Hector Perez (pexels.com)

For some months now, Argentina has been concerned about the situation regarding environmental policies. The new government, which took office in December 2023, has on numerous occasions expressed a “contrary attitude” to environmental issues, even when addressing international institutions. 

However, we are facing an issue that has always been of concern, since existing laws were not being complied with. Now, in addition to the prioritization of economic issues over sustainable development, there is a lack of interest and ignorance of many existing environmental laws. 

President Javier Milei evidenced this with the Decree of Necessity and Urgency (70/2023)  issued at the end of December, which included, among other things, the repeal of fundamental environmental laws such as the protection of rural lands, mining laws and the modification of the Fire Management Law; and the subsequent “omnibus bill” that proposed to modify forest and glacier laws, among other measures. 

And although, after four months of government, none of these measures have yet been implemented, concern about environmental policies is growing. What are the real environmental problems in Argentina? What differences are there with previous governments?

The Environment and Natural Resources Foundation (FARN) strives to make “environmental issues a State policy”, promoting “public policies in favor of sustainable development”. In a conversation with its executive director, Andrés Nápoli, we talked about the reality the country is going through, how the non-governmental sector is acting and what future forecasts are expected.

The current context

At the beginning of its term, the new government hinted that the climate crisis was not an agenda item. Nápoli explains: “We are in a position that has nothing to do with fulfilling the mandate of environmental protection established in the National Constitution”.

One of the first measures taken by the new president was the change of hierarchies. The Ministry of Environment became an Undersecretariat shared jointly with Sports and Tourism: “Although environmental issues may have to do tangentially with this, in reality they are much more involved with the economy or development, such as energy, agriculture, infrastructure; in other words, other areas that have economic decisions that impact the environment,” says Nápoli.  

In effect, environmental issues have to do with everything and, therefore, should report directly to the higher hierarchical level, otherwise there will always be conflicts of interest.

Another significant fact was the suspension of all public works, especially climate change resilient infrastructures. Financing is fundamental for the implementation of environmental policies, because it is not declarations that are needed, but actions “that require programs and presence in the territory,” explains Nápoli. 

The fundamental problem lies in the fact that the government has proposed to repeal essential environmental laws, “and to this is added the dismantling of public bodies such as the National Meteorological Service, CONICET and the National Parks Administration,” adds Nápoli with concern. 

Some claims have been successful, such as in the province of Catamarca, where mining is intensive. The Amicus Curiae presented by FARN has succeeded in inducing the province to refrain from granting new permits for mining activity in the Los Patos river area until a “cumulative and integral” environmental impact study is carried out. The validity of the Escazú Agreement, ratified by Argentina in 2021, also made it possible to achieve this resolution. 

What has happened previously in the country?

It is worth noting that, although the country has enacted environmental laws, such as the Forestry Law, the Glaciers Law and the Fire Management Law, among others, “the environmental issue has never been high on the public agenda”, emphasizes the director of FARN. 

In Argentina, “environmental issues have always come hand in hand with crises or protests due to specific grave incidents. They have not been government decisions that have sought to promote environmental protection processes,” says Nápoli. 

In fact, he states that the previous government “did not effectively implement many of the environmental laws. It simply did not have an attitude against environmental issues, as this government has shown”.

What remains to be done?

Environmental organizations are now “very unified in the defense of fundamental laws,” explains Nápoli. More than 150 organizations have joined forces to defend the laws, the minimum budgets and the monitoring of the most important issues. “What matters is the unified work,” he says.

It is clear, says Andrés, that “we are facing a government that has weakened environmental control”. However, “we need time to know how this will have an impact in effective terms,” he points out. For him, a fundamental actor in this issue is Pope Francis: “He contributed a lot to the international agenda and has an important role to play in what is to come in our own country”.

The current priority is to “establish clarity and objectives,” says Nápoli, mentioning that ” the unity and efforts of the organizations are more important than ever. That is why, despite the current context, we must continue to work together: “Governments are circumstantial and we must work beyond them,” he concludes.