Principle 10 was adopted in 1992 as part of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. The process towards the adoption of a regional agreement ‘Escazu Agreement’ began in 2012 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean. In this Declaration, signatory countries committed, with the support of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) as the technical secretariat, to advance the development of a regional agreement for the full implementation of the rights of access to information, public participation and access to justice in environmental matters.
Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on the Sustainable Development Goals states that: “Environmental issues are best handled with participation of all concerned citizens at the relevant level. At the national level, each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities, including information on hazardous materials and activities in their communities, and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes. States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available. Effective access to judicial and administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy, shall be provided.”
Principle 10 sets out three fundamental rights as the key pillars of sound environmental governance, namely:
- It seeks to ensure that every person especially those in vulnerable situations, have access to timely and reliable information,
- Can participate significantly in the decisions that affects their lives and;
- Have access to justice in environmental matters with the aim of safeguarding the right to a healthy and sustainable environment for present and future generations.
The access rights have emerged to be very important in promoting transparent, inclusive and accountable environmental governance. Access to information empowers citizens and incentivizes them to participate in decision and policy making processes in an informed manner.
Public participation is increasingly being seen as a vital part of addressing environmental problems and achieving sustainable development by encouraging governments to adopt policies and enact laws that take community needs into account. Access to justice provides the foundation of the access rights as it facilitates the public’s ability to enforce their right to participate, to be informed, and to hold regulators and polluters accountable for environmental harm.
It would be beneficial for St. Kitts and Nevis to ratify this regional instrument as the convention will provide a framework for capacity building; legal assistance and progress on implementation taking into account lessons learned from other regions and would help build accountability and transparency. It will also help to demonstrate the government’s commitment to strengthening democracy and sustainable development.
St. Kitts and Nevis signed the declaration agreement at the 4th Meeting of the Negotiating Committee held in the Dominican Republic in August 2016, and became the 22nd country to sign on to the declaration. By signing the declaration, we committed ourselves to working towards a regional instrument on the fundamental rights enshrined in Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.
The agreement is currently opened to the signature of the countries at the United Nation Headquarters in New York until 26th September 2020 and will be subject to the ratification, acceptance or approval of the States that have signed it.