On International Mother Earth Day (April 22), the world’s first regional agreement enshrining elaborate provisions for the Right to Sustainable Development entered into force. The ‘Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean’ is a first of its kind initiated during the Rio+20 UN Sustainable Development Summit in 2012 among LAC countries. It is adapted from the principle 10 of the Rio Declaration 1992, which was the world’s first sustainable Development Programme and which laid down clear guidelines that has shaped humanity’s response to climate change.
According to Principle 10, access to information, public participation and justice form the three fundamental pillars of environmental governance. The Escazú Agreement is tailored to protect these fundamentals in effect to deal with effects of climate change, land degradation, loss of biodiversity and resilience in disaster management. The agreement is significant because it contains a unique binding provision which recognizes the role of human rights defenders while also protecting them from threats and intimidation.

The Latin American region is fraught with disastrous climate change activities. It has the second-highest forest cover loss in the world, losing an average of 2.6 million hectares of forest land per year in the 2010-20 period. According to Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the rate of forest cover loss has declined significantly but challenges still remain. South America hosts the largest rainforest on Earth; the Amazon, home to more than 30 million people and supports 10 per cent of all known species. Forest fires & deforestation for agricultural land endangers the extremely valuable rainforests, which are otherwise known as ‘lungs of our planet’.

The Agreement has already been ratified by 12 countries and signed by 24 members. It was adopted in March, 2018 after negotiations concluded and the agreement was formulated at Escazú, Costa Rica. It is seen as a game-changer for the region because of the involvement of a wide section of activists, climate scientists, and governments. It involves creation of an architecture for cooperation to ultimately achieve individual right for sustainable development. It mandates the formation of a “virtual, universally accessible clearinghouse on access rights” which will be overseen by the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. While addressing the event, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres acknowledged the need to protect the right of climate warriors and hoped that this agreement will lead to a sustainable recovery from the pandemic by addressing the “triple crisis” of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.

The LAC regional agreement is a stepping stone for further acceptance of an individual’s right to sustainable development and the need to accord protection to climate activists. Till now, the right was not seen as a legal individual right and activists allege pressure and harassment from powerful groups like mining mafia. Further, the Escazú agreement is a treaty between developing countries which showcases the will among the global south countries to seek development while respecting the Environment. This creates opportunities for other regional groupings like African Union, South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation and the ASEAN.

But what binds all these regions and groupings in the global South is the unique organization called Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). It encompasses 120 countries, mostly developing nations. It has a mandate and a history of cooperation to seek an independent and non-threatening path avoiding power struggles and influential operations of the rich geo-political blocs. With the United Nations firmly committing to climate action efforts, and the North setting up their climate change agendas in various groupings; it is an opportune moment for NAM to set the parameters of global South cooperation among the 4 major regions of South America, Africa, South Asia and South-East Asia.

Climate technology will be guarded by the north and investments will be fundamentally shaped along the lines of geo-political currents. In such an environment, the South must guard against opportunistic climate legislation and demand better access to both technology and investments. For example, India’s ambitious sustainable development targets need huge foreign direct investment and cutting-edge technological access. This creates the fundamental need for developing countries in NAM to start serious cooperation on climate issues and coordinating their efforts at the UN action summits. Since climate represents one of the greatest threats to mankind and the greatest tool in the hands of powerful countries to keep a tap on the economic shift, Climate Action very much falls in the mandate of Non-Aligned Movement. The Escazú Agreement gives hope to the Global South to become a leader in pushback against Climate Change.

Photo Credit : https://twitter.com/UN_SPExperts/status/1326201715796946944