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Explainer: Why Is It Important for Venezuela to Adopt Escazú Agreement in the Coming Year?

In this explainer, IPS looks at the Escazú Agreement, which aims to guarantee the rights of Latin American citizens to environmental information, public participation in environmental decision-making processes, and access justice in environmental matters. Why is it important that Venezuela signs the agreement?

Alejandro Álvarez says Latin American region is dangerous for environmental defenders. Credit: Margaret López/IPS

Alejandro Álvarez says the Latin American region is dangerous for environmental defenders. Credit: Margaret López/IPS

CARACAS, May 30 2024 (IPS) - Venezuela is one of the few countries outside the Escazú Agreement, a treaty in Latin America and the Caribbean ratified by 16 member countries that guarantees access to environmental information, public participation in environmental decisions, and environmental justice.

“The failure to sign the Escazú Agreement is a symptom of this general situation of lack of environmental rule of law in the country,” said Erick Camargo, researcher of the Observatory of Political Ecology, in an interview with IPS.

For the past seven years, the Observatory of Political Ecology has been part of a group asking the Venezuelan State to embrace this international treaty. The petition of civil organizations aims to ensure that the environment and threats such as illegal mining, deforestation, or the murder of indigenous defenders are not forgotten, amid a complex humanitarian emergency that this Caribbean country is experiencing.

What is the Escazú Agreement?

It is the first treaty on environment and human rights in Latin America and the Caribbean. Its full name is Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters. Although it is better known by the name of the place where it was signed on March 4, 2018: Escazú, Costa Rica.

The Escazú Agreement ratifies that all Latin Americans have the right to know if the water they receive in their homes is potable, if the air they breathe daily is safe for their health, or if a community should have a veto over companies for activities such as mining, oil exploitation, or tourism in biodiverse areas.

Its 26 articles entered into force in 2021. This treaty is also a recognition of the role played by Latin American environmental defenders in the preservation of nature and the problem of violence experienced by these defenders in the region.

“Latin America is the most dangerous area in the world to defend environmental human rights. These are not only people who work for environmental organizations, but also environmental journalists and people from indigenous communities who defend the territory and habitat where they live”, explained Alejandro Alvarez, biologist and coordinator of the non-governmental organization Clima 21, in an interview with IPS.

Statistics compiled by Global Witness, an independent organization that monitors deaths in defense of the environment, speak of 1,335 environmental defenders murdered in Latin America between 2012 and 2022. That is, 70 percent of all killings of environmental defenders in that decade. In the Venezuelan case, 21 people were killed defending nature in the same period, most of them belonging to Indigenous communities.

For researcher Liliana Buitrago of the Observatory of Political Ecology, the central point of this treaty is that it helps to “make visible a fundamental narrative in the climate crisis (…) because environmental defenders are decisive actors to protect, fight, and stop environmental and ecological collapse.”

What benefits do Venezuela bring to this agreement?

As with other international environmental bodies, the Escazú Agreement provides for a Conference of the Parties (COP) to be held every year. At COP 3, its most recent edition held in Santiago, Chile, the Regional Action Plan on environmental human rights defenders was approved.

The implementation of this special plan for environmental defenders will take six years. This is the first multilateral agreement that requires States to ensure that the defense of the environment can take place in freedom and its implementation will strengthen the protection of environmental defenders in the Latin American region. This environmental protection plan is part of what Venezuelan organizations want to obtain with the country’s adhesion to this agreement.

“Venezuela has quite robust environmental legislation for the protection of its natural areas or its defenders, but it is neither complied with nor known. The importance in the Venezuelan case is that the Escazú Agreement would give us an international tool to put pressure on our state,” said Camargo.

If Venezuela were to adopt the Escazú Agreement in the coming year, this would give an international legal instrument to organized groups to demand greater security for indigenous peoples defending their territories in the Venezuelan Amazon. This is an area that is now threatened with deforestation for the establishment of new illegal mining sites for the extraction of gold, according to the independent organization SOS Orinoco.

Another benefit would be the establishment of an updated environmental information system. Such a public and accessible environmental system should include, for example, key data on the impacts of climate change in the country as well as a list of the most polluted areas, as established in Article 6 of the Escazú Agreement.

Transparency in the environmental field, not in vain, is one of the most common requests from Venezuelan organizations such as Clima 21, the Venezuelan Society of Ecology, the Observatory of Political Ecology, and Espacio Publico.

“There is no guarantee that the Venezuelan state will comply with environmental commitments. Many international agreements were signed and the standards have not been met, but their signature is already a step. The signing of the Escazú Agreement would show a certain willingness to be transparent in environmental management and, therefore, it would be good to sign it,” explained Carlos Correa, executive director of Espacio Público, in an interview with IPS.

Now, the Venezuelan government has 10 months ahead of it to evaluate its position and join the next COP of the Escazú Agreement as another of the countries in the region that are truly committed to the defense of nature amid the climate crisis.

IPS UN Bureau Report

This feature is published with the support of Open Society Foundations.

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