Thank you, National Summit Coordinator Kevin O’Reilly, for the warm welcome.
Thank you to the Secretariat, the delegations, the Joint Summit Working Group organizations, and civil society representatives for supporting and participating in the first meeting of this ad hoc technical group. This meeting is particularly important as we are coming together today to launch our planning process for meaningfully strengthening protection of environmental defenders.
I am grateful for your contributions to the negotiation of the “Our Sustainable Green Future” commitment related to environmental defenders leading up to the Summit. Thanks to Ecuador and Guyana who co-chaired the working group that drafted the commitment, which is to draft and approve national plans by the Tenth Summit to:
- Respond to environmental defenders who are threatened or attacked and collect data on threats and attacks, in keeping with domestic law.
- Enact, as appropriate, and enforce domestic laws to protect environmental defenders and the resources they defend.
- Carry out and implement environmental assessments, according to existing domestic legislation.
We recognize that these issues are complex, and that addressing them requires collaboration across ministries and with stakeholders, so we are particularly grateful for all your participation today.
I recognize that, for some of you, this meeting feels too soon after the Summit to be discussing implementation. I am grateful for your flexibility. By meeting early, we allow ourselves time to build on today’s discussions, learn from one another, and take advantage of discussions in other fora to make concrete progress on this critical issue.
This is a crucial time for environmental action. Our world must adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change, support a global goal of conserving at least 30 percent of land and waters by 2030, and reduce rising levels of pollution, particularly air and plastic pollution, which are choking and drowning our planet.
Amidst all this action, the United States appreciates that strong multi-stakeholder engagement, including from civil society organizations, environmental defenders, and others, is vital to ensuring that we find solutions that are sustainable and effective.
I have great respect and appreciation for environmental defenders because I’ve seen – we have all seen – the risks they take, their bravery, and the critical impact they make. Unfortunately, we have also seen their sacrifices.
The unacceptable reality is that being on the frontlines comes at a great personal risk. Global Witness and its partners reported that in 2021, an average of four environmental and land defenders were reported killed each week. Shockingly, more than three out of every four of these reported killings took place in Latin America. And of those killed, more than 40 percent were Indigenous People.
Global Witness and its partners report that 1733 environmental and land defenders were killed between 2012 and 2021. That is an average more than three killings per week – for ten years.
For every killing recorded, there are magnitudes more attacks, criminal acts, and intimidation.
The United States supports preserving and expanding the space for environmental defenders to act. Their voices benefit all of us.
We are proud to be one of the 19 governments supporting the Lifeline Embattled Civil Society Organization Assistance Fund, which helps protect civil society organizations under threat or attack and supports organizations to respond to broader threats against civic space.
In United States, protecting and supporting environmental defenders is a whole of government exercise. For more than five years, the State Department has led an informal U.S. government working group, which invites more than one thousand officials from across 20 Federal Government agencies to its meetings. The group meets regularly to monitor environmental defender cases, engage stakeholders, and inform broader policy and programmatic work.
The group has benefited enormously from meeting with environmental defenders and groups that work with them. We’ve learned that:
- Environmental defenders come from all backgrounds and are found in many communities around the world. Far too often, they are forced to become an environmental defender by some specific threat, often illegal.
- Many defenders are working to combat the climate crisis and protect resources vital to that fight.
- Many also work on addressing the challenges of air, soil, and water pollution in their communities.
- A high percentage of environmental defenders come from Indigenous and historically underserved and underrepresented communities.
- Many defenders are young people and women, who face greater threats of physical violence and assault.
- It is important to note that most environmental defenders fall into more than one of these categories.
A sustainable environment is the foundation of a thriving society. There are many important commitments in Our Sustainable Green Future. But we recognize that we won’t be able to achieve them without the tenacious and inspiring defenders who stand on the front lines protecting our air and water, our forests and oceans, and our climate and biodiversity.
Given this scale of the violence and threats, I have called these June Summit commitments related to environmental defenders a ‘turning point’ – the juncture when Summit of the Americas governments committed for the first time to a process to strengthen protections of human rights defenders, particularly Indigenous peoples and local communities working on environmental matters.
I’m proud to say that some Latin American environmental groups hailed these commitments as some of the Summit’s most significant achievements.
As a hemispheric commitment, it creates a space for us to collaborate and learn from one another as partners as we all seek to realize the shared commitment our heads of state and government adopted at the Summit. While each country works through its own institutional framework to address its own challenges, we do so with a shared vision and commitment.
We have much work to do over the next two and a half years as we forge a path to develop and approve related plans by our next Summit to implement our commitments.
Fortunately, governments are not travelling this path alone. We wisely included in the commitment a pledge to collaborate with stakeholders. I’m delighted the civil society Alliance for Land, Indigenous, and Environmental Defenders (ALLIED) is joining us to provide context, analysis, and recommendations.
We also benefit from the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), which supports countries’ efforts to make economic activity more inclusive, environmentally sustainable, and safe for environmental defenders, including through its role as Secretariat for the Escazú Agreement.
Although separate from Escazú, our Summit commitments complement and benefit from work done under Escazú. Countries that have joined or signed Escazú should not worry we will duplicate efforts there.
As we work together to implement these commitments, we are counting on civil society to work with us, so our processes and implementation are as inclusive, effective, and impactful as possible, and to hold us accountable for meeting our commitments.
The time for action is now, not a year from now or a generation from now. Time is not on our side
During the United States’ remaining time as Summit chair, we will work with partners in the international community on our respective commitments to draw up and approve national plans by the Tenth Summit.
This is just the beginning. We look forward to continuing this dialogue with your governments, civil society partners, and multilateral organizations to learn from one another and share experiences over the coming months as we develop our national plans.
At the close of this meeting, we will discuss opportunities to continue this important conversation. I look forward to your suggestions about how to structure an informal space for ongoing collaboration.
Such ongoing collaboration would also include our colleagues at other agencies. For example, our USAID colleagues who are working to protect human rights defenders, build local capacity to combat environmental crimes, and help communities secure their rights to land and natural resources.”
And now, I’ll turn the floor over to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Assistant Administrator Jane Nishida who will describe what EPA is doing domestically to advance environmental justice, public participation, and its relationship with Tribal Nations. She will also mention some of EPA’s important work with other countries.