Escazu Agreement synthesizes environmental protection with public’s right of access to actionable information

Dear Editor,

The Caribbean Youth Environment Network extends greetings to all on World Environment Day 2021. The theme for this year is “Ecosystem Restoration.” Humans and the environment are interdependent systems; the preservation of our environment indefinitely protects our very existence. Guyanese have a moral obligation and a constitution obligation in Articles 26 and 36 of our Supreme Constitution to protect our environment. Article 26 states “Every citizen has a duty to participate in activities designed to improve the environment and protect the health of the nation”; Article 36 says “In the interests of the present and future generations, the state will protect and make rational use of its land, mineral and water resources, as well as its fauna and flora, and will take all appropriate measures to conserve and improve the environment.” With the introduction of the oil sector, the steps Guyana takes towards development puts us at unprecedented crossroads. Every decision we make in the name of progress will be felt by Guyanese for generations, whether or not the principles of sustainability are incorporated in the decision-making processes. Within the last six years following the decision to pursue oil as a revenue stream for the country, we have seen the advertisement and execution of many developmental projects that can affect the environment. Four of which are the US$1.4B oceanfront mega-project ‘Moraiko Bay’, the wharf construction at Bartica, the illegal concrete plant in South Ruimveldt Gardens, George-town and the Global Oil Environmental Services (GOES) Guyana Waste Treatment, Recycling & Reuse facility in Coverden.

The Moraiko Bay Golf and Country Club in Mahaica, East Coast Demerara, will have their sea defense and environmental protection, (budgeted at more than G$430M) overseen by Earth and Marine Environmental Consultants. While there are many aesthetic and developmental advantages to such a

project, there are still many areas to monitor such as loss of semi-natural and natural land, destruction and fragmentation of coastal habitats relating to increasing erosion levels and discharge of diffuse pollution and marine litter to the marine environment. The Bartica wharf construction has seen the submission of numerous complaints of pollution not only from the construction materials but also from oil and other fuels which in and of itself is disastrous. Additionally, the illegal concrete plant, the development of which is ongoing despite not receiving permission by the relevant authorities, is a gross disrespect to the people of Guyana not to mention the potential human health and environment repercussions that could emanate from the plants’ air pollutants. Finally, the Global Oil Environmental Services (GOES) Guyana Waste Treat-ment, Recycling & Reuse facility in Coverden. This project has attracted much attention and worries from those living in Coverden especially since there was no EIA completed. Citizens of the community are requesting a halt be placed on the project until they can better evaluate the environmental and social impacts of said project on their surroundings.

Without question, there will be more incidents in the not-so-distant future where the Government, or companies both local and foreign will, in an effort to strike while oil is hot, make decisions that may compromise the environmental integrity of the country. Though there are numerous tools and strategies which aim at supporting development policies and preserving the environment including strategic environmental assessment, environmental social impact assessment, remote sensing, and geographical information systems, what we consider to be of utmost importance is the need for the public to understand the role they play in every aspect of decision making. What is hoped through this article is that citizens understand that they possess rights where development impacts the environment. These rights emanate from the first environmental treaty of Latin America and the Carib-bean- the Escazu Agreement. The Escazu Agreement was signed, ratified, and later entered into force on April 22, 2021. It is important to note that Guyana was the first signatory to ratify this agreement. This agreement represents a groundbreaking, legally binding instrument for the protection and preservation of the environment. It is a mechanism for the voices of the environmental advocates to be sounded without fear of intimidation. It also represents accountability and culpability for Governments to take environmental matters into consideration in the course of development.

The rights described by this Agreement are the right to access information; the right of participation and the right to access justice in environmental matters. The right to access information means any citizen has the right to request environmental information without presenting any major justification and to receive it within the next 30 days. (Article 5 of Escazu Agreement). Moreover, according to the Agreement, every actor that could be affected by decisions regarding environmental projects must be taken into account and summoned for participating so that due consideration can be given to the observations of the public. Thus, authorities are expected to go beyond the inclusion of actors directly connected to the environment and Members of the Opposition as we have seen in the past but members of the public. Accordingly, State parties have the obligation to provide the necessary information about the projects to be discussed to those who participate, in order to grant informed participation. (Article 7). The Agreement (Article 8) also establishes obligations regarding the right to access to administrative or judicial mechanisms in order to appeal and challenge decisions concerning the access to environmental information, or participation in environmental decision-making processes. This is fundamental for the full implementation of the other rights. Also, States must guarantee the existence of competent state entities with access to expertise in environmental matters. These entities must be able to provide precautionary measures to prevent environmental harm as well as providing effective remedies and redress to victims of environmental harm. At a bare minimum, it is expected that international agreements are signed and thereafter represent a tokenistic ideal of progress, but are effectively implemented and understood by the Government and citizens alike. We all have our part to play in ensuring that all the pillars of sustainable development – people, profit and the planet – are incorporated.

Sincerely,

Caribbean Youth Environment

Network – Guyana

Members of the Executive

K. Jackson

L. Singh

K. Ba

N.H

S. Luke

E. Beaton

L. Amsterdam

A. Babb

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