senior Associate at the World Resources Institute and The Access Initiative. “It sets the pace and the agenda to tackle the challenges of negotiating a regional instrument to ensure access rights across Latin America and the Caribbean.”

Under the new 2013-2014 Plan of Action, the LAC countries have committed to:

  • Promote the Principle 10 Declaration and incorporate new signatories into the process;
  • Strengthen and highlight the progress made on rights of access to information, participation, and justice;
  • Promote active participation of civil society at the national level; and
  • Develop working groups to deliberate capacity-building and cooperation efforts, and determine the nature and scope of the regional instrument.

Ambassador Jose Balmaceda of Chile noted that the Plan of Action “is a strong political signal to the international community that we are responding in a responsible way to this commitment [to Principle 10] … It is the first time that government representatives from 14 countries and civil society sat down to debate – with transparency and trust – relevant issues for the future of the region. This is a testament to maturity in the region. We have been able to reach consensus on the Plan of Action that will allow us to move ahead on national processes and regional efforts. I am sure that this result will motivate other nations in the region to join the process.”

The Plan of Action includes a number of innovative provisions, including procedures for public participation in the regional process and its working groups. It will create opportunities for close South-to-South cooperation on rights to promote transparency, public participation, and access to justice, as well as a focus on increased support for effective implementation at the national level.

“We hope at the end of 2014 we can count on the development of an instrument on Principle 10 that establishes concrete actions to guarantee effective and informed participation to all citizens and communities of our region,” said Daniel Barragan, Ecuadorian Center for Environmental Law (Centro Ecuatoriane de Derecho Ambinental Ambiental), an environmental law NGO. “Soon we can have a voice and be a part of the decision making on the environment and natural resources.”

In addition to adopting the Plan of Action, members elected co-chairs to run the working groups. Costa Rica and Brazil were mandated to design the regional instrument on Principle 10 and Jamaica and Columbia were given the role to facilitate work on cooperation and capacity building.