Giving citizens a voice is essential to environmental and development progress - from reducing greenhouse gases to curbing deforestation to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

At the June 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio +20), nine Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) governments took a giant step in this direction. Together, they pledged to begin negotiations leading to a groundbreaking Regional Convention that will enshrine public rights of access to environmental information, public participation, and justice.

As coordinator of The Access Initiative (TAI), an international network of hundreds of civil society groups, WRI played a pivotal role in the agreement by Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay. Since then, Ecuador and Brazil have also joined the pledge.

Building Environmental Democracy

The rights of all citizens to information, participation, and justice on environmental issues that affect their lives were enshrined at the 1992 “Earth Summit” in the form of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration. But in many countries, these principles have not been converted into practice, including in parts of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Much of the region is plagued by escalating conflicts over natural resources, mining, and new infrastructure such as highways and dams. In such situations, legally binding international agreements play an important role in strengthening citizens’ access rights, driving the development of national legislation and practices.

Making Change Happen: WRI’s Role

With Rio+20 providing an ideal launch pad for such an agreement, WRI created an international task force to promote a LAC Regional Principle 10 Convention.

In our role as TAI Secretariat, we made submissions to the United Nations that were reflected in the draft declaration by heads of state. WRI and our partners also engaged LAC governments and regional bodies such as the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and the U.N. Economic Commission for Europe, both of which declared their support.

Following our high-level advocacy efforts, Jamaica and Chile took the lead in publicly calling for a regional, binding legal instrument to implement access rights.

The nine countries announced their agreement at a TAI event at the Rio+20 summit, underlining our key role. Chile hosted the regional governments in November 2012 to develop a road map to achieve the convention.

A regional convention in Latin America, following on one in Europe, will also promote the spread of access rights worldwide. TAI seeks to scale such regional models into global learning and action.