The New Today

Commentary

The implementation of the Escazú agreement – will Grenada be left behind?

Two years ago, Grenada Land Actors Inc. had little or no knowledge of the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean, better known as the Escazú Agreement.

Fortunately, in the process of preparing its environmental case, challenging three major tourism developments in Grenada, we learnt of this most important and far-reaching convention.

Over three years ago, on 26 September 2019, Grenada signed the Escazú Agreement but has not yet ratified it. The Escazú Agreement, in a nutshell, is the first international treaty on the environment pertaining to Latin America and the Caribbean.

The agreement aims to enhance the delivery of environmental justice to the peoples of this region. It seeks to oblige the states who have ratified it to take all necessary steps to ensure that the public has rights in matters concerning the environment – namely the right of access to information; the right to participate in environmental decision-making; access to justice and the protection of the law.

By doing so, the ultimate aim is to create and maintain a healthy and sustainable environment for current and future generations. For us here in Grenada, ratification of this Agreement would mean that the public would have greater overall participation in environmental matters to ensure sustainable development.

This could be through persons having easier access to materials related to development applications, including environmental and social impact assessments which are mandated for certain types of development under Grenada’s planning legislation; the involvement of local stakeholders in genuine consultations throughout the planning and development process; persons having access to the Courts regarding environmental matters, without fear of reprisal and without any undue legal or monetary barriers.

The Escazú agreement is an example of a new type of multilateralism, one where agreements are forged jointly between governments and society in Latin American and the Caribbean to protect the environment and its defenders.

It has been termed, “a radical change in approach to the triple planetary crisis of climate change, loss of biodiversity, and pollution and waste.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and former President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet at Escazú COP1 April 2022 stated: “In the face of environmental damage and injustices, legal instruments like the Escazú Agreement are one of the most effective tools for States to comply with their responsibility to safeguard the planet and the rights of its people.”

This treaty is open to 33 countries in the region and was signed initially by several countries on 27 September 2018 at Escazú in Costa Rica, hence its sobriquet. The treaty took effect on 21 April 2021. The 14 countries that have to date ratified it are: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia and Uruguay.

Surprisingly, perhaps, Grenada is not among them and one can only ask – why the delay and what does this mean for Grenada? At this point if it is not to be left out Grenada will have to accede to the treaty.

If a signatory does not accede to the Convention, the rights, obligations and protections intended to be accorded cannot be enforced by anyone in that country. It also means that Grenada cannot participate fully in any decision-making concerning the treaty thus cutting itself short and doing us Grenadians a major disservice.

Now, accession is the next step to be taken by Grenada to become a State Party to the Convention – this will ensure the public is given all the rights and protections envisaged by the treaty.

In April 2022, the Escazú secretariat and the United Nations Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) held the first meeting of Conference of the Parties (COP1) in Santiago, Chile.

Grenada could observe but not take part in any of the decision-making at this most important level.

Certain decisions were taken by the 12 States Parties that had ratified the Treaty at that time. For details see the Escazú website – https://www.cepal.org/en/Escazúagreement.

The next meeting, an extraordinary meeting of the States Parties, is in April 2023 in Argentina. To participate to the full extent at that meeting, as it ought to be doing, Grenada must accede to the treaty on or before January 19th 2023.

Steps are being taken throughout the region to disseminate information about the Escazú Agreement to Governments and to the public. In April 2022, the Civil Society Organisations of Grenada and other regional representatives concerned about the implementation of the Escazú Agreement held discourse and engaged in correspondence with relevant Government officials about the importance of Grenada acceding to the agreement.

Representatives also held a seminar with the judicial officers of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court to acquaint them with the import of the treaty.

The time to act is now if Grenada does not want to be left behind without any influence in the international arena, to the detriment of its people and the environment. No doubt our Minister of the Environment, Ms. Kerryne James and our Attorney-General, Ms. Claudette Joseph, will see to it that Grenada is not left slumbering on the bleachers.

Based on the new government’s expressed commitment to national transformation and to protecting the environment and ensuring sustainable development, we trust that they will take this next measure and accede to the treaty and we call upon them to do so now.

Accepting and implementing the treaty will go a long way towards securing a healthy and sustainable environment, thus allowing our country to prosper for the benefit of everyone, with no one being forgotten.

The above reflects the views of Grenada Land Actors Inc.