The Ministers of the Environment of Latin America and the Caribbean today signed the Bridgetown Declaration, in which they called for the integration of environmental issues to be placed at the heart of the region’s COVID-19 recovery strategies, with economic reactivation based on social inclusion, low carbon and resilient economies, and the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.
The ministers, at the XXII Meeting of the Forum of Ministers of Environment of Latin America and the Caribbean organized by the UN Environment Porgramme (UNEP) and the Government of Barbados, agreed on a set of concrete decisions, including the establishment of a regional Action Plan to restore ecosystems, a Circular Economy Coalition, an Integrated Environmental Information System, and a second, updated Caribbean Small Island Developing States (SIDS) Programme, with the aim of boosting a green recovery in the region.
“The impending global response to the COVID-19 pandemic teaches us to work together to combat the common challenges to the planet and humanity,” said the Ministers in the Declaration.
The ministers considered that economic, fiscal, and financial packages and recovery investments should stimulate sustainable development efforts, both in the short and the long term, in order to meet the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement on climate change and the post-2020 global biodiversity Framework.
They also recognized that, in order to reduce the risk of future pandemics of zoonotic origin, Latin America and the Caribbean need to improve the state of knowledge on the links between environmental and human health.
The ministers agreed on eight decisions that will be presented at the fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly. The Assembly, which is the world’s highest-level decision-making body on the environment, will be held under the overarching theme “Strengthening Actions for Nature to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.”
1. A commitment to tackle all forms of pollution
The ministers agreed on an integrated approach to address the threat of pollution and called upon countries in the region to minimize waste generation and to progressively eradicate inappropriate final waste disposal practices, guided by the Roadmap for the progressive closure of dumpsites in Latin America and the Caribbean, which includes a set of technical, environmental, economic, and social inclusion considerations.
The ministers also adopted an Action Plan on regional cooperation for the management of chemicals and waste for the 2021-2024 period, discussed a preventive life-cycle approach as a strategy to reduce marine litter and microplastics, and stressed the importance of the regional Network on Atmospheric Pollution to support the development of air quality and pollution-control policies and strategies.
2. A new coalition to implement circular economy practices
Another salient decision of the Forum was the establishment of a Circular Economy Coalition for Latin America and the Caribbean, which will be led by a steering committee composed of four high-level government representatives on a rotating basis and eight permanent strategic partners.
Coordinated by UNEP, the coalition will focus on the establishment of a common regional vision on sustainable production and consumption and will serve as a platform to exchange best practices and promote cooperation. The ministers also called to expand the implementation of sustainable public procurement practices, invited countries to join the Environmental Alliance of America and welcomed the Global Opportunities for Sustainable Development Goals (GO4SDGs) as a platform to accelerate action and to scale up and replicate regional solutions.
3. Accelerate climate change ambition
Considering the climate emergency, the ministers recognized that countries must not postpone climate action and that post-pandemic recovery efforts should not imply a reduction in resources for climate change. They stressed the need to implement responses to the post-COVID-19 crisis in alignment with the Paris Agreement. They encouraged countries to develop and submit updated and ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) before COP26, and emphasized the importance of promoting international, regional, and South-South cooperation.
Latin American and Caribbean countries called for investment in ecosystem-based approaches to restore biodiversity, enhance mitigation and improve the resilience of our societies to resist the effects of natural disasters caused by global warming. The ministers recognized that cooperation is necessary to promote green recovery, and invited countries to promote synergies with other financial entities to develop innovative financial mechanisms that fight climate change and guarantee the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Sendai framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 and boost the impact of the Forum.
4. An Action Plan to preserve biodiversity and restore ecosystems
With biodiversity declining at an unprecedented rate, the Ministers adopted a Plan for the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration in Latin America and the Caribbean, with the goal of strengthening collaboration for conservation, restoration and sustainable use of biodiversity.
Ministers also invited Members Stares of the region to strengthen, as soon as possible, their schemes for the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of biological diversity and to adopt measures to ensure that biodiversity and healthy ecosystems underpin the sustainable recovery from the socioeconomic and health crises across the region.
5. An Integrated Environmental Information System
The ministers agreed to promote a regional Integrated Environmental Information System to strengthen the science-policy interface in Latin America and the Caribbean and, notably, to support monitoring the implementation of the environmental dimension of the 2030 Agenda. The System will be hosted by UNEP and fed with relevant data, assessments and reports produced by countries of the region and supplemented by global data and information.
The Secretariat has been asked to liaise with countries, UN agencies, funds and programmes and relevant scientific organizations to develop a country-led biennial report on the State of the Environment for Latin America and the Caribbean, taking into account the region’s differentiated capacities and gaps.
6. A stronger Emergency Preparedness Network
The ministers emphasised the importance of considering the environmental dimensions of emergencies in the political agenda of this region, which is the second most disaster-prone region on the planet. They also supported the consolidation of the Regional Emergency Preparedness and Environment Network, including the development of the Network work plan for the 2021-2022 period.
Ministers called for greater capacity building to address situations such as industrial accidents, disaster waste, and greater support from donors. They also hope for great cooperation between environment, health and emergency management agencies. The countries requested UNEP to maintain and expand support to help them to prepare, respond and manage the environmental dimensions of emergencies and crises.
7. Promote gender equality
Ministers urged all countries of the region to develop affirmative actions within the framework of environmental public policies that recognize women’s contributions to sustainable development, as well as the existing gaps in access to natural resources and the negative impacts on women and girls derived from their unsustainable exploitation.
The ministers listed as prerequisites for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals:
generating information disaggregated by sex; integrating gender-sensitive approaches in public policies; achieving a gender balance in participation and decision-making mechanisms; and designing policies that support the elimination of any legal or social barrier to women’s rights.
8. Small Island Developing States development
The ministers took into account the new and emerging challenges faced by the SIDS in coping with the socioeconomic difficulties resulting from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including, inter alia, disruption to key economic sectors such as tourism and transport, disruption in supply chains for critical medical and food supplies, and the inequalities regarding access to digital technology, constricting delivery of education and e-commerce services.
In this context, the ministers decided to formulate an updated Caribbean SIDS Programme that contributes to enhance the implementation of the Environmental Dimension of the Sustainable Development Agenda in Caribbean SIDS, taking into account and building on the SIDS instruments which have been agreed by the international Community, namely, the Barbados Programme of Action (BPOA); the Mauritius Strategy for the Further Implementation of the BPOA (MSI/BPOA); and the SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action (SAMOA) Pathway.
The environmental authorities of the region agreed that the XXIII Meeting of the Forum will be organized by Costa Rica, under the presidency of the Minister of Environment and Energy, Andrea Meza.