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More Citizenship for Sustainable Development

Op-ed by Alicia Bárcena, ECLAC’s Executive Secretary, and Carlos de Miguel, Head of the Policies for Sustainable Development Unit of the Sustainable Development and Human Settlements Division of ECLAC (published in ECLAC Notes Nº 88, June 2016).

21 June 2016|Op-ed

In a global context of a less dynamic and more unstable economic system, growing inequality, risks to peace and security, and a serious environmental crisis, it has become clear that the dominant development pattern in Latin America and the Caribbean is unsustainable. In addition to the degradation of the environment and ecosystems and the plundering of natural resources, associated with the unsustainable dynamics of production and consumption and urban concentration, there are global challenges such as climate change that greatly impact our region.

The wide range of challenges faced by the region has led us at ECLAC to underline the importance of forging compacts for equality and a sustainable future. We have noted that these compacts will not be possible without more participatory and transparent democracies in which citizens are profoundly involved in decisions about the kind of society that should be built.

The 2030 Agenda with its 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs), approved in September 2015 by the United Nations, is universal and indivisible and expresses the international consensus on a new development pattern. The Agenda is an action plan in favor of people, the planet and prosperity. It also aims to strengthen universal peace within a wider concept of freedom.

This plan will be implemented by all countries and interested parties through a cooperative alliance that will bring together governments, the private sector, civil society, the United Nations system and other entities. Therefore, it will require actions and coalitions at a national, regional and global level.

In the national sphere, countries should move to establish an institutional architecture that effectively enables the implementation of an integrated approach for our nations’ development. The countries in our region have begun to provide themselves with these architectures. Examples of this are the recently created National Council for the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in Chile, the High Level Inter-Institutional Commission for the Preparation and Effective Implementation of the Post-2015 Development Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals in Colombia, and the National Coordination System established in Brazil.

The regional architecture for follow-up and review of progress on implementation of the 2030 Agenda in Latin America and the Caribbean, meanwhile, corresponds to the recently created Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development, which will function under the auspices of ECLAC. The Forum will build bridges between global and regional efforts, reinforce coherence and coordination at a regional level, promote collaboration and provide orientation in terms of policies, further the creation of national capabilities, foster voluntary national reviews, identify gaps, challenges and shared goals in the region, and stimulate learning among peers, among other tasks.

This regional architecture for follow-up and review of the progress of the 2030 Agenda in Latin America and the Caribbean is strengthened by the regional agreement for full application of Principle 10, which is currently being negotiated by 21 countries of our region under the leadership of Chile and Costa Rica, and which is expected to be finalized by the end of this year.

Both the 2030 Agenda and the regional agreement on Principle 10 have emphasized the virtuous circle between rights of access, environmental protection and human rights, stressing that informed participation and transparency contribute to improving environmental policies and, therefore, environmental protection, which in turn enables compliance with substantive rights such as the right of every person to a healthy environment, to life and health.

The regional agreement aims to establish obligations so that Latin American and Caribbean States improve their laws, policies, institutions and practices to guarantee that people’s rights to information, participation and justice in environmental matters—consecrated in Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration—be respected and fully implemented.

The timing for intensifying the full application of Principle 10 could not be more appropriate. The rights of access consecrated in this principle are at the heart of the 2030 Agenda and permeate and are manifested in all the sustainable development goals. The SDGs expressly link human well-being with environmental quality and peace. Five goals address environmental matters (goal 6 on sustainable management of water; 12 on sustainable consumption and production patterns; 13 on climate change; 14 on oceans and seas; 15 on sustainable management of land ecosystems) and well-being based on the environment is present in the targets of all the other goals. In addition, goal 16, which promotes just, peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, requires that officials guarantee equality in access to justice; effective, responsible and transparent institutions; and the adoption of inclusive, participatory and representative decisions. It also seeks to guarantee public access to information and to promote non-discriminatory laws and policies for sustainable development.

In this sense, it is no coincidence that just as well-being based on the environment is present in all the SDGs, the equality of rights and opportunities, timely access to information, promotion of education for sustainable development, full and effective participation, the strengthening of participation by directly affected communities, planning and participatory management are important aspects in the new agenda throughout its 17 goals and 169 targets.

In this context, the standards to be adopted in the regional agreement on Principle 10 as well as the mechanisms to be established for ensuring its fulfilment will be key elements for the accountability scheme regarding the 2030 Agenda, and the forums for capacity strengthening and south-south cooperation will support the participation of all actors of society in the implementation of the established action plan.

The process, for which ECLAC serves as the technical secretariat, is an example of how the countries of our region can—with an approach based on concerted efforts, autonomy, progressivity, cooperation and capacity strengthening—face global challenges and bolster regional environmental governance, contributing to social and economic progress as well as environmental sustainability. Our region is giving a lesson to the world, writing a new chapter in terms of strengthening environmental democracy.