Environmental Democracy (UN Principle 10) not a Government Priority
Date: November 29th, 2017
The recent victory of Fishermen and Friends of the Sea, (FFOS) in its challenge to the Water Pollution (Fees) Regulations, 2001 (and by extension the Air Pollution Rules, 2014), underscores the importance of the ability of civic minded members of the public and NonGovernmental Organizations (NGOs) to hold all Governments to account for poor environmental decision-making that is unlawful and against the public interest. The judgement not only highlights our Government’s failure to comply with Trinidad and Tobago’s National Environmental Policy of 2006 (NEP), but is also based on a finding of the the improper exercise of discretion by the Ministry of Planning.
The judgement represents a victory for environmental democracy and justice and the precedents set will influence the law in the region as well as in the wider Commonwealth. It underscores the need for the public to remain vigilant in its scrutiny of environmental decisions.
What is even more significant however, is that on the day the Privy Council judgement was released, Caribbean and Latin American States initiated the United Nations 8th Negotiating Session of a binding legal agreement to provide the public with rights to access to justice, information and public participation in environmental decision-making. The agreement is intended to strengthen access rights in the region and ensure recognition and support for the members of the public and NGOs acting in defence of the environment. According to Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, an Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights, “the treaty will strengthen the right to information, participation and access to justice in relation to large energy, infrastructure and extractive industry projects in the region funded by private, bilateral or multilateral financial institutions,” According to the expert. “The agreement is particularly important… because the region is one of the most dangerous in the world for environmental human rights defenders. In 2016 alone, more than 100 environmental defenders were killed in the region.”
Tragically, Trinidad and Tobago has been absent from a number of these negotiating sessions including those sessions where the substantive rights in the agreement have been agreed. Issues like support for environmental NGO’s, capacity building and training for those working in defence of the environment will also be negotiated in our absence in the coming week . This conduct sends the wrong signals to the international community and demonstrates a lack of interest and support by our government for the democratic public interest principles of access rights to justice that this regional agreement is intended to achieve. Is this the right example for a Caribbean leader?
By failing to attend Dr Rowley has sent a clear message to the people of Trinidad and Tobago and the international community that environmental justice and participation is not a priority or on his Governments agenda.
Dr Rowley must be called to account. Can there be any “Vision 2030″ if our leaders are oblivious to environmental justice and human rights? In order to ensure sustainable development we appeal to our Honourable Government to resume active participation in all future negotiating sessions and ensure that our government and people of Trinidad and Tobago are afforded the representation they deserve in this process. Sincerely,