By Carole Excell (Posted: March 1, 2013)
A Side event entitled “The Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) Declaration on Principle 10” was held in Nairobi, Kenya at the UNEP Governing Council on Thursday 21st February to build countries and civil society awareness of the adoption of a Principle 10 LAC Declaration at the Rio+20 Conference in Brazil. There are currently eleven governments which are signatories to the P10 Declaration adopted as an official Rio + 20 outcome. These countries are; Brazil, Chile Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Jamaica Mexico Panama , Paraguay , Peru and Uruguay. The LAC Principle 10 Declaration launched a process to create a regional instrument to promote transparency, inclusiveness and accountability in environmental decision-making in the region. The Side event featured speakers from the Government of Chile, Dominican Republic, Mexico as well as civil society representatives from Center for International Environmental Law(CIEL) and The Access Initiative (TAI).
Mr. Julio Cordano Head of the Department of Sustainable Development Ministry of Foreign Affairs Chile noted in his address that the implementation of Principle 10 is a logical reaction to social and political challenges of the region. The region had made a lot of progress but securing these rights to transparency, participation and justice in practice is uneven. He stated that Chile’s support of this process is predicated on a need to continue to prevent environmental conflicts and strengthen social cohesion. Chile has a vision of creating a robust regional instrument that addresses access rights in LAC which is both useful for governments and civil society.
The representative from the Dominican Republic Ms. Karina Mena, Chief of Staff of the Office of the Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources, spoke of the process adopted since signing the Declaration. She noted that Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean ECLAC had been appointed as the technical secretariat for the Declaration . She mentioned the negotiation of a “Road Map” for achieving the objectives of the Declaration in Chile in November of last year. She indicated that the countries within the process had a commitment to create and develop an action plan to facilitate further regional cooperation, capacity building and design of a regional instrument.
Marcos Orellana, Director Environmental Health Program from CIEL then provided context for the adoption of the Declaration including the development of democracy after decades of dictatorships; increasing civil society demands for public participation and a struggle to re-discover the buried codes of LAC identity. He noted that Rio+20 had reaffirmed that environmental governance is central to sustainability and that rights to information, public participation and justice are central to environmental governance. He suggested that the Declaration does not define which form the LAC P10 Instrument should take. There are several options on the table including guidelines; capacity building and a legally binding instrument. He noted that the idea of a legal instrument held most promise as it could provide legal tools to secure the effective enjoyment of access rights. Laws are indispensable to give effect to access rights, and a Convention enables adoption of adequate internal laws; channels development and technical assistance to strengthen institutional capacities and fosters greater political stability within countries and in the region.
Carole Excell Senior Associate from the Access Initiative, World Resources Institute then spoke about proposals for civil society participation in the LAC Principle 10 Process. She noted that Governments that have signed the LAC Principle 10 Declaration asked for input from experts to prepare a draft proposal for participation that could be considered to be included as part of the Draft Action Plan to the Principle 10 Declaration. The TAI Secretariat convened experts groups to come up with a draft proposal and then reached out to civil society from the region in each of the countries which had signed the declaration to provide comments on this basic proposal. She noted that a draft has now been prepared and submitted to the Governments leading this process which includes provisions on (i)Scope ( ii)Public Participation Rights (iii)Right to submit proposals (iv) Levels of participation (iv) Rights to witness and intervene (v) Engagement and consultation at the national level. This proposal will be presented to civil society at an ECLAC meeting in Columbia open to contribution by others and thereafter to the next focal point meeting. She mentioned innovative provisions that had been suggested including (1) A provision that the “public” natural or legal person has a right to contribute to the process (2) A default position of open meetings (3) A right of access to all official documents of the meeting (4) Allowance of submission of proposals by civil society and the right to intervene in the order requested unless otherwise determined by the chair (5) Inclusion of a Civil Society represenation to participate in agenda setting and program activities (i) Review the 2014 Action Plan, in whole or part, (ii ) Develop proposals for consideration by the Focal Points, (iii) Prepare the agenda for meetings of the Focal Points and, (iv) Suggest topics for the agenda of the meetings of Focal Points. (6) Mechanisms to encouraging participation at the national level (7) Proposals for Capacity building for engaging the public in the process.
Finally Mr. Alejandro Riveria Director of Environmental Governance, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mexico closed the meeting by reiterating that the signatories sought to engage more countries in signing the LAC P10 Declaration and approving the road map which were the only requirements to engage in this process. He spoke of México’s commitment to this process. He noted this process has an ability to allow an assessment of strengths and weaknesses on capacity building, and also opportunities for funding to be sought to address country level needs towards building an appropriate regional instrument.