Canada and the countries of the Americas are proceeding with Summits and many economic liberalisation negotiations, which, if realised, will transform the political, environmental, social and economic geography of the Western Hemisphere. In the 2001 Quebec City Summit of the Americas Plan of Action, 34 leaders committed to more integrated social, environmental and economic policy-making, in support of the objective of sustainable development.
Ecologically, closer cooperation in the Americas makes good sense. The Americas are a chain of diverse but interconnected ecosystems, stretching from the Yukon to Patagonia. In terms of health policy, hemispheric linkages have been established by the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO), and more recently, by a process of cooperation between Health and Environment Ministers of the Americas (HEMA). The HEMA process has the potential to provide an excellent first step, although it still lacks the full participation of the Americas research community, especially civil society institutions.
This movement toward closer environment and health cooperation also takes place in a context of ongoing regional and sub-regional trade negotiations, and other economic development projects. These processes could either support sustainable development, or detract considerable effort and resources from its realisation. As recognised by the 34 Ministers in the first HEMA meeting, effective and integrated health and environment impact assessments (IA) have the potential to help mitigate serious health and environment risks of new trade and economic development policies, and open space for greater public participation. There is an important need to strengthen laws and policies in this respect, and to build awareness of, and compliance with, these laws. At present, very few IA laws are adequately implemented in the Americas, only a few agencies consistently apply IA guidelines, and most agencies remain unsure how to integrate health aspects into environmental impact assessment laws.
Legal Research Strategy
An inter-disciplinary coalition of eight research institutes from across the Americas, who have a demonstrated track record of successful collaboration, have joined in partnership to refine and develop an essential new tool – health and ecological impact assessment laws and guidelines - through a four year research and capacity-building project with the IDRC and other partners.
The project has three objectives.
First, through joint multi-disciplinary field research and information exchange, the research partners will investigate and analyse how IA laws and policies are functioning in practice.
Second, the research partners will organise and host joint capacity building and awareness-raising workshops to build expertise and knowledge in LAC developing countries on health and environment IA research methods and laws.
Third, the research partners will provide recommendations to hemispheric policy-making, through side events at Americas Health and Environment Ministerials, diverse Trade Ministerials for hemispheric, sub-regional and bi-lateral negotiations, and other upcoming opportunities for consultation with policy makers related to the Summit of the Americas process.
The research will be sensitive to gender considerations, and the pressing needs of most vulnerable groups, such as indigenous peoples and the urban poor. It will be conducted with active collaboration between the partners; and will seek to incorporate the relationship between all components of an ecosystem, for recommendations on how Americas IA laws and policies can better define and assess priority impacts on the health of people and sustainability of their ecosystems. The project will culminate with a symposium in 2009 to share results, develop final recommendations for policy-makers, and evaluate the achievement of capacity-building and partnership objectives. The research project will also culminate in the publication of a joint book, with either Ashgate Press or Oxford University Press, with which the CISDL and partners have excellent ongoing relationships.
In essence, this innovative hemispheric research project will build on, monitor and analyse existing experiences with integrated health and ecological impact assessment in Americas laws and policies. The partnership seeks to refine and develop a crucial new tool for Americas communities and authorities – integrated health and ecological impact assessment law. The research will be used to influence policy-makers, and can make a significant difference toward protection of eco-health objectives and priorities in the Americas integration process.
Questions & Methodology
This Research Strategy articulates the research questions and priorities identified in discussions that took place in Corrientes and Mercedes, Uruguay, in the context of the November 2005 Eco-Health Americas Assessment Law Project Workshops, consultations with Americas law and policy leaders, and various meetings between the project partners.
Central research questions and a methodological framework guide the legal research. From the framework, fifteen key case studies of actual impact assessments are being examined, and cross-cutting themes are being investigated in each case study.