Photo: Senator Janelle Chanona
Belize Network of NGOs calls on country for regional leadership
by Marco Lopez
BELMOPAN, Mon. Feb. 27, 2023
The Instrument of Ratification for the Escazu Treaty was signed today, February 27, in Belmopan by Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Eamon Courtenay. Two weeks ago, the Senate approved the treaty, officially named the “Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin Americas and the Caribbean.” This adopted treaty was signed in Escazu, Costa Rica in 2018, but recently an extension for its ratification was blocked by the Costa Rican Legislative Assembly and seen as a definitive shelving of the treaty in that country.
The Costa Rican government of Carlos Alvarado acted as a co-negotiator on the treaty along with Chile, but the new Costa Rican president, Rodrigo Chaves, recently elected, opposed the agreement, arguing that the country already had enough regulations for environmental matters. A decision from the Costa Rican parliamentarian that reflected this stance prompted Belizean officials to approve but delay the implementation of the Escazu Agreement – citing the indecision in Costa Rica.
“I think I should disclose to the Senate that after Cabinet approved this agreement, the ratification of this agreement, the Government of Costa Rica, which is the seat of the Escazu agreement, announced that it was reconsidering its position with respect to this agreement. We will therefore delay the ratification of this agreement if authorized by the Senate until the Government of Costa Rica finalizes its position,” Senator and Minister Eamon Courtenay said during a Senate meeting earlier this month. The treaty was eventually approved by the Senate but not ratified officially until today.
It must be noted that in February 2020 during the first debate on the Escazu agreement in Costa Rica, 44 voted in favor of the legal instrument. The Costa Rican Legislative Assembly in 2023, however, closed the door on an extension to keep the treaty alive – with 44 of the 57 deputies voting against it.
It was noted, however, by the Belize Network of NGOs in a press release last week, that Costa Rica was not of the 12 state parties who agreed to officially bring the treaty into force in 2021. While the agreement was first signed in Escazu, Costa Rica, the country is now being chided for its overwhelming rejection of the treaty — an instrument the UN Economic Commission For Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) calls a “valuable tool to ensure the rights to access justice, information, and participation in environmental matters.”
The Escazu agreement seeks to translate into legal terms Principle 10 of the 1992 Rio Declaration on informed public participation in environmental matters. The 26-article treaty, which was brought into force under the auspices of the ECLAC, seeks to widen the scope of rights to the citizenry as it relates to access to environmental information and participation in decision-making on environmental matters. It seeks to create and implement safeguards for the individual, and rights of future generations.
Belize is now the 15th signatory of the 33 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to ratify the treaty. This treaty is considered a modern instrument for environmental management and governance by many experts and advocates for environmental protection and climate action. In April 2022, the ECLAC released a 200-page implementation guide to the Escazu Agreement.
For Belize, implementation of this treaty into everyday practice is the next step – an arena in which the BNN (Belize Network of NGOs?) believes the country can become a regional leader.
They extended an olive branch of cooperation to the government in their release saying, “The Belizean conservation community looks forward to collaborating with the Government of Belize to design the required mechanisms necessary to ensure the effective implementation of the Escazú agreement as soon as possible.”
While Belize has officially authorized the “Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean,” there is no indication if the landmark treaty will continue to carry its current name (Escazu), which indicates its Costa Rican origins, since that country has effectively pulled out of the agreement.
“I think right now I even saw some of their politicians saying, you know, we’re open to having the treaty’s name changed, and I think that’s also an opportunity for Belize and the others who are pushing ahead on Escazu to think about, you know, we can look where there is leadership on this and look at renaming it around the same core principals of the agreement,” Senator Janelle Chanona said in an interview with local media this morning.