President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced the implementation of an environmental law, the ‘Ley de Bosques’ on 13th February. Its aim is to put an end to alarming deforestation rates in Argentina.
The announcement came just a week after mudslides devastated the small town of Tartagal, in the northern province of Salta. Two women died, seven people are still missing, and 300 remain homeless after the town was flooded. Due to stagnant, dirty water which attracts mosquitoes, the risk of dengue has also dramatically increased.
Environmental minister Homero Bibiloni denied that deforestation was a factor in the mudslides. But author of the ‘Ley de Bosques’, Miguel Bonasso, is not convinced:
“It’s not what the scientists say. It’s not what the University of Salta says. It’s not what the experts in the field of climactic change say. It’s not what Greenpeace say. It’s not what the inhabitants of Tartagal say.
“Serious sources come from the scientific community of Argentina. What they confirm is that deforestation played a terrible role in the floods in Tartagal, this time and in 2006.”
The Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) claims that forests provide a natural shield against floods. During periods of heavy rainfall, some water stays on tree leaves, and may evaporate into the air. Leaves also reduce raindrop impact, and gentler rain causes less erosion. Tree roots absorb water and hold the soil in place, lessening the probability of a disastrous landslide.
Greenpeace celebrated the new law, but criticised the delay in putting it into action. In Argentina, proposed legislations need to be first passed by Congress, and are then made laws in a separate process. The ‘Ley de Bosques’ was actually sanctioned in November 2007, after 1.5 million people signed a Greenpeace petition. Extra pressure was needed from environmental groups, indigenous organisations and small farmers for the law to actually be implemented.
“It was delayed because the environment is not a government priority,” blasted Hernan Giardini, coordinator of Greenpeace’s ‘Ley de Bosques’ campaign.
The law will require each province to provide an ordnance map which classifies its forests into three categories, depending on their ecological importance. In the top two categories, dismounting trees is prohibited. Trees considered to be in ‘low-value’ forests can be destroyed, but Greenpeace hopes that no areas will fall into this category. The deadline set for this mapping is one year.
Provinces will have to classify their forests before authorising any more deforestation. Each proposal will face an environmental study with a public audience of scientists, environmental groups and locals. There will also be an annual national conservation fund of $1bn to assure that the law is being adhered to.
Giardini is sceptical of the government’s promises. “Environmental laws always get sanctioned without actually being regulated,” he laments.
Bonasso echoes Giardini’s fears that the law may not be enforced properly.
“There was always a danger that it could be used against what its objectives are. The governor of Salta called it negative. He has already permitted the deforestation of 1.6 million more hectares without providing the ordnance map. I hope he has the prudence not to push ahead with this. The law was passed in Congress, and we need to be assertive with it.”
This raises the issue of how the law could be negative for some. Many doubt that it will be successful, and point towards the very strong economic factor. For some there are no other means of sustainability and entire families depend on deforestation to survive. The mentality and lifestyle of whole generations would need to be changed. It is argued that the new law will lower deforestation rates, but it is a lot of work to implement it in such a huge country.
Giardini disagrees. “Big companies from Buenos Aires and Córdoba control the industry. In the poorer states such as Salta and Formosa it’s cheaper for them to invest. In the last ten years 2.5 million hectares of forest have been destroyed in Argentina. Economically, it’s done nothing for the country.”
The passing of the law at least represents a move in the right direction. While Greenpeace is fully aware of the environmental problems that the world faces, it remains to be seen how Argentina will react.
For Bonasso, the future success of the ‘Ley de Bosques’ is unknown. “Some people think it was a very miniscule decision in the scale of sustainable development.
“We will have to wait and see.”