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ARGENTINA | 22-01-2024 16:28

Environmental NGOs in Argentina warn of Milei's 'Omnibus Law' threats

Large number of environmental NGOs meet with lawmakers from different parties in Argentina to lobby for changes in environmental matters and fishing, preservation of native forests and periglacial areas.

Environmental matters are complex and involve many interests – it is not normal for more than 100 environmental NGOs to totally agree on an issue. Yet that is what the discussion of President Javier Milei's legislative mega-package in Congress has achieved.

The La Libertad Avanza leader's sweeping 'Ley Omnibus' bill alters and repeals many articles of laws protecting the environment – activists and campaigners are stating their concerns in meetings with deputies and through public action.

According to the NGOs, there are many environmental issues affected by the mega-bill. They can be summarised into three main areas: new fishing legislation, reforms to the Forestry Law and changes to the Glacier Protection Law.

One of the first analyses was published by expert César Lerena, the president of the Centro de Estudios para la Pesca Latinoamerica (Centre for Latin American Fishing Studies). The former official specified that “if the original proposal is passed, it will bring about a catastrophe, not only in the fishing industry, but in the most unprotected areas.”

According to the expert, the reform “opens up” the sea by encouraging evasion and returning to an extractivist model typical of the early 20th century.

Lerena highlighted that “no developed country allows the free exploitation of its fishing resources.” And he assures that this opens the door to predator vessels fishing migratory resources coming from the Argentine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

According to him, out of today’s nearly 500 vessels which are known to fish outside the 200-mile boundary, others will be drawn, perhaps reaching a total 1,100 ships from China, Spain, Korea, Taiwan and the United Kingdom.

It is all biological nonsense which will cause the exhaustion of fishing grounds and impact the local ecosystem, as has already taken place in other parts of the world.

Leandro Tamini, coordinator of the 'Programa Marino' operated by environmental NGO Ayers Argentinas, told to Perfil in an interview: “The fishing issue has already been open to a negotiation with [provincial] governors. But the truth is that the legislation generates other very complex environmental programmes.”

For Tamini, this basically cast aside the task of the Federal Fishing Council in granting permits. The body previously considered the opinions from experts from the Instituto de Pesca (INIDEP) that recommends where, how and how much to fish of every species.

“Respecting those limits is what ensures that the fauna is used rationally and the resources are sustainable,“ Tamini clarified.

Another unclear issue concerns fishing in the Argentine Sea, which under the new rules could be processed and exported without going through local ports.

“That prevents the control by the authorities of the number of tonnes actuallly being fished by each ship. This means making Argentine waters ‘more flexible,’ which facilitates ilegal fishing practices [and] which damages the entire ecosystem, including various species of birds and sea mammals," he said.

Andrés Nápoli, executive director of the Fundación Ambiente y Recoursos Naturales (Environment and Natural Resources Foundation, FARN), argues that this will exhaust local resources: “If ships don’t dock and fishing isn’t controlled at Argentine ports, the government can’t ensure safe fishing practices ... the transparency and traceability of fishing is affected, which is essential to track marine resources.”

 

Forests and glaciers

Argentina's Forestry Law was debated for a long time until a consensus was reached. The result was the classification into categories of native forests, defining which ones must be protected, which can’t be exploited and which can.

According to official government data, the total area of native forests in Argentina is 53,184,501 hectares. Experts say President Milei's reforms would make it easier to exploit less compromised areas. Clearings, which today are prohibited, would be allowed in “red” and “yellow” areas previously dedicated to conservation.

In other words, if the text is enacted the way it was disseminated, some 42 million hectares – 80 percent of the native forests in Argentina under protection today – would be left unprotected, and be open for clearings that will affect biodiversity and roll back social, environmental and cultural benefits.

The proposed reforms would also cut back resources dedicated to the National Native Forest Conservation and Enrichment Fund, which receives money from agricultural and forestry exports. This would strip funds away reserved for the monitoring of forests – a move which could even hurt exports, since the fight against deforestation has become a requirement for business in many markets in the world.

Addressing changes to the Glacier Protection Law, the mining exploitation of “periglacial” areas would be allowed under Milei's proposed reforms. These areas, which are key to the survival of glaciers, are today protected. “High mountain” mining not only compromises an essential resource for the population (access to drinking water), but also comprises other economic activities.

“This is clearly seen in Mendoza, where water that is essential for irrigation and its agricultural and wine-making will be jeopardised,” Napoli warned in an interview. 

Experts agree that the passage of the legislation, or at least its environmental chapters, will lead to serious environmental effects that are practically irreversible.

A recent report published by global NGO Greenpeace accounts for what may come in the future. According to its calculations, last year deforestation in provinces in the north of Argentina spanned more than 125,000 hectares. The two provinces with the biggest protection non-compliance were Santiago del Estero and Chaco.

According to Hernán Giardini, the coordinator of the forests campaign for the NGO, “amendments to the current Forestry Law by the new legislative proposal will cause an uncontrollable increase of this type of clearing."

Giardini described it as "a huge setback for legislation that has already been agreed and that has been in force for over 15 years."

Enrique Garabetyan

Enrique Garabetyan

Redactor especializado en Ciencia, Salud & Tecnología.

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