EL ESPECTADOR, June 20, 2021
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
In the rush to complete the legislative session, Congress let the ratification of the Escazú Agreement go down. It was a victory for those that have been spreading disinformation against the international treaty, and a failure by the national government to keep the promises it made in the earlier national conversation in the wake of the citizens’ demonstrations. In one of the countries that has had the most social environmental leaders murdered, the Legislature hid behind dilatory maneuvers to keep the protection of the rights of every Colombian from advancing. The story doesn’t end here, but what happened serves as a good summary for a Colombia that is polarized and unable to reach any consensus.
There is no reason to fear the Escazú Agreement. A number of Congress members and trade associations opposed it, accusing it of being a renunciation of national sovereignty. They were igniting the old alarms about the idea that having more environmental rights represents an obstacle to economic development. Both prejudices are unfounded. How does a government that ratifies measures so that its citizens can exercise their rights in a healthy environment lose sovereignty? What kind of economic development, in this 21st century of climate emergency and paradigm shift, can exist without serious consideration of environmental sustainability?
The reality, in contrast, actually demonstrates the importance of Escazú. Global Witness reported that 64 defenders of the environment were murdered in 2019. That means more than one murder per week. Besides, Colombia is a space that is fundamental for the future of the planet: our ample natural resources are a reserve and a tool to oppose the climate emergency. The re-evaluation of all of the extractive projects and other initiatives that affect the environment has to consider those characteristics.
Because of that, Escazú is an excellent treaty. It’s not improvised, because it has been being negotiated ever since 2014. Its benefits have been recognized, even in the areas of economic development, as in the Inter-American Development Bank, which has asked that the member countries consider the contents of the Agreement. President Iván Duque himself, in announcing his signature, said that “this is one of the most important environmental documents in the region. Signing the Escazú Agreement will help us to take a qualitatively important step toward access to information and the protection of the environment.”
And what is it that the Agreement does? In broad strokes, it’s built on three pillars: access to environmental information, environmental participation, and environmental justice. Besides that, it seeks to strengthen the protection of environmental leaders. Those commendable goals, along with practical tools to carry them out, don’t deserve the fuss that was created in large part by members of the party that’s running the government.
President Duque could go back and present the Agreement for ratification in the next legislative session. Let’s hope he does that and that Congress acts. But if not, that ought to be a central point in the upcoming elections. Colombia can’t keep putting off the protection of environmental rights.