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What are some environmental concerns in the Amazon region?

From 6-27 October, a Synod of Bishops will be discussing the Pan-Amazon region. Included in their discussions will be the ecological crisis this region is facing.

The Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, meeting from 6-27 October, will be focusing its attention on the Pan-Amazon region. One of the angles that will be explored is that of ecology. Here is a brief overview of the environmental policies and challenges of each of the 9 countries that make up Amazonia.

Colombia

Legislation and Policy
- Colombia’s environmental policy is based on law 99 passed in 1993 in which the Ministry of Environment was established in the country. It also created the objective of substituting renewal energy in order to lower pollution.

- Local groups point out the scant application of the law, sustaining that local leaders (mayors and governors) give in all too easily to the commercial interests of large companies at the expense of smaller businesses.

- Experts say that both environmental policy and management has not been well developed; reacting to violations as they occur is the norm rather than coordinating prevention programs.

- Colombia has 31 million hectares (310,000 km2) of protected land. Yet the resources to protect and manage this land are scarce.

- The indigenous populations are suffering the effects of deforestation, growing illicit crops, illegal logging, land appropriation within their own territory.

Challenges
- The very protection of the forests poses challenges to the life and integrity of the local communities.

- The main problems and the challenges to confront, above all in Amazonia, are:

·         Deforestation: In the last trimester of 2018, 43% of the deforestation of the entire country took place its Amazonia region.

·         Fracking: The government supports this non-conventional and dangerous way to extract oil. Through resistance operations, several sectors of society have succeeded in halting some instances of fracking through legal channels and projects presented to the National Congress.

·         There is strong social pressure toward reinforcing sanctions against environmental crimes.

Bolivia

Legislation and Policy
- Article 33 of Bolovia’s Constitution recognizes that “everyone has the right to a healthy, protected, and balanced environment.” The Constitution protects both individuals and groups “of present and future generations”, as well as “other living things” to exercise this right “so they may develop in a normal and permanent way”. Two specific laws are:

·         Law No 1333 which regulates both the protection and the conservation of the environment and natural resources and promotes the research and application of alternative energies.

·         Law of the Rights of Mother Earth, also referred to as the Law of “Mother Earth”, was passed in October 2012. The law defines that “Mother Earth is a dynamic living system comprising an indivisible community of all living systems and living organisms, interrelated, interdependent and complementary, which share a common destiny”. Thus, the State and the population are obligated to preserve nature through a sustainable, harmonious and balanced use of its resources. It includes the concept of “living well” through Integral Development.

- In recent years, the technical and political management of these regulations has been gradually decentralized.

- The population perceives the centrality of the value of Mother Earth on the juridical level, alongside a scant application of the law. For example, controlled fires in some areas is legal even though this is how the recent fire in the Chiquitano Forest began.

Challenges
- The current government, concerned with both an indigenous and peasant population, is committed to research alternative paradigms that give priority to the culture of life, peace and social justice, in contrast to the profound inequalities that exist, to the patterns of production and consumption that have contributed to climate change, armed conflicts and the financial crisis, among others.

- The regulation of the emergence of new human settlements in the Amazon because people tend to exploit the natural resources in an unbalanced way.

- Combating the contamination of its rivers which is the result of illegal mining activity.

Ecuador

Legislation and Policy
- In 2008, Ecuador’s Constitution was the first to recognize the "Rights of Nature”. Article 71 states: “Nature or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution”. It is one of the most advanced pieces of legislation regarding these rights.

- A specific environmental law called Código Orgánico del Ambiente (COA), or Organic Code on the Environment, was passed in 2017. This law seeks to guarantee the right that the people of Ecuador have “to live in a healthy and ecologically balanced environment” by regulating all of the country’s environmental policies.

- The Law deals with various issues ranging from the competence of the national environmental authority, to intervening against changes in the climate, to biodiversity, to the management of protected land. It also covers urban animal regulation and waste removal.

- There are voices from society, however, that say that the law is weak and that the political will is lacking to ensure it enforcement.

Challenges
- Ongoing threats to the conservation of their territory, such as the intrusion of mining in Yasuni National Park and in in the south central part of the Amazon.

- Most relevant challenges:

·         Deforestation  of 55,000 hectares or 135,908 acres a year. To combat this, small landowners who keep their woodland are given an economic bonus.

·         Megamining: Large multinational companies have acquired the right over vast amounts of rainforest territory for the purpose of extracting natural resources, especially minerals.

·         Oil extraction

·         Transgenic crops

- The only way to resist these environmentally dangerous situations is through protests which are organized by social organizations who are fighting for the preservation of the environment and the protection of the weakest members of the country, especially the indigenous population.

French Guiana

Legislation and Policy
- French Guiana comprises a territory of 91,000 km², 90% of which is covered by a portion of the Amazon forest and is subject to French legislation.

- In 2007, France established national parks in its territories. Thus the Guiana Amazonian Park, one of the largest National Parks in the world, and the largest on French territory, came into existence. It is not only a means of preserving the land, but is meant to protect the 6 indigenous populations that live there. Protection is enforced over 20,300 km² of the central area. Another 13,600 km² make up the park as well. Some local communities have assessed, however, that efforts to protect the land are insufficient.

Challenges
- Among the challenges are:

·         Deforestation: portions of the territory are ceded to multinational mining companies to exploit the natural resources or to conduct research.

·         The waters are polluted with cyanide used for the legal and illegal gold mining.

Brazil

Legislation and Policy
- Article 225 of Brazil’s Constitution recognizes that “all have the right to an ecologically balanced environment, which is an asset of common use and essential to a healthy quality of life”. Because of this law, for example, the use of DDT has been restricted. Protected land in Brazil covers 254,866,204 hectares (2,548,662 km²), 50% of which is in the Amazon region.

- Since Jair Bolsonaro took office, the Ministry of the Enrivonment is under the possible threat of being dismantled.

- In addition to modifications made to the inspection and enforcement mechanisms resulting in fines, key positions have been filled by agents who embrace the new environmental policy.

- Since the beginning of 2019, 21 of 27 state heads of the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, known as Ibama, were fired.

- One of the main changes in the government’s environmental policy has been the transfer of the Brazilian Forest Service from the Ministry of the Environment to the Ministry of Agriculture. According to some Brazilian analysts, the influence agribusiness has on the Ministry of the Environment has led the government to establisher milder rules.

Challenges
- Despite international criticism regarding the fires that have devastated the Amazon, Jair Bolsonaro’s government is studying the possibility of developing a different environmental policy for Brazil other than the one already established.

- Brazil sustains that the conservation of the Amazon should be limited to the countries that are part of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Gaiana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela), therefore excluding any “external influence” of the countries other than those of the Southern Cone.

Peru

Legislation and Policy
- Article 2 of Peru’s Constitution guarantees that “every person has the fundamental right to a balanced and appropriate environment for the full development of his life”. - It defines that is is the State’s duty to determine the National Environmental Policy, thus respecting the fundamental rights of the human person (Article 67).

- The National Environmental Policy is governed by four thematic axes, namely: (i): the conservation of the biological diversity (Article 67) and the sustainable development of the Amazonia by means of appropriate legislation (Article 68); (ii) integral management of quality standards; (iii) environmental oversight; (iv) international environmental obligations and opportunities.

- This policy has been criticized from the perspective that the law is not applied forcefully and judicial processes regarding environmental crime are slow. There are 23,000 sanctions pending in Peru since 2018.

Challenges
- The construction of a waterway in the Amazon region of Peru has been projected. The indigenous population is resistant to this project.

- The establishment of a new protected marine area is foreseen which will allow Peru to achieve an objective to conserve its own ocean.

- Legislation is in the making to modify the laws governing mining activity, due to the indiscriminate activity of large companies.

Venezuela

Legislation and Policy
- Venezuela’s national Constitution promotes the care of the environment, the conservation of particular territories, and the protection and care of those citizens in these territories as well as the minerals, hydrocarbons and precious stones found on these lands.

- The current environmental situation in Venezuela is affected by the political and economic crisis the country is experiencing. In addition, its environmental policies are characterized as “overly ambitious” because the country cannot realistically enforce them.

- Because of the lack of resources, the government has opted to commercialize its gold and other minerals, thus devastating a part of the territory considered of vital importance for the ecological subsistence of the country.

Challenges
- In 2016, the Venezuelan government created a “national strategic development zone” for the “Mining Arc” of the Orinoco River basin for the purpose of exploiting the natural resources of this area which represents 12.2% of Venezuela’s territory. For several years now, this area has been illegally exploited by various groups. Consequently, this has heightened the incidence of violence, including murder, as well as new forms of slavery and the degradation of the dignity of the human person.

- Environmental damage sustained by this territory that covers 11,847 km: deforestation; arson; mining that has caused damage to the land, the wildlife and the environment.

- In this situation, the communities most affected are indigenous populations who are also exploited, displaced by violence or forced to join groups associated with organized crime.

Guiana

Legislation and Policy
- Guiana passed an Environmental Protection Act in 1996. This legislation protecting the environment is complex and considers all of the country’s natural resources: forests, water, air, flora, fauna, etc.

- In 2006, the country passed the Amerindian Act which provides for “the recognition and protection of the collective rights of the Amerindian Village and Communities”, and the indigenous population.

- The scope of these policies is:

·         To strengthen the institutional framework to better promote and defend the country’s human and natural resources;

·         To ensure that proposed activities go through a preliminary environmental evaluation so as to assess potential consequences they might have on the environment;

·         To implement punitive measures to avoid possible violations of environmental regulation;

·         To assure that corrective measures are adopted in cases of environmental damage and that costs to repair the damage can be recovered from the responsible parties.

Challenges
- Guiana’s vast and undisturbed rainforest, which constitutes a precious economic asset for the country, is threatened by exploitation at the hands of large private investors.

- Areas of greater importance:

·         Protecting the rights of the indigenous populations;

·         Protecting coastal areas;

·         Controlling pollution;

·         Raising awareness of the care of the environment among the inhabitants of threatened areas and the general management of natural resources;

·         Building human capital and institutional capability.

Suriname

Legislation and Policy
- Article 6 Suriname’s Constitution states that the State “shall aim at: a) the identification of the potential for development of its own natural environment and the augmentation of the capacity to increasingly expand that potential”; and “g) creating and improving the necessary conditions for the protection of nature and for the preservation of the ecological balance”.

- The National Council for the Environment (NMR), established in 1997, supports the government in preparing and implementing environmental policy.

- Suriname has the highest percentage of forested area than any other country in the world (15.3 million hectares or 150,000 km2, 94% of its surface), as well an estimated 99 km3 of renewable water sources every year. This makes it possible for Suriname to be a world leader in maintaining an important portion of the world’s biodiversity and freshwater resources, thus lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

Challenges
- Deforestation as of 2016 was roughly 2% due to mining activities and logging activities: despite general protection of wildlife and the environment in Suriname, deforestation is a concern because the government has conceded logging rights to foreign companies.

- Pollution of Suriname’s pure water supply by mining activity is becoming a threat to the purity of its water.

- Suriname has 3 mammals, a 5 birds, around 25 types of plants on the endangered species list.

04 October 2019, 19:25