Tag Archive | "Environment"

Argentina, Turning its Back on Ecology: Interview with Sergio Federovisky

Sergio Federovisky

Sergio Federovisky

Sergio Federovisky is one of Argentina’s most established environmental journalists. President of La Plata’s environment agency, he is also the face of the television programme ‘Contaminación Cero‘, and for the past 20 years has been working as a journalist, adviser, and consultant in environmental policy.

Federovisky’s fourth book, ‘Argentina, de espaldas a la ecología. Apuntes para una política ambiental’ (Argentina, turning its back on ecology. Notes for an environmental policy), has just been released by Capital Intelectual. The book is an in-depth analysis of the politics around environmental issues in Argentina, from the 1980s to today. As somebody who has witnessed the subject’s slow installation into the political agenda, Federovisky writes with frank authority, and is honest in his criticism of the country’s shortfalls.

Kristie Robinson sat down with him to talk about the book, and where Argentina stands on environmental issues in general.

How did the idea come about to write this fourth book? Is it a follow on from your previous works?

In reality there is a kind of thread in all of my books related to the environment, and following this thread I try to tackle the subject from different aspects, and evaluate what has happened over the past 20 or 25 years. When I started to work in environment-related issues – before even Eco ’92 [the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio] – the prevailing discourse regarding environmental issues identified two problems: an institutional weakness and a lack of awareness. Twenty-five years have passed, and today there are many institutions and there is awareness. There could always be more awareness, but this has undoubtedly advanced a lot. So the big question is, if these two factors have been resolved, why – if we look at all the environmental issues – are all of the indicators worse than before? One of the possibilities is that this formula, this diagnosis, was wrong. Or that different questions have to be asked.

In this book I try to analyse why environmental policies are not public policies, why suitable people – professionally speaking, with a background in the environment – are never sought for the top environmental posts. And all this leads to the conclusion that the political class are not really aiming to resolve the problems, but to have them work themselves out. Because if they really were aiming to resolve the issues, at least one of them would have been solved. They would put suitable people in the environment ministry, they would adopt real, serious public policies, and fundamentally, they would establish concrete rules and laws and wouldn’t leave it all in the hands of the awareness that the society is supposed to have to resolve the issues.

And do you think this is done on purpose? 

I don’t think that it is done on purpose in the sense that this is not a product of evil. But yes, it is deliberate in terms of understanding the way the system works. Policies that resolve environmental problems would have to go against the prevailing model. It can’t work in any other way. For example, if Latin American countries wanted to resolve the problems of natural resource extraction, they would have to go against the capitalist system – the only one we know. And the political class, in general, doesn’t go against the system, it accompanies it – any change in it would go against their interests.

Rubbish in the streets of BsAs (Photo: Agus Carini)

Rubbish on the streets of Buenos Aires (Photo: Agus Carini)

Let’s take a very contemporary example, which is the issue of rubbish. It would seem that this issue could be resolved if I separate my rubbish, and all of that. But how is it possible to ask that society reduce its production of trash when the system pushes people to consume ever greater amounts of things and produce ever more waste? Everyday the system is telling me, as a citizen, ‘consume, spend, buy the things that come in the greatest amount of packaging, buy as much as you can’. The message is either contradictory or fallacious, and I think it’s the latter, as the two things are not possible together. So which one wins?

The economy, always! Even so, it still surprises me how everybody is so inside this system, celebrating it.

Well, those are things that I broach in my previous book – myths. What we have achieved in the past 20 years is the installation of many myths which allow us to carry on, but which don’t look for the solution to the problem. The contradictory concept of ‘sustainable development’ is the biggest one, for me. ‘Environmental awareness’ is another one. ‘Zero trash’ is another one. They are all things that we want to achieve, which are going to be marvellous when we get there, and in the meantime our collective consciousness is calmed.

And these myths work in a way that allows the existence – survival – of other things. The best example is energy. We can go for oil, fracking in Vaca Muerta, for nuclear energy in Atucha II, to get us through the day-to-day, knowing that other alternative energies, such as wind power, exist and we will develop them one day.

Short-term thinking – on a political level, nobody is thinking beyond their four years in power. You highlight in your book the concept of ‘sending into the future the problems of today’.

One of the things that is essential to understand, and then to try to change, is that environmental issues have two characteristics that are opposed to conventional politics. One is that they are medium to long-term, and we are not used to having medium or long-term policies. And the second is that environmental matters are very complex, whereas politics are very linear. What do I mean by that? Climate change is the best example here, to understand and interpret this situation, you have to understand that it’s a complex system – there are multiple variables, multiple inputs, and politics thinks of this complex problem in a linear way. So it is necessary to find the right language to explain the situation, and move away from the linear way of trying to tackle a problem from just one place. For example, I have a lot of discussions with soy producers, and they say, regarding chemical spraying, that the problem lies with the application of the fertilisers – that is linear thinking! Applying just the right dose will not resolve the problem of weeds becoming resistant to glyphosate, nor that the soil is retaining ever more fertiliser, nor the related social issues – it requires a full analysis of the complexity of the issue.

TAPA-federovisky-grandeAnother reason why it’s so complicated is that ‘environmental problems’ don’t exist, ontologically and philosophically speaking, because their solutions are not within the realm of the environment. A problem is considered a problem when the possible solution lies within the same framework that defines it. And as environmental problems are solved by the economy and by politics, they are not really environmental problems, but the collateral damage of economic decisions. To solve environmental problems properly – to resolve climate change, for example – you have to refer to the economy, not the environment. As Nicholas Stern said: ‘Climate change is the greatest market failure in the world’s history’. So the possibility of resolving these issues lies within politics and economics, and this makes it more difficult, as it is more hidden.

In your book, you talk about the media and the role they play in the system. How do you view them in terms of their treatment of environmental issues?

Very poorly. They have the same idea as the political class – the idea that the environment is an accessory. That it’s not a central question. So one of the things that I underline is that many media outlets have interests in areas that are very complicated for the environment. Soy, for example. The big media have interests there, and they allow these interests to coexist with articles or politically correct protests about environmental issues, without establishing the connection. In recent years, every now and then the issue of deforestation gains some coverage, for example. But the media doesn’t ever make the link between 75% of the land being sown with genetically modified soy and the destruction of the native forests, when there is a direct connection there. The media maintains this logic that everything will be resolved with greater awareness. The position of the media here is, unfortunately, very poor.

Do you see this changing? 

It’s difficult to see that it will change, as the media in Argentina have stopped being journalistic enterprises and have become big businesses, which exceed journalism, and these interests are very present. For example the media in Argentina, apart from very few exceptions, is pro-nuclear. They all think that nuclear energy is a symbol of technological independence when it is very well-known that it is not the case, and that is doesn’t offer a serious or consistent input.

There are a lot of environmentalists who think nuclear energy could be a solution when facing the problem of climate change.

For me it’s an absurdity. My view on this is very simple. Firstly, it’s debatable that atomic centres really do have a null effect in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, because if you take the whole process of mining uranium, it generates a lot. But let’s say that it does reduce emissions, why would I choose a system of producing energy that has a really high risk? I have been to Chernobyl, and the truth is, if you could imagine that devastation in four or five places in the world, you would realise that it’s ridiculous, even when the risk is low. Regarding risk, I use a concept that is called mathematical expectation, which establishes the probability of damage of those incidents that have a low chance of happening, but have a really high impact. Such as a plane falling down – it happens very rarely, but when it does, everybody dies. Well, this is the same. Very few nuclear power stations explode, but when one does, it’s Chernobyl. Or Fukushima. So I think the cost-benefit relation is bad. If the cost of reducing emissions is the possibility of a Fukushima, then it’s bad.

Wind turbine (photo courtesy of Enarsa)

Argentina has enormous potential for wind power (photo courtesy of Enarsa)

So how do you see a sustainable future for Argentina, in terms of energy?

Argentina has to sit down and discuss, calmly -and perhaps now is a good time due to the energy crisis the country is facing- what the energy matrix will be in 50 years time. For this, the first thing that must be accepted is that alternative energies are not token gestures. They have to be integrated into the matrix and be just another option. Today, in the mentality of those who make decisions, alternative energies are a token gesture – they produce them because it looks good to do so.

Yes, the renewable energy investment dropped from US$539m in 2012 to US$94m in 2013, and much of that money went instead towards Vaca Muerta and oil exploration.

Because it is considered a token gesture. Something politically correct, that should be promoted, but not an essential part of the energy matrix, when Argentina has an enormous potential – particularly in terms of wind power. I also think that Argentina – like the rest of the world – is prisoner to an energy matrix in which oil is favoured. Al Gore – and we’re talking about Al Gore, not somebody who is against the system – said that we cannot say that we are aiming for alternative energies to flourish in the current system, which subsidises oil enormously and says that alternative energies are expensive. They are expensive, but if they received the same benefits that oil received, the price would drop quickly.

And do you think that this will happen?

I am not very optimistic. The capitalist system only replaces things that have a replacement within the confines of the system. It’s what happened with the hole in the ozone layer, which was resolved when the system found a replacement that didn’t put the system itself at risk. The day that the system finds a replacement for the oil matrix that doesn’t put the system at risk, then it’s probable that cleaner energies will replace the old system. But until that happens, it’s going to be very difficult.

How do you see Argentina compared to other countries in Latin America?

Argentina is very behind. It has enormous professional capabilities, and grey matter, and a greater level of development and lower inequality than other countries in Latin America. It is in a better condition than other countries, and yet it wastes that potential to seriously invest in environmental issues.

And why is this?

I think it is down to a real lack of clarity and strategic thinking from a political class that is very enamoured with the idea of development per se. Because the country has to develop, to grow, and so oil is necessary for growth and nuclear energy is a sign of development. There is an idea that is almost Soviet when it comes to thinking of development, with heavy industry, etc. In the last ten years, the development model has involved natural resource extraction – mining, oil, soy – taking as much as possible from our land in as short a time as possible, and as such the environment is a problem.

The small things that have been achieved – and I really do think that they are very small, compared to what could be done – have been thanks to social resistance, or social demands in a certain area. And the political class took note. But the few things that have been done have been very emblematic: the bike lanes, the marketing campaigns about separating rubbish; they don’t challenge the system.

What gives you hope? 

I don’t see things in those terms – I don’t think it’s about having hope or not. I think it’s as I say at the end of the book: if we believe that having an unpolluted river is better than having a polluted one, if we think it would be better to live in a city where the sewage is treated, if we think that the environment should be taken into account when making economic decisions, then we should keep moving forward, as the idea of having environmental policies still makes sense.

‘Argentina, de espaldas a la ecología’ was published in May by Capital Intelecutal and is now available in bookshops for $100. 

Lead image by Sub Coop

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Latin America News Roundup: 25th April 2014

President Santos speaks before the Constitutional Court (photo:  Juan Pablo Bello - SIG)

President Santos speaks before the Constitutional Court (photo: Juan Pablo Bello – SIG)

Court Declares Colombia’s Membership in Pacific Alliance ‘Unconstitutional': The Constitutional Court of Colombia has declared law 1628, which approves the country’s entrance into the Pacific Alliance, unconstitutional. The court rules the law, which was sanctioned last year, was missing two articles when it was sent to Congress to vote on, making the process “irreparably flawed”. According to the ruling, Colombia’s membership of the trade bloc will be suspended until the government sends another, complete bill to be approved by Congress. Foreign Trade Minister Santiago Rojas said the decision will not affect existing commercial relations with the other members of the bloc, only the law governing Colombia’s integration into the alliance. The Pacific Alliance was formally created by Colombia, Peru, Chile, and Mexico in June 2012. Since then, the countries have removed visa restrictions for travel within member states and, in February 2014, signed a deal to eliminate trade tariffs on 92% of products. At the time, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who currently holds the rotating presidency of the bloc, called the members the region’s “dream team”.

Peru – Indigenous Groups Occupy Country’s Biggest Oil Field: Indigenous communities have occupied Bloque 1-AB, the country’s largest oil field, demanding that a clean up operation of the field’s contamination begin. Carlos Saudí, president of the Federation of Native Communities of the Río Corrientes (Feconaco), which is leading the study, said: “We demand the presence of a government commission as a part of the population of the Río Corrientes basin is contaminated by lead and heavy metals, as proven by various studies.” Yesterday he confirmed to the press that the occupation, which began on Monday, would continue until a solution was found to the problem. Bloque 1-AB is situated in the country’s north-west Amazon region, close to the border with Peru, and has been running for 40 years, under the operation of Argentina’s Pluspetrol since 2001. When Pluspetrol took control of the field, the government asked that the multinational clean up of over 100 sites contaminated by the previous contractors, something that has not yet been done. Last year, Peruvian authorities confirmed a state of emergency in the region after discovering high levels of lead, barium and other minerals in areas around the site, including the waterways. But local residents say that neither Pluspetrol nor the government have done anything about the situation. As a result of the blockade, the field’s output has halved to 17,000 barrels a day.

Military personnel protest in La Paz (photo: AFP/Aizar RALDES/Télam/aa)

Military personnel protest in La Paz (photo: AFP/Aizar RALDES/Télam/aa)

Bolivia – Tension over Military Protests: Military leadership dismissed 702 soldiers who took part in recent protests against discrimination in the Armed Forces. The Military High Command accused the protesting soldiers of attempting a coup d’êtat, and justified the decision by stating that “discrimination is no excuse for sedition and for promoting an attempted coup.” The soldiers, from across the three armed forces, were dismissed for “deliberately missing work, committing acts of sedition, mutiny, political actions, and collectively violating the dignity and honour of the Armed Forces.” Hundreds of low-ranking soldiers marched through the streets of several Bolivian cities as part of a protest, which also included strikes and hunger strikes, demanding the “decolonisation of the Armed Forces”. This would entail a reform of the Organic Armed Forces Law to eliminate discrimination throughout the military hierarchy and to promote equal treatment and professionalisation for non-commissioned officers.

Non-commissioned in the Bolivian Armed Forces are mostly of indigenous background, unlike the majority of officers. Protesters were joined by the ‘Red Ponchos’, an indigenous aymara militia, whilst the Bolivian Workers’ Central union (COB) and other social organisations rejected their demands, denouncing an infiltration of the protest by right-wing elements.

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Argentina News Roundup: 25th April 2014

Metropolitan Police supress protest at Borda Hospital (photo courtesy of FM La Tribu)

Metropolitan Police supress protest at Borda Hospital (photo courtesy of FM La Tribu)

Macri’s Acquittal on Borda Repression Case Overturned: An Appeals Court overturned yesterday a ruling that acquitted Buenos Aires City Mayor Mauricio Macri and other high government officials of the repression at the Borda mental hospital last year. The first instance ruling acquitted Macri, his deputy María Eugenia Vidal, Chief of Cabinet Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, Security Minister Guillermo Montenegro, Urban Development Minister Daniel Chaín, and Health Minister Graciela Reybaud due to lack of evidence. However, it was overturned on appeal, on the grounds that “the government must exercise its hierarchical power directly if it knows that its subordinates are not fulfilling their specific obligations or duties,” and their responsibility on the incidents will now continue to be investigated.

On 26th April 2013, 200 members of the Metropolitan Police entered the Borda Hospital at 7am and violently supressed patients, doctors, legislators, journalists, and other people who gathered to protest the demolition of Protected Workshop 19 by the city government.

New Court Order To Discover Whereabouts of Luciano Arruga: The Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) and the family of Luciano Arruga presented yesterday a habeas corpus demanding the state immediately take “all the necessary actions” to determine the whereabouts of the missing teenager. Arruga has not been seen since January 2009, after allegedly being detained in a police station in Lomas del Mirador, in the province of Buenos Aires. In 2013, after years of campaigning by the Arruga family and human rights groups, the case was changed from ‘missing person’ to a ‘forced disappearance’ and taken up by a Federal Court. CELS lawyer Maximiliano Medina explained that yesterday’s court order runs parallel to the main criminal investigation, and is focused on finding Luciano. “The habeus corpus puts the victim at the centre, finding the body,” said Medina. “This order means that all bodies of the state must work together and provide Luciano’s family with answers. If they do not, there is the chance it could face international sanctions.”

Félix Díaz, leader of the Qom community, was officially recognised for his commitment to the environment (photo courtesy of FARN)

Félix Díaz, leader of the Qom community, was officially recognised for his commitment to the environment (photo courtesy of FARN)

Annual Environment Report Published: The Foundation for Environment and Natural Resources (FARN) presented its annual report on the state of the environment in Argentina yesterday. Presenting the report, Andrés Nápoli, director of FARN, said: “Despite complaints, protests, and judicial actions, the subject of the environment remains distant from the public agenda.” He went on to say that citizen participation remains the key to political change in these key areas. During the presentation, which took place in La Trastienda and was attended by more than 300 leaders from the environmental sector, Félix Díaz, leader of the indigenous Qom community in Formosa, was awarded for his work on the frontline of the environmental struggle and for his work for indigenous rights. The 400-page report is a comprehensive analysis of the current situation in Argentina in areas as diverse as agrochemical use, mining, soy production, the Ley de Basura Cero (Zero Rubbish Law) and Ley de Bosques (Forests Law), the Riachuelo, glaciers, and energy policies. It also addresses public opinion on the environment and what can be done to increase awareness of the country’s issues, and also how to get them on the public and legislative agenda.

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Editorial: Argentina’s Unsustainable Path

The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its fifth report on Monday, entitled Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Head of UN climate panel, Rajendra Pachauri, has said he hopes the report will “jolt people into action”.

His plea may well fall on deaf ears in Argentina, where climate change is a non-topic, and as a result the standard response to its dangers is inertia.

The lack of action is worrisome – 97% of the world’s scientists agree that climate change is happening and temperatures are set to rise at least 2°C by the end of the century (those are conservative estimates – many predict rises of up to 6°C) unless drastic action is taken to reduce carbon emissions, and fast.

The effects of climate change are already being seen around the continent, and Argentina is not immune. Already, between 2000 and 2010, over 600 extreme weather and climate events occurred in Latin America, leaving near to 16,000 fatalities and 46.6m people affected, generating economic losses amounting to US$208bn. Last year’s flooding in La Plata, which killed 89 people and caused US$500m of damage, is one local example of such an event.

Hielo Azul glacier is one of the popular spots for trekkers willing to put in an extra effort and see its cool green water.

Hielo Azul in Río Negro is one of many of Argentina’s retreating glaciers (photo: Brian Funk)

According to the much-anticipated report, rising temperatures will affect Argentina’s agricultural productivity, and the country will face changing rain patterns, with increased rainfall -and likely flooding- in the pampas and east (including Buenos Aires), and droughts in the west, as glacier retreat and lower rainfall lead to decreased run-off in the rivers.

The report also highlighted that 4.3% of global deforestation now occurs in Argentina. Deforestation in the north, particularly in the Chaco forest, has accelerated in the past decade due to agricultural expansion, and is now the most important source of carbon emissions for the north of Argentina.

However, these dramatic findings were greeted by all but radio silence in Argentina. There was no mention of the subject in Monday night’s cadena nacional, and no media front-pagers. In fact, none of the national media even covered the report’s release, preferring to focus instead on Sunday’s superclásico and whether Boca should have had a penalty or not.

Whilst the government and media ignored the report, various environmental think tanks, foundations, and NGOs responded quickly to the long-awaited findings. The Foundation for the Environment and Natural Resources (FARN), released a statement in coalition with Greenpeace, Vida Silvestre, Avina, and others, which said: “The development of more active policies on climate change adaptation are needed, as we have reached a situation in which we don’t have any more time to lose.

“This IPCC report has been endorsed by governments – including Argentina’s – on the international stage; and more than 100 scientists from our country have collaborated in its development. Politicians can no longer stand with their arms folded in front of this evidence.”

Images of deforestation in the Chaco (Photo: Greenpeace)

Images of deforestation in the Chaco (Photo: Greenpeace)

So Where Does Argentina Stand on Climate Change?

In 2010, the last year for which figures are available, Argentina’s carbon emissions were 315m tonnes, accounting for 0.63% of the global total. In a world with a globalised economy, with international trade and many nations with export-based economies, there are endless debates about how to calculate what each country’s share of carbon emissions should be. Population can be an indicator as to how an emissions budget should be carved up, giving each of the countries an equal share based on population.

Argentina’s population, at just over 40m, is 0.56% of the global total. So in terms of per capita emissions, the country is not doing too badly, compared to say, the US, which has 4.4% of the world’s population, but is responsible for nearly 20% of emissions. But compared to Bangladesh, which has 2.13% of global population and is responsible for just 0.37% of global emissions, Argentina is contributing more than its fair share. What is undeniable is that to prevent its share from rising, any future economic growth in Argentina must be done without increasing emissions – and even by lowering them, if the world is to set itself on the right track. (Science dictates that 350 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere is a ‘safe’ upper limit, but there are currently 400).

And that is where we find a sticking point, as lowering emissions through clean development is not on the government’s agenda. No, the country is looking to fossil fuels to power any future growth. After last month’s discovery of a new oil field in the province of Río Negro, expected to yield 15m barrels of crude, head of YPF, Miguel Galuccio, spoke of an “energy revolution” and highlighted how growth and development can be generated around the country as a result of these reserves and the huge Vaca Muerta gas fields, leaving no doubt about the key role these dirty energies will play in Argentina’s development.

Silos of soy in the fields of Junin. (Photo by Nicolás Lope de Barrios)

Silos of soy in the fields of Junin. (Photo by Nicolás Lope de Barrios)

Add to that the government’s 2011 Strategic Agrifood Plan (PEA), which targets a 60% national increase in grain production by 2020, paying little attention to the inevitable increase in deforestation and emissions (agriculture is currently responsible for 36% of the country’s greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions).

These energy and agricultural plans – along with the national silence on the subject – seem to contradict  Argentina’s claims on the international stage, which on closer inspection sound more like an excuse for inaction. In its second report to the UNFCCC in 2007, the government admitted that the country is vulnerable to climate change, and that various government-commissioned studies have laid out both mitigation and adaptation strategies. However, it insists that substantial non-refundable international funds are necessary for their implementation. A request that is unlikely to be granted.

The World Bank estimates that poor countries need US$100bn a year to try to offset the effects of climate change, something that has been deemed an unrealistic demand by richer nations. If the historic polluters can’t dig deep enough to help the poorest who are already feeling the worst effects of climate change, they certainly won’t be helping Argentina – a member of the G20 with a growing economy – on its way to sustainable development.

If Argentina wants to mitigate the effects of climate change it will have to do so by itself, following the lead of the many countries, taking the threat of climate change seriously, that have started to do so. Let’s return to Bangladesh. The country has a GDP that measures a quarter of Argentina’s, for a population almost four times as big, yet it has managed to invest US$10bn in climate change adaptation. And so if other, poorer countries are managing to find the way, why is Argentina not acting?

Published earlier this year, the comprehensive Fourth Edition of GLOBE Climate Legislation Study analyses Argentina’s lack of legislation and regulation related to climate change, highlighting the 2007 presidential decree 140/2007 (the only piece of legislation related to climate change), which declared the “rational and efficient” use of energy a national priority. The report says: “Investments necessary to mitigate emissions and adapt to climate change are conceived as politically pitted against social investments in health, education and poverty in a zero-sum game. As such, Argentina has neither enacted comprehensive legislation related to climate change nor made an official pledge to reduce GHG emissions by a measurable difference.”

YPF station in Vaca Muerta, Neuquén (photo: Foto: Pepe Delloro/Télam/aa)

YPF station in Vaca Muerta, Neuquén is one of the many new sites set for exploitation in Patagonia (photo: Foto: Pepe Delloro/Télam/aa)

And even that presidential decree is risible, as “rational and efficient” use of energy seems to set aside investment in renewables, focusing instead on the development of Patagonia’s oil and gas fields. According to Bloomberg’s annual report on green energy investment, published in January, public and private investments in renewable energy in Argentina actually fell from US$539m in 2012 to just US$94m in 2013. (This compares to US$1.4bn in Chile last year and in Mexico the figure was US$1.1bn).

All of this leaves those who do care about climate change wringing their hands: no leadership from the government, no media coverage, and no public pressure are combining to set Argentina on a very unsustainable path indeed.

It can be argued that Argentina’s total emissions are only 0.63% of the global total, and as such the country will unlikely play a major role in tipping the world over the 2°C warming threshold. But does that mean it should endorse policies that go completely against the tide of global consensus?

No, business should not continue as usual. For climate change to really be tackled, all nations need to be working together in setting real, attainable targets in terms of future carbon emissions. The quick lining of pockets may seem like a good idea today, but what will the legacy of this plan be for the people of tomorrow? An old, Native American concept from the Iroquois talks about seventh generation sustainability. In making a decision, it is considered how the actions would affect those around in seven generations’ time, and there is an entire process around thinking through if the idea will be beneficial to them. In Argentina’s case, the undeniable response to the government’s current inaction is a resounding ‘no’, and the country – while perhaps not having to look 150 years ahead, could well benefit from a less shortsighted approach to its management of natural resources and its land.

But unfortunately, when ecology comes up against economy, the former inevitably loses out.


Lead image by Alejandra Bartoliche / Télam

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Latin America News Roundup: 29th January 2014

Minister of Rural Development, Nemesia Achacollo at the press conference when the state of emergency was declared. (Photo: Jose LIrauze, presidencia.gob.bo)

Minister of Rural Development, Nemesia Achacollo, at the press conference when the state of emergency was declared. (Photo: Jose Lirauze, presidencia.gob.bo)

Bolivia – State of Emergency Declared after Flooding Kills Dozens: Bolivia has declared a state of emergency after heavy rains led to flooding which has left dozens dead and over 20,000 displaced. According to Vice President Alvaro García Linera, 80 of the country’s 339 municipalities are facing flash floods, flooding, hailstorms and building collapses as a result of the rains, which look set to continue into February. The rainy season started in October, but this year has been particularly bad, with at least 43 people dead so far. The situation culminated when rains caused a mudslide on Saturday in the town of Rurrenabaque in the country’s Amazon basin, in which eight people died. In the central region of Cochabamba, 11 rivers have burst their banks. Troops have been sent to various parts of the country to help bring aid to those affected.

Uruguay Ranks top in Environmental Performance Index Categories: Uruguay has ranked top in two categories of the annual Environmental Performance Index (EPI), a global ranking of countries’ environmental results. The country performed best in the sections of ‘air quality’ and ‘forest’, overall ranking 70th out of 178 countries, with a score of 53.61 out of 100. The EPI is an annual report put together by Yale University, using data from dozens of environmental organisations from around the world. It bases its ranking on two sections: environmental health and ecosystem vitality. The former includes health impacts, air quality, and water and sanitation. Under ecosystem vitality, water resources, agriculture, forest, fisheries, biodiversity and habitat, and climate and energy are all taken into account. Switzerland was ranked first overall in the poll, while Chile was top in Latin America, coming 29th with a score of 69.93. Haiti ranked lowest in the region, coming 176th out of 178. The report stated that: “The poorest performers are those with significant political or economic strife, suggesting again that other pressing issues can sideline effective environmental policy.” Argentina ranked 93rd, with a score of 49.55.

Campaigns Close ahead of El Salvador and Costa Rica Elections: Ahead of this Sunday’s elections, presidential hopefuls in both El Salvador and Costa Rica have closed their electoral campaigns. In El Salvador, current vice president, Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the governing FMLN party, is leading the five candidates by a 14-point margin, although an estimated 15-20% of the 4.9m voters are said to be still undecided. If the winning candidate fails to win an absolute majority on Sunday, a second round will take place on 9th March. The winner will take power on 1st June and will govern the country for the next five years.

Further south, in Costa Rica, polls indicate none of the 13 candidates will win the 40% needed to avoid going to a run-off in April. Leading the race are former mayor of San José, who is running for the governing PLN party, leftist José María Villalta, and right-leaning businessman Otto Guevara. Anticipating a run-off, candidates are said to be looking at potential alliances, although none have officially commented. Just over 3m people will vote in Sunday’s election.

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Latin America News Roundup: 27th January 2014

The map shows the proposed boundaries (in red and blue) and the final boundary as established by the ICJ (in black). Courtesy of ICJ.

The map shows the proposed boundaries (in red and blue) and the final boundary as established by the ICJ (in black). (Image courtesy of ICJ)

Chile and Peru: The International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague issued a ruling today on a long standing maritime border dispute between Chile and Peru. The ruling considered both positions in establishing a new maritime boundary, which extends along the line proposed by Chile -parallel to the Equator- for the first 80 nautical miles, and continues along the equidistance line proposed by Peru from there on. The dispute between the two countries, brought before the ICJ by Peru in 2008, concerned a triangle of around 38,000km2 rich in fishing resources, especially anchovies. The fishing industry in this area produces revenue for an estimated US$200m yearly, and the places most affected by the decision will be the Chilean town of Arica and the Peruvian town of Tacna. Whilst both governments have pledged to abide by the ruling, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera said that “this transfer constitutes an unfortunate loss for our country.” Peruvian President Ollanta Humala celebrated that the ICJ “recognised the validity of the Peruvian position” and that his country “has won over 70% of the lawsuit.” Alvaro García Linera, Vice-president of Bolivia, said that the ruling “offers a very important precedent” and that President Evo Morales will refer to the matter tomorrow at the Celac summit in Cuba. The landlocked country is also involved in territorial disputes with Chile.

Honduras: Juan Orlando Hernández was sworn in as President of Honduras today. The ceremony took place at 9.50am local time in Tegucigalpa, and was attended by foreign dignitaries from around 80 countries. During his opening speech, Hernández promised to create 100,000 new jobs and to improve the quality of life of the 800,000 Honduran families that earn less than US$1 per month. He also pledged to improve the social security system, education, and to fight against corruption. Hernández was elected president on 24th November for a four-year term, amidst allegations of fraud by rival party LIBRE. Members of LIBRE organised a demonstration in Tegucigalpa to coincide with the ceremony, in protest against the “fraudulent” electoral process.

Ecuador: A man has been sentenced to six months in prison for killing a condor. Manuel Damián Damián, 61, confessed to the crime after pictures started circulating on social networks in April 2013 showing him with a dead female condor. Since he was arrested in November 2013, he will have to complete another four months in prison, pay a US$5,333 fine, and upon his release he will have to complete a series of environmental remediation tasks imposed by the tribunal. The condor is an endangered species -according to Ecuador’s Environment Ministry, there are fewer than 50 left in the wild, and 19 in captivity, in the country.

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Argentina News Roundup: 8th January 2014

The 'Spring Without Monsanto' protest in Malvinas Argentinas (photo: Paola Castillo, via Tierra Negra)

The ‘Spring Without Monsanto’ protest in Malvinas Argentinas (photo: Paola Castillo, via Tierra Negra)

Córdoba Court Rules Against Monsanto: A labour court in Córdoba halted the construction of a seed plant by Monsanto in Malvinas Argentinas, 14km away from the provincial capital. The three members of the court ruled 2-1 in favour of environmental activists who had filed an appeal for legal protection against the multinational company, and ordered that construction of the plant be suspended until the environmental impact assessment is completed. Newspaper La Voz, from Córdoba, informed that the report could be ready as early as February. Whilst members of the citizens’ assemblies that have opposed the construction of the facilities celebrated the ruling, the company indicated they will file an appeal.

Argentina to Import Food Over the Coming Months: The government announced that it will encourage the import of foodstuffs in order to guarantee an adequate level of supply and a range of prices consistent with the new price agreements. Chief of Cabinet Jorge Capitanich informed this morning that the first products to be imported will be tomatoes, which will be bought from Brazil, as climate factors affected the harvest, pushing prices up. Afterwards, purchases abroad “will be carried out for all the products that have seasonal supply issues or that may affect the prices in the [price agreement],” said Capitanich. The minister also indicated that the price agreement for 100 products, which is already underway in the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires, will extend to the coast of the Buenos Aires province on the weekend and to Chinese supermarkets and the rest of the country throughout January.

Hundreds of Dead Fish Appear on Palermo Lakes: Hundreds of dead fish washed up on the shores of the Lago de Regatas in Palermo today, apparently as a result of the recent heat wave. Experts have indicated that the rise in temperature would have caused the levels of oxygen in the water to decrease, killing the bigger fish. Alejandro Pérez, Director of the Tres de Febrero Park, confirmed that the latest water quality tests, performed in December, showed no anomalies. Still, authorities informed that both the water and the dead fish will be analysed in order to confirm the cause of the deaths.

Deputy Proposes Moving the Capital to the North: Deputy and former agriculture minister Julián Domínguez sparked something of a debate today as he proposed to move the country’s capital from its current location in Buenos Aires to a northern province. He justified the proposal by saying that “this model of state was conceived 200 years ago with its capital by the port, and countries with large projects don’t have their capitals by the ports. Colonies have their capitals by the ports.” Domínguez suggested that Argentina should “be thinking again about gaining an outlet to the Pacific [Ocean]” by establishing a trade route through the northern provinces. He did not, however, specify which city should serve as the country’s new capital. Domínguez’s idea of moving the capital is not new -in 1986 the Alfonsín administration pushed a bill that made the city of Viedma, in Río Negro, the country’s new capital.

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Peru: Congress Approves Law to Privatise Part of State Oil Firm

Petroperú (Wikimedia Commons)

Petroperú (Wikimedia Commons)

Peruvian Congress approved a law yesterday allowing for the sale of up to 49% of the country’s state oil company, Petroperú.

As part of a governmental push to increase the production capabilities at Peruvian oil refineries, the law passed offers investors the opportunity to take a minority stake in the firm for the first time in its 40-year history.

President Ollanta Humala proposed the new law as one of the key measures in increasing and stimulating the nation’s energy production.

Petroperú currently works in refining, transporting, storage and marketing of petroleum based products. Shares will eventually be floated on the Peruvian stock exchange however the exact time these will be available remains unknown. Of the 49% to be sold, at least 5% will be offered “exclusively” to the general public, in accordance with the new legislation.

Humala hopes to convert Peru into a large exporter of energy through this transformation. Congress also approved a US$3.5bn plan to expand and modernise the Talara refinery, which will increase production to 95,000 barrels a day as opposed to the current 65,000. The works are set to be completed in 2017.

The measure has faced opposition from certain parties, with some warning it could worsen energy security and potentially even decrease petrol production. General Secretary of the Administrative Workers’ Union, Lino Cerna Manrique, slated the plan was “a clear attack on national interests”, continuing, “the only ones responsible for the reduction in production of crude oil in our country are the private firms, whose action affects the energy security of our country.”

Peruvian Minister of Energy and Mines, Jorge Merino, attempted to allay fears, saying: “The state is not loosing control of the firm, it will maintain 51%… we want to be a firm that competes on an international level.”

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Brazil: Set to Vote on Breaking Global Moratorium on Terminator Seeds

A group protests against Monsanto, one of the seed companies involved (Photo courtesy of GRR)

A group protests against Monsanto, one of the seed companies involved (Photo courtesy of GRR)

Brazil’s congress is set to break a 13-year global de facto moratorium on the use of certain genetically modified seeds, with a vote likely to take place before the end of the year. If passed, the bill would see the production and commercialisation of the seeds begin in the agricultural giant.

The so-called ‘suicide’ or ‘terminator’ seeds in question use ‘Genetic Use Restriction Technology’, or GURT, which restrict the seeds to one life cycle, meaning the seeds produced by the plants grown using the GURT seeds are essentially sterile.

Farmers would therefore have to buy new seeds each year, benefitting the large seed corporations, such as Monsanto. The use of such seeds are seen as a threat to biodiversity, farmers, and food sovereignty.

This move comes as a turnaround from the Brazilian Judicial Commission, who promised on World Food Day on 16th October this year not to move forward with the project.

Centro Ecológico’s Maria José stated: “If the Commission passes the bill this week, Congress could make it law after it reconvenes in February.”

Brazil is one of the largest agricultural producers worldwide, and critics believe that, if passed, it could create a domino effect globally. José continues: “Whilst most of Brazil is celebrating a Christmas birth, the seed multinationals will be celebrating the death of the 10,000-year right of farmers to save seeds.”

In 2000, the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity approved a de facto moratorium to ban the technology, signed by 193 countries. It was discussed again in 2006, during the 8th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity and the de facto moratorium was confirmed once again.

Over 35,000 people globally have already signed a petition to not allow the commercialisation of ‘suicide’ seeds, and for the Commission to honour the promise made at the Convention in 2000.

This comes in the same week that Brazil is looking to create a single commission to assess the impact of new agrochemicals, leading critics to say the commission will deregulate sector. The new commission will bypassing the previous strict, three-agency approach to regulation, which assesses the quality of the product, as well as any potential health and environmental impacts.

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Ecuador: National Court Ratifies Verdict against Chevron

Chevron's toxic legacy in Ecuador (photo: Rainforest Action Network)

Chevron’s toxic legacy in Ecuador (photo: Rainforest Action Network)

The Ecuadorian National Court of Justice (CNJ) has ratified a verdict against oil giant Chevron for grave environmental pollution.

The verdict, given by Sucumbíos Court and ratified by the CNJ, sentences the corporation to pay US$9.5bn in damages.

The Ecuadorian tribunal previously sentenced Chevron in January 2012 to pay the fine of US$19bn yet they failed to pay this.

The resolution is presented in a 222-page document, and noted that the original fine of US$9.5bn was doubled in 2012, as the company did not publicly apologise for the environmental damage, raising the fine to US$19bn.

According to prosecution lawyer, Pablo Fajardo, the verdict decided that the public apology did not form a part of “national jurisdictional order” in Ecuador and therefore the “punitive damages” do not need to be paid.

The compensation that must be paid by Chevron is US$8.6bn, with an additional 10% that the law states must be paid in reparation to the Frente de Defensa de la Amazonía, a body that assembles those living in the area affected, including indigenous people and settlers, which sued Chevron.

Fajardo noted that the verdict of the CNJ is the “last resort” and was grateful that the court has ratified the sentence against Chevron. He noted that the elimination of the clause of “punitive damages” is unfortunate as it allows “the irresponsible conduct of Chevron to remain unsanctioned”.

“We are pleased with the sentence that we have, it’s a large step, it a sign of justice if it functions and shows that the poor also have a right to justice,” he said.

Chevron, who has yet to release a statement on the CNJ’s verdict, is currently engaged in a related legal battle in New York, where it is suing the prosecutors for corruption for having committed “fraud” against them. They have also tried to take indigenous community lawyers to court for conspiracy and extortion.

The oil company was sentenced for grave environmental damage for the damage caused whilst functioning as Texaco (acquired by Chevron in 2001) in the Amazon region of the country, where they extracted crude oil between 1964 and 1992.

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