IACHR Press Office
Washington D.C. - On Earth Day, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its Office of the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights (REDESCA) celebrate the entry into force of the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters, also known as the Escazú Agreement. They also congratulate the Latin American and Caribbean States that reached the 11 ratifications required for its entry into force, expressing their appreciation to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) which, in its capacity as promoter and secretariat of the instrument, has been coordinating efforts with civil society and other actors in the region (including REDESCA), towards its prompt adoption and ratification.
In line with what was expressed in its recent joint Press Release with the presences of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the IACHR and REDESCA consider that the Escazú Agreement reinforces principles and obligations established in inter-American legislation and jurisprudence on the right to a healthy environment, highlighting the need to guarantee the so-called "access rights" to ensure its validity, such as the effective protection of the right for people to defend the environment. In this regard, the IACHR and REDESCA call on the States of Latin America and the Caribbean that have not yet done so to ratify or adhere to this important treaty, which contributes so much to consolidate the recognition and effective protection of environmental rights in the region.
Likewise, the IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur on ESCER emphasize that, in light of inter-American human rights instruments, inter alia, the American Convention on Human Rights, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and the Protocol of San Salvador, as well as inter-American jurisprudence, the right to a healthy environment is part of the catalog of rights that States must respect and guarantee, both autonomously and in its indivisibility and interdependence with other human rights. For its part, REDESCA especially calls on States to protect the rights of nature in cases where their constitution, domestic legislation, or jurisprudence of national courts has so provided, highlighting the importance that such regulations and jurisprudence also have for the effective protection of the right to a healthy environment and human rights.
For the IACHR and REDESCA, the Escazú Agreement is also an outstanding normative advance in the face of environmental degradation and climate change, in a context of growing concern for the planet, as well as for those who defend the environment. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the commitments reflected by the States in their obligations under the Paris Agreement would be far from limiting the average global temperature to 1.5°C; on the contrary, a trajectory towards a temperature above 2°C is foreseen, if these commitments are not implemented. This would have devastating consequences, especially for millions of people living in poverty, who would face, at best, food insecurity, forced migration, disease and death. Specifically, abrupt climate impacts such as those of slow evolution produce changes in the natural cycles of ecosystems, droughts, floods, heat waves, fires, loss of coastlines, among others. These have brought with them a significant threat to the enjoyment of a wide range of rights, inter alia, the right to life, food, housing, health, water and the right to a healthy environment.
The degradation of nature, in general, has a disproportionate impact not only on its vital cycles, but also on people's subsistence and factors for obtaining a dignified quality of life. In the current pandemic context, the IACHR and REDESCA emphasize that nature also provides the foundation for human health in all its dimensions and contributes to the immaterial aspects of people's quality of life, with the risk of harm being particularly high for those segments of the population that are currently in a situation of marginalization or vulnerability or that, due to discrimination and pre-existing inequalities, have limited access to decision-making or resources, including women; children and adolescents; indigenous peoples; people of African descent; people with disabilities; people living in poverty, informal settlements or on the street; migrants and people in human mobility; peasant populations and people living in rural areas, among others. This is despite the fact that these populations contribute very little to greenhouse gas emissions, the main cause of the climate crisis.
Disproportionate climate impacts are already a reality in the Americas, as exemplified by the magnitude of forest fires in the Amazon and other areas of the region. The destruction of forests not only contributes to the climate crisis, but also causes the forced displacement of communities, the loss of subsistence lands, and the serious risk to the livelihoods of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation. Likewise, the increase in global temperature is associated with a decrease in river flow and a tendency to drought in Central American rivers; meanwhile, an area of between 20% and 50% of Andean glaciers has melted since the 1970s. All of this reduces the availability of water resources, putting at risk the food security of entire populations, especially those exposed to pre-existing conditions of precariousness and social inequality.
In Central America, the right to life, to a healthy environment and to housing, among other ESCER, are being severely affected by the intensity and frequency of extreme weather phenomena such as hurricanes and floods. Similarly, extreme phenomena intensify the historical trend towards migration, exemplified by the population displacement caused by drought and the change in rainfall patterns in the regions of the "dry corridor", especially in the three northern Central American countries. In the Caribbean, rising sea levels, among other extreme phenomena, accentuate the loss and erosion of coastal areas, the deterioration of marine ecosystems, the modification of marine habitats, and the loss of mangroves or corals. In particular, it is estimated that the entire coral ecosystem will collapse by 2050. It is undeniable that the loss of biodiversity caused by such climate impacts has a negative impact on a wide range of human rights.
Faced with this reality, the IACHR and REDESCA call on the American States to urgently strengthen their environmental public policies in the face of the climate emergency, reiterating their commitment and willingness to contribute in every way possible to such efforts. In this regard, as the IACHR's specialized mandate on environmental rights, REDESCA will continue to promote actions to determine the linkage "between the adverse effects of climate change and the full enjoyment of human rights," as stipulated by the OAS General Assembly Resolution 2429 of 2008 on Human Rights and Climate Change in the Americas. In this regard, the IACHR entrusted REDESCA in the current Strategic Plan 2017-2021 with the development of standards on environment and climate change, something in which the mandate has been advancing and is reflected, for example, in the Report on Business and Human Rights: Inter-American Standards. It is also a strategic line prioritized in REDESCA's Triennial Plan 2020-2023, recently approved by the IACHR, for whose implementation the IACHR and the Office of the Special Rapporteur call for the broad collaboration of States, as well as civil society and other relevant actors in the Americas.
According to the Chair of the IACHR and Rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples, Commissioner Antonia Urrejola: "From the IACHR, we congratulate the entry into force of the Escazú Agreement and how much it means for the better protection of environmental rights in Latin America and the Caribbean, highlighting its complementary nature with the instruments and obligations of the inter-American system on the matter". "On Earth Day, I emphasize the urgency of addressing the implications of environmental impacts for the physical and cultural survival of indigenous peoples, as well as for their right to live in harmony with nature and to a healthy, safe and sustainable environment. The pandemic makes it even more urgent to look at the reality of such peoples, how to learn from their ancestral wisdom of respect and care for nature," she said.
In the words of the Special Rapporteur on ESCER, Soledad García Muñoz, "On Earth Day, celebrating the entry into force of the Escazú Agreement also urges us to remember that climate change is one of the greatest threats to the full enjoyment and exercise of human rights by present and future generations, to the health of ecosystems, and to all species that inhabit the Americas". "We are facing an emergency that, in addition to the pandemic, demands determination and commitment from the American States to protect both human rights and nature. In the current context, effective responses to the environmental crisis go hand in hand with those required by the health, economic and social crisis we are experiencing," she added.
The IACHR is a principal and autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate derives from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The IACHR is composed of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly in their personal capacity, and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.
REDESCA is an Office of the IACHR with functional independence and specially created to support the Commission in the fulfillment of its mandate to promote and protect economic, social, cultural and environmental rights in the Americas.