For more than 50 years now, on April 22 we celebrate Earth Day .
Upon taking office in 2019, the European Commission led by Ursula von der Leyen put the so-called European Green Deal at the center of its collective five-year mandate. It is a new growth strategy aimed at transforming the bloc's economy under the paradigms of respect for the planet and social justice.
Its objectives are the sustainable and efficient use of resources, the progressive reduction of net greenhouse gas emissions until achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, the protection and improvement of the EU's natural capital and health and well-being of its citizens in the face of the risks produced by environmental and climatic degradation, establishing at the same time mechanisms to mitigate negative effects on particular regions or sectors.
The European Green Deal is also a key element in the relationship of the European Union with its international partners. We seek reinforced cooperation within multilateral spaces on issues relevant to environmental protection, for example in the framework of COP15 on biodiversity and the fight against climate change, for example at COP25 for the follow-up of the Paris Agreement, and an approach at the level of bilateral and regional relations.
It is in this perspective that today we welcome the entry into force of the new Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters negotiated by all thirty-three countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. At a time when multilateralism is subject to criticism and where the ghosts of nationalism raise their heads again, it is a hopeful sign that thirty-three countries are federating in the name of protecting the environment and its defenders.
This Agreement concluded in 2018 in the Costa Rican town of Escazú and known since then by that name, is the first agreement of the American subcontinent and the Caribbean for the environment and translates Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration into practice, which emphatically emphasizes that 'the best way to deal with environmental issues is with the participation of all interested citizens, at the appropriate level', that 'everyone should have adequate access to information on the environment available to public authorities, such as the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes' as well as access to justice and compensation for damages in the event of environmental disasters.
The Escazú Agreement recognizes that the first line of defense for the protection of the environment are local communities, a principle that also inspires the European Green Pact that promotes a just and inclusive transition based on the active participation of citizens.
As we reiterated again at the meeting of the foreign ministers of the two regions on December 14 in Berlin, our strategic partnership is underpinned by shared values and common interests. The protection of nature and the fight against climate change are perhaps the areas where such values and interests converge with greater evidence and where our alliance has more projection for the future, as the young people of the two regions champion and share the environmental commitment and they have motivated the generations that precede them to review policies and actions. Therefore, the themes that inspire the Escazú Agreement and the Green Pact are destined to become increasingly relevant at all levels.
We especially congratulate the 24 countries that have already signed the Agreement and among them the twelve whose ratification has made it possible to arrive in a relatively short time - despite the delays in the functioning of the legislative and executive bodies due to the pandemic - to the entry into force of the Agreement, countries that are very diverse among themselves but that share the commitment to the objectives of the Agreement, from Antigua and Barbuda to Mexico, from Saint Kitts and Nevis and Ecuador to Argentina and Uruguay.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, ECLAC, also deserves recognition, which, under the guidance of its Executive Secretary, Alicia Bárcena, has supported the process of negotiation, ratification and prompt implementation of the Agreement.
We hope that the other countries of the region will soon access this instrument so that the synergies between the countries and their civil societies in the protection of the environment can be strengthened and that we can also exchange the experiences of its implementation with those of the Convention of Aarhus, which with similar objectives has brought together European countries since 2001.
In the past, a dichotomy was often seen between development and environmental protection - the experience of the Aarhus Convention shows that it is a false dichotomy since especially the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, even accelerating initiatives for the protection of the environment, registered growth above the regional average.
Our desire is that the principles and provisions of the Agreement are applied and that Latin America lose the hateful leadership of the region where more environmental defenders are murdered, including in these first months of 2021, being the representatives of indigenous peoples especially victimized by their bond ancestral with nature. There are situations where only the call for the protection of nature by a child translates into threats to their safety from cowardly criminals, as is the case of little Francisco Vera in Colombia, whom we have appointed as a goodwill ambassador of the European Union.
As part of its cooperation with the region, the European Union has been supporting various actions at the regional and individual country level that facilitate the implementation of initiatives that correspond to the spirit and the letter of the Escazú Agreement and that complement actions of governments and the civil society on the ground. The case of the activists of the Olancho Environmental Movement in Honduras is one of these actions.
Thanks to an awareness campaign co-financed by the European Union in the framework of the negotiation process of a Voluntary Agreement of Association FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade), the organization Fundación Democracia sin Fronteras was able to obtain the necessary funds so that the activists could bear the costs of their defense in the judicial process in which they were accused of having obstructed the implementation of a forest plan that would have resulted in the deforestation of their natural environment. The judge recognized that the defense of environmental rights was not a crime and that his actions were justified.
The European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) increasingly supports activities in favor of environmental rights. This is the case of two projects that have just been launched in the Peruvian Amazon, one by the local organization Environmental Law and Natural Resources (DAR) and indigenous federations, the other by the National Organization of Andean and Amazonian Women of Peru (ONAMIAP) and Oxfam Intermon, which aspire to work hand in hand with government entities and indigenous communities to promote environmental legislation reforms, develop mechanisms for territorial surveillance and protection of defenders, and sensitize public opinion.
Although at first glance it may seem less obvious, the European program EL PAcCTO for the fight against transnational organized crime also has several actions aimed at fighting environmental crimes, for example, with an operation against the trafficking of wildlife from Costa Rica to the European Union, within the framework of the Jaguar Network; or with support for the creation of a Specialized Multidisciplinary Team in the fight against environmental crime in Panama, one of the countries that has recently ratified the Escazú Agreement.
More actions are being developed in these months within the new multi-year cooperation framework that prioritizes the priorities of the Green Deal, in particular with actions that involve financial and implementation instruments of the European Union and its Member States under the modality of the Team Europe Initiatives. that have already shown their effectiveness in responding to the pandemic emergency.
Congratulations to the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean for giving us one more opportunity to celebrate this Earth Day and look optimistically at the post-pandemic future.