Chile’s new left-wing President Gabriel Boric has signed onto the United Nations Escazu Agreement, overturning the policy of the previous Chilean government that had held back from supporting the environmental treaty.
Chile, the world’s top copper producer, initially promoted the agreement, which is focused on access to information and environmental justice in Latin America and the Caribbean, but later refused to sign it on the grounds that it could generate legal uncertainties.
But Boric, who last week replaced centre-right former President Sebastian Pinera, has pledged to take a strong position on climate change and environmental regulation.
“This agreement represents a milestone on the way to a new relationship between the state and its inhabitants in environmental matters,” Boric said on Friday during a signing ceremony.
The move still has to be signed off by Congress.
The Escazu Agreement, signed in 2018 by many countries in the region, including Argentina, Mexico and Brazil, came into force in April last year.
The agreement aims to contribute “to the protection of the right of each person, of present and future generations, to live in a healthy environment and to sustainable development”.
It also seeks to address various environmental rights, such as access to environmental information, public participation in environmental decision-making processes, and access to environmental justice, including the creation of mechanisms to protect environmental defenders.
Access to environmental information is potentially important in countries such as Chile, where questions have been raised over water use by copper and lithium firms and the effect of mining on glaciers, among other issues.
Twenty-four countries in the region signed the treaty and 12 have ratified it.
“We are facing the worst ecological crisis in history and we need to face it jointly. We will not be successful alone,” said Chile’s Environment Minister Maisa Rojas, who is a climatologist.
“The first and only environmental treaty in Latin America and the Caribbean emerges as a powerful tool for the change we long for,” she said.
Boric, a 36-year-old former student activist, was sworn into office on March 11. The nation’s youngest-ever president, he was elected on a pledge to tackle Chile’s deep-rooted inequality and to improve access to healthcare, education and pensions.
“Environmental activists, you have taught us to persevere and we are here for you,” Boric tweeted on Friday. “Just as today we advanced signing Escazu, tomorrow we will continue for decent pensions, quality health and the eradication of gender violence in educational establishments.”
Boric also said that by the next COP27 climate summit, which will be held in Egypt later this year, Chile will be “entirely Escazu”.
“I am clear that this has been a longstanding dream,” he said during the signing ceremony. “Today, we are signing and fulfilling this commitment.”