Guinea-Bissau Becomes First Non-European Country to Join UN Agreement on the Environment and Human Rights
Guinea-Bissau, a small West African country with a population of about two million people, has become the first non-European country to join the United Nations Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making, and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters. The UN announced the news on Tuesday, April 4, 2023, making Guinea-Bissau its 47th signatory country.
Also known as the Aarhus Convention, this international agreement aims to ensure government accountability for human rights and the environment. It “protects the right of everyone to live in an environment adequate to his or her health and well-being,” provides citizens with the right to participate in environmental decision-making, and “recognizes that we have an obligation to future generations,” according to the Convention’s website. In short, it is a legally-binding global instrument on environmental democracy.
Guinea-Bissau’s decision to join the Convention is part of its efforts to combat climate change and promote biodiversity by allowing public participation in the decision-making process and access to justice when environmental rights are violated. The country is one of the most vulnerable to climate change, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), and is threatened by flooding and increased salinization of coastal areas, which negatively impact agriculture and can lead to drinking water shortages.
Mining and construction activities also pose a threat to Guinea-Bissau’s protected areas. In January of this year, police prevented activists from protesting plans to destroy a park in the heart of the capital Bissau as part of a construction project.
“We are very pleased that Guinea-Bissau has joined the Convention and its Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers. This accession represents an important step towards strengthening environmental democracy in the country,” said Olga Algayerova, executive secretary of the UNECE. “The Convention provides the tools and pathways to enable public participation in decisions relating to the environment and explores ways to foster environmental justice.”
Guinea-Bissau’s Environment Minister, Viriato Luis Soares Cassama, said the country hopes to take advantage of the Convention’s instruments to fight climate change and promote its biodiversity. He added that the Convention’s adoption will help the country to combat environmental degradation and protect the environment for future generations.
In 2021, Guinea-Bissau joined the U.N. Water Convention, becoming the fourth African country to do so. The Convention aims to promote the sustainable use of water resources, protect ecosystems and human health, enhance climate resilience, and support socio-economic development.
Guinea-Bissau’s decision to join the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making, and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters marks a significant step forward in the country’s efforts to address climate change and promote environmental protection. With its adoption, Guinea-Bissau joins a growing number of countries that are committed to ensuring government accountability for human rights and the environment.