As climate change continues to rear its ugly head across Jamaica it is becoming overwhelmingly necessary for citizens to not only be aware of the commitments being made by the Government but more engaged in decision-making concerning their environment. This would be possible through Jamaica’s ratification of the Escazú Agreement.
The Escazú Agreement, otherwise called the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean, is an international treaty signed by 25 Latin American and Caribbean nations. The agreement allows for the right to access information about the environment, public participation in environmental decision-making, environmental justice, and a healthy and sustainable environment for current and future generations.
It is the first international treaty in this region to focus on the environment and the first in the world to include the rights of environmental defenders. Originating at the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, it is the only binding treaty to be adopted as a result of the conference.
It was drafted between 2015 and 2018 and adopted in Escazú, Costa Rica, on March 4, 2018. The agreement is open to 33 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Of the 25 signatories, 14 have ratified the pact. Jamaica is among the first six countries to have signed the agreement, but unfortunately, the country has yet to ratify the treaty.
It is understood that the ratification of a treaty requires parliamentary approval. After approval has been granted under a State’s internal procedures, it will notify the other parties that they consent to be bound by the treaty. This will see the treaty now becoming officially binding. Signing the agreement on behalf of Jamaica was Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, who pointed out that the country is proud to have played a part in its negotiations.
Johnson-Smith signed the treaty during the UN General Assembly High-Level Week.
“Jamaica was an active participant in the negotiation of the agreement, which was finalised in April of this year in Escazú, Costa Rica, the location from which the treaty now takes its name. We are, therefore, pleased that Cabinet gave its approval for our early signature during UN High-Level Week,” Senator Johnson Smith said.
She went on to share that the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, which is responsible for the implementation of the treaty, was looking forward to engaging stakeholders and commencing the processes needed to ensure that Jamaica is in a position to comply with the provisions of the treaty, and, accordingly, in due course, ratify. Though Jamaica signed the agreement on September 26, 2019, there has been no recent information or conversations being publicly had on the process since.
While leniency can be afforded to the Government for the continued delay due to the negative implications brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic, the issues of climate change and the subsequent need for climate justice remain present and cannot be ignored.
In a newspaper column titled ‘Living sustainably in harmony with nature — the call for Jamaica‘, which was written by Jamaica’s Opposition spokeswoman on land, environment and climate change Senator Sophia Frazer Binns, the necessity of the ratification of the Escazú Agreement was simplified for those who need a better understanding of its goals.
“The people must be engaged through a national public education campaign on the importance and urgency of protecting the environment. In this regard, Jamaica should ratify the Escazú Agreement to improve how the country deals with environmental issues,” Senator Frazer Binns wrote.
Among the improvements listed by the senator are “increasing the public’s access to more environmental information so that they have a better understanding of decisions and impacts to their environment and health, and requiring the Government to proactively disseminate important environmental information, such as the sources of pollution and where they are released into the air, water, or land.”
According to the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation, the ratification of this treaty is a “step forward” for Jamaica.
“When the Jamaican Government ratifies the Escazú Agreement, [it] will be a key step forward for environmental protection in our country. Having this agreement in force in Jamaica will help us to combat key issues, such as climate change, which has a direct impact on the lives and livelihoods of many Jamaicans, especially those of us who are directly dependent on the environment for their livelihood,” the foundation said. So if ratifying this treaty will greatly benefit the country and its people, what is the delay?
This story was originally published by the Jamaica Observer, with the support of the Caribbean Climate Justice Journalism Fellowship, which is a joint venture of Climate Tracker and Open Society Foundations.