A landmark treaty - the Escazú Agreement

In 2021 the Escazú Agreement entered into force and has been ratified by 12 countries so far. Dr Juan Carlos Carrillo Fuentes, Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental (CEMDA), and Tomás Severino Ortega, Cultura Ecológica, A.C., did analyse the implementation process and presented their findings at our roundtable in March.

The Escazú Agreement is about establishing minimum standards for human and environmental rights in Latin America such as access to justice, information and strengthening the participatory rights of citizens on environmental issues. The FES regional project for social-ecological transformation in Mexico has been actively following the negotiation and implementation process of the agreement and recently commissioned two studies on the legal aspects and the role of civil society.

Discussing the agreement

At our recent roundtable on 22.03.2022, the authors Dr Juan Carlos Carrillo Fuentes, Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental (CEMDA), and Tomás Severino Ortega, Cultura Ecológica, A.C., presented their findings and discussed the potential of this new agreement. To complement their presentations Sebastian Bechtel from Client Earth compared the agreement with the European Aarhus Convention.

Conditions for successful implementation

After presenting how the agreement came about, the authors focused on the conditions for successful implementation in practice. They emphasized the involvement of vulnerable groups, provision of free information and sufficient justice capacities as crucial. Thanks to the reversal of the burden of proof not citizens but companies have to prove that their activities are not causing harm to civil society and the environment. However, the enforcement requires adequate court structures able to deal with environmental matters.

The potential impact on Euro-Latin American relations

In addition, Dr Juan Carlos Carrillo and Tomás Severino Ortega presented the potential impact of the Escazú agreement on the region and on Euro-Latin American relations. In this context, they emphasised that the agreement primarily fulfils a preventive function through a stronger integration of civil society concerns in the run-up to new economic and investment projects. Therefore, no significant economic restrictions are to be expected, but rather the agreement allows for a constructive coexistence between business and civil society. They also highlighted the importance of improved supply chains for trade relations with Europe since an alignment of standards simplifies international cooperation for member states. Sebastian Bechtel concluded the panel's assessment with a comparison of the two “sister agreements”. He stressed that Aarhus Convention can certainly learn a lot from Escazú Agreement in terms of activist protection and a clear legal framework, while Escazú can orient itself on the implementation process of the Aarhus Convention e.g., the Compliance Committee.

The impact on civil society

In the discussion with the audience, the first statement came from PARLACEN Vice-President Carlos Sanchez, who particularly emphasised the strengthening of participatory democracy elements and civil society as well as its potential for EU-Latin America Cooperation. Other questions touched upon the concrete effects on the indigenous population, workers, and the future role of the EU in the agreement. In particular, the disinformation campaigns in some countries accompanying the ratification process of the Escazú Agreement were discussed and parallels to similar campaigns around the Aarhus Convention were drawn. Asked about the “loss of sovereignty” over domestic resources the authors again stressed that the agreement primarily aims at strengthening the rights of vulnerable groups and civil society and is more of a binding guideline than a strong restriction.

For more information about the Escazú Agreement, please contact Daniela Iller: daniela.iller[at]fes.de

Text: Jan Kraus
Editing: Daniela Iller