1703958033 Milei is causing severe environmental decline and endangering glaciers forests

Milei is causing severe environmental decline and endangering glaciers, forests and wetlands

The reform package presented to Congress this week by far-right Javier Milei proposes a major step back in protecting environmental rights in Argentina. The extensive initiative, which includes 664 articles of comprehensive state reform, includes a section aimed at eliminating regulations and controls on productive activities that can be carried out in forests and glaciers, areas protected by specific laws and in the last 15 Years of sanctions have turned into an all-out battle by environmental organizations who are now warning about the risks this could bring in the future.

In environmental matters, the Omnibus Law – as it was called due to the multitude of regulations it repeals, transforms and creates – provides for an amendment to the Glacier Law passed in 2010 to allow mining activities in periglacial areas; the Native Forest Protection Law of 2007 to authorize logging in areas where it is currently prohibited or restricted; and the Environmental Protection Act to Control Burning Activities, to grant permits for the starting of fires for manufacturing or real estate purposes, which have so far been very restricted or prohibited depending on the area.

Lawyer Enrique Viale, specialist in environmental law and author of the book “Ecological collapse has already arrived,” warned that the reform represents a “direct attack on the core laws of environmental protection,” calling it a “gateway to big business.” ” “Changing the Glaciers Law is an old wish of transnational mining companies. In the case of the Forestry Law, it allows clearing in sought-after areas,” he told EL PAÍS.

Viale also highlighted the risk of backsliding on basic protections for vulnerable ecosystems as the world pushes for stricter regulations to mitigate the effects of climate change. “Glaciers provide water and life, forests regulate the climate and are essential for reducing heatwaves. “Economically, the drought that the country was suffering from caused us to lose many millions of dollars,” he recalls.

A farmer checks his drought-stricken corn plants in Timbúes, ArgentinaFarmer Javier Sánchez on his corn plantation lost to drought in Timbúes in March 2023.Sebastián López Brach (Getty Images)

Forests, glaciers and wetlands in the spotlight

If the reform is adopted, the forests of the provinces of Salta, Chaco and Formosa, which were previously included in categories I – which were considered to be particularly worthy of protection and should not be converted – and II of category medium conservation value, which may be impaired, would be at risk, among others , but with restoration measures can be used for tourism, collection or research. Despite legislation, illegal deforestation has never been completely stopped and more than a million hectares have been lost in the last decade, according to official figures.

Glaciers also represent a particular interest for mining companies, which applied intense pressure after the law's passage to move forward with dozens of projects, mostly in northern cities, until the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the legislation in 2019, halting 44 mining projects near or on Ice surfaces.

According to environmentalists, the reform proposed by Milei destroys the movement's struggle and allows mining activities in periglacial areas, which endangers the ice masses in the Andes, among others in provinces such as San Juan and La Rioja, but also in Patagonia. Sergio Federovisky, former deputy minister of the environment in the government that ended on December 10, complained to EL PAÍS that “nature is seen as an obstacle to doing business,” pointing out that “when controls, regulations and brakes are removed from the state “, the gluttony is automatic and excessive.” “The arrival of mining corporations will be encouraged and the actual control possibilities will be nil,” he added.

In the case of the Fire Protection Act, the changes would result in serious damage to wetlands by allowing landowners to set uncontrolled fires for productive purposes, such as expanding the agricultural frontier or preparing land for business ventures. One of the articles amends the permits, indicating that burning will be prohibited “that do not have the proper authorization of the relevant local authority”, although it concludes that they must be carried out “in particular within 30 days of the application”. Authorization is granted.” Authorization. If the authorization is not granted within this period, the text states, “the incineration is deemed to have been tacitly authorized.”

Tourists hike on the Perito Moreno glacier near El Calafate (Argentina) in November 2021.Tourists hike on the Perito Moreno glacier near El Calafate (Argentina) in November 2021. Natacha Pisarenko (AP)

The Environment Minister of Buenos Aires Province, Daniela Vilar, rejected the proposal and, when asked by EL PAÍS, described the initiative as “environmental flexibility”. “Instead of protecting the common good and collective interest by keeping ecosystems healthy, individual profits and businesses are protected,” he criticized.

For Viale, “uncontrolled fires” are enabled across the territory, as they have worsened over the last five years: an Amnesty International report based on official data says that more than 560,000 hectares will be set ablaze in 2022. “The fires are getting bigger while resources are being withdrawn from the fire protection system,” the lawyer said. At the same time, the new government, which weeks ago demoted the Environment Ministry to a vacant undersecretary, has stopped publishing the daily report on forest fires.

Persecution, a fear in the eyes of environmentalists

For Nicole Becker, activist and one of the founders of the Youth for Climate group, adopting the reforms would contradict the measures taken around the world to combat climate change. But it also focuses on the risk of possible persecution and attacks on environmental activists, a problem from which Argentina has so far been exempt but not the rest of the region: around 2,000 activists have been murdered worldwide in the last decade, with Latin America topping the list with countries like Mexico, Brazil and Colombia at the top.

“I think there can be dangers for militancy and environmental activism. When the president says that climate change is not real, as he said, or that those of us who fight are thieves, violence ensues. We are currently receiving terrible attacks on social networks. I hope it's not risky. “But then there are the restrictions on organizing demonstrations,” Becker noted in a dialogue with EL PAÍS, alluding to another chapter of right-wing extremist reforms that provides for prison sentences for those who protest through road blockades or without permission. Viale added worriedly: “Milei and his people see environmental protection as an enemy, it is very dangerous. If he thinks we are enemies, he will persecute and fight us.”