Sixteen governments in Latin America and the Caribbean adopted the region’s first legally binding treaty on environmental rights after years of effort by WRI and The Access Initiative (TAI), a global civil society network for which WRI is the secretariat. The agreement commits the signatories to enforce environmental rights—access to information, justice and public participation—and to protect environmental defenders in a region where many routinely face violence.

The Challenge

The deadliest region for environmental defenders continues to be Latin America, where conflict over land and natural resources can turn violent: in 2018 alone, over 170 defenders were killed. Lacking access to information about how extractive industries, agribusiness and timber companies plan to use land, forests and other resources, and safe forums to discuss these plans, it is difficult and dangerous for local communities to hold those in power to account. National governments committed at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit to guarantee these rights, but they remain largely unenforced.

WRI’s Role

Two decades after the original Rio summit, WRI leveraged the Rio+20 process to persuade Latin American governments to make their commitments to environmental rights more concrete. For six years, WRI and TAI partners attended negotiations with 24 countries to push for a strong agreement, building public awareness throughout the process. They also held side events at the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and at the UN Environment Assembly. WRI’s Environmental Democracy Index, developed with TAI, supported civil society negotiations. WRI and TAI partners, and now a growing coalition of groups including Namati, Amnesty International, CIVICUS and Human Rights Watch, continue to campaign to encourage additional countries to sign and ratify the agreement.

The Outcome

The Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice on Environmental Issues, known as the Escazú Agreement, was adopted in March 2018 in Costa Rica; 16 governments signed the agreement when it opened for signature in September 2018. Guyana has now ratified the agreement. The agreement requires governments to prevent, investigate and punish threats and attacks against environmental human rights defenders. Governments are also required to provide free legal assistance to support the most vulnerable groups in accessing environmental justice and create transparent, reliable communication channels between affected communities and officials to ensure fair and equitable decision-making. Once ratified and implemented, the agreement will make it easier for millions of people to protect their environment, their health, and their lives.