Escazú Agreement finds strong advocates in Jamaica and Belize
Jamaica and Belize, two Caribbean countries known for their stunning natural beauty and biodiversity, have recently signed the Escazú Agreement.
The agreement named after the Costa Rican town of Escazú, which was adopted in 2018 by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), aims to promote environmental protection, ensure access to information, and promote public participation in environmental decision-making.
The signing of the Escazú Agreement by Jamaica and Belize is a significant step towards promoting sustainable development and protecting the environment in the Caribbean. Both countries have rich natural resources and a diverse range of ecosystems, including coral reefs, forests, and wetlands. However, these resources are increasingly under threat from climate change, pollution, and unsustainable development practices.
Both countries welcome the Escazú
Jamaica’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Kamina Johnson Smith emphasised the importance of the agreement for Jamaica and the wider Caribbean. “We are thrilled to sign the Escazú Agreement and join other countries in promoting environmental protection and sustainability. Jamaica is a small island developing state that is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. By signing this agreement, we are taking a proactive step towards protecting our natural resources and building a more resilient future for our people,” Johnson Smith said.
Similarly, Belize’s Minister of Sustainable Development, Climate Change and disaster Risk Management Orlando Habet, highlighted the benefits of the agreement for Belize’s rich natural heritage. “I am happy that I could have taken that document to Cabinet. We already signed the agreement, but it needed (to be) ratified. Cabinet gave its full support showing that our Government is certainly willing and truthfully engaging the public because it provides information, accessibility and justice,” Habet told the media on January 12, 2023.
Jamaican journalists urge ratification of the agreement
Jamaica is among the first six countries to sign the agreement, but it has yet to ratify the treaty. Three Jamaican journalists are urging their government to ratify the Escazú Agreement. The treaty also includes specific provisions on protecting environmental defenders, who are often at risk of violence, harassment, and intimidation for their work. The journalists argue that ratification would greatly benefit their work covering stories on the local environment and urge their government to take the issue seriously.
Reporter Brittny Hutchinson has raised major questions and concerns about the country’s seriousness in protecting the environment. She asks why there has been no effort to ratify the agreement since 2019 and whether there are other factors being considered before ratification. Hutchinson believes that more seriousness should be put into environmental protection as citizens of the country.
Jamaican court journalist Tanesha Mundle notes that ratification of the Escazú Agreement will make it easier for journalists to access environmental-related information from competent authorities as well as from environmental information systems. She also points out that the agreement will provide for more in-depth and broader coverage of varying aspects of the environment, including access to environmental justice, the environmental qualities of goods and services, legislative framework and gaps, and government and non-government companies’ adherence to environmental standards and measures.
Reporter Romardo Lyons adds that Jamaica’s current fight against climate change is proof that the country should urgently ratify the Escazú Agreement. The fact that the agreement allows for the right to access information about the environment, and is geared toward a healthy and sustainable environment for current and future generations are reasons for the country to urgently ratify the agreement. Lyons cites the country’s recent issues with drought as reinforcing the need to ratify the Escazú Agreement.
What’s next for Belize after ratifying?
In Belize, the significance of the Escazú Agreement might be unclear to those not within direct environmental networks. Since Belize signed the agreement in 2022, there haven’t been distinct awareness campaigns made by government ministries or national conservation non-governmental organisations. However, the Belize Network of Non-Governmental Organizations (BNN) has released a statement in response to Foreign Minister Eamon Courtenay’s comment that Belize would postpone ratification following Cuba’s decision not to ratify the agreement.
In their letter, BNN called for the Government to ratify the document as an opportunity to become a regional leader on environmental issues. That open letter was soon followed by the agreement’s ratification by the Government of Belize. The ratification of Escazú by Belize is significant, as it could potentially make the country a regional leader on environmental issues. However, there is presently a lack of information from the government on how the treaty will be implemented in Belize.
But this hasn’t deterred organisers like YaYa Marin Coleman of the UBAD Educational Foundation (UEF). UEF members have taken it upon themselves to educate their communities about the agreement and its potential benefits. Marin Coleman first learned about the agreement in March 2018 while participating in a UK-based project on African Reparations. Three years later she found a cause close to home that reminded her of that initial encounter with the Escazú when the Port of Belize Cruise Port and Cargo Expansion Project was proposed within the Port Loyola community, one of UEF’s central communities. Familiarising herself with the project’s EIA, Marin Coleman noted that EIAs “take a lot of reading, a lot of time, and [are] not always written in a way that the layperson can understand.” Undeterred, Marin Coleman saw the connection with how the implementation of Escazú could address the exclusionary tendency of the present Environmental Impact Assessment process.
Discussing UEF’s education campaign on the agreement, Marin Coleman stated that “We [UEF] have not waited on the state to tell us about this agreement.” That campaign took the form of targeted Facebook posts tracking UEF’s communications with the Department of the Environment about the project. It also included regular Zoom ‘community hangouts’ where experts from Belize and the Caribbean spoke to Marin Coleman and other UEF representatives about the port’s potential harm in addition to the interventions that the agreement could make possible with its ratification.
— This story was published with the support of the Caribbean Climate Justice Journalism Fellowship, which is a joint venture of Climate Tracker and Open Society Foundations.