Farah Theodore
Farah Theodore

It is encouraging news that St. Lucia on 1 December 2020, became the 10th state to officially ratify the Escazú Agreement. The treaty needs 11 states to ratify it so that it can come into force, and at present Mexico and Argentina are preparing to do just that. The stage is set for quite an accomplishment.

The Escazú Agreement was crafted on the concept of Principle 10 of the 1992 RIO Declaration which strives to protect the rights of environmental and human rights defenders, access to information, and public participation. Such goals rely on the support of the judicial and legislative bodies of the member states to make them achievable. At the Second Meeting of the Signatory countries to the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean held on December 9-10, 2020, the representative of the CCJ Academy of Law stressed that, access to justice is central to sustainable development, full realisation of human rights, and environmental protection. It was also fitting that the dates were significant in themselves being the International Human Rights Defenders Day (Dec 9th) and International Human Rights Day (Dec 10th). Alicia Bárcena Ibarra, the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean remembered Honduran activist Berta Cáceres, a defender of the indigenous Lenca people who was murdered in 2016. She stated, 'we are democratizing the right to information, participation and justice. The Escazú Agreement is an essential instrument to avoid mortgaging the future, and to address the legitimate demands of many communities'.

Caribbean bodies such as the OECS, CARICOM, the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court and the CCJ Academy of Law have all declared support and readiness to give effect to the agreement. Our Latin American counterparts such as Uruguay, Panama, Mexico and Argentina have made real progressive steps in this area, particularly, in making the provisions justiciable.

It was acknowledged at the conference that the coronavirus pandemic has spotlighted the connection between our health and environment. This observation was the focal point of the October 29, 2020 IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) Workshop Report on Biodiversity and Pandemics. Executive Secretary, Convention on Biological Diversity Secretariat, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema commented, "Biodiversity loss and disease emergence share many of the same drivers: human-made changes to nature that disrupt biodiversity, such as deforestation, land-use change and the way we mange agricultural and food production systems, to mention but some".

The IPBES Report unambiguously draws attention to the inevitability of pandemics increasing in frequency and severity unless biodiversity loss is addressed. Pandemics have origins in 'diverse microbes carried by animal reservoirs, but their emergence is entirely driven by human activities'. It suggests, there is an estimated 1.7m currently undiscovered viruses thought to exist in mammal and avian hosts. Of these, 631,000 - 827,000 could have the ability to infect humans. There is an average of 5 new diseases emerging each year, therefore, the risk of a pandemic increases.

According to the Report, adapting to the current pandemic and mitigating against future ones includes: aiming to evolve into a green economy; integrate the cost of pandemics into consumption, production and government policies and budgets; explore the correlation between ecosystem degradation and the risk of emergence of diseases; take collaborative action against illegal wildlife trade; relevant data collection; and transition to a healthier, more sustainable diet as well as, increase sustainability in agriculture to meet food requirements from currently available land. The Report also warns 'RNA viruses are particularly important as emerging pathogens because they have high mutation rates, undergo recombination and have other characteristics allowing them to evolve diverse assemblages over time'.

In order to take back control of our lives, we need to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Those advocating for the proliferated use of vaccines have imposed a mindset of weakness. We are not as fragile as they suggest or made of glass. Dr. Andrew Weil advises that, "whenever the immune system deals successfully with an infection, it emerges from the experience stronger and better able to confront similar threats in the future. Our immune system develops in combat. If at the first sign of infection, you always jump in with antibiotics, you do not give the immune system a chance to grow stronger".

We have to strike a balance between nature and technology. The survival of the planet and our existence is interdependent. For the first time, global human-made biomass exceeds the earth's. It is imperative that we take responsibility for our actions (or inaction), and actively do the right thing in this period of the Anthropocene. If hindsight is 20/20, don't be an idiot in 2021. Let's take note and conjure up the wherewithal to do what MUST be done and protect the earth.