By Ana Di Pangracio
(Deputy Director of Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales – FARN)
Wetlands are ecosystems with enormous biological, social, cultural, and economic value. But wetlands are being lost and degraded every day. The Ramsar Convention estimates that 87% of the global wetland area has disappeared in the last 300 years.
These ecosystems are perceived by some sectors of society as wastelands, lands that need to be filled in, bringing with them negative socio-environmental impacts. Major drivers of wetland loss include agriculture and livestock production, mining and other extractive industries, urbanization, invasive species, climate change, and pollution from domestic and industrial waste.
Argentina has a great diversity of wetlands, about 21% of its surface includes wetland ecosystems. The country is no stranger to the globally identified pressures that are causing wetland loss and degradation.
Therefore, Argentina needs an environmental protection law for wetlands, which is the result of wide and effective participation, integrating the vision from the territories, of the people who live, work and know the wetlands. The importance of wetlands and the need to protect them must be on the political agenda of governments.
The fire crisis in the Paraná Delta has renewed the discussion of a Wetlands Law in the National Congress. To date, there are eleven bills for consideration by legislators in both Houses. After information sessions, the parliamentary committees reached by this initiative will begin meetings for formal discussion, agreeing as far as possible on a single text, and issuing an opinion so that it can be dealt with in the chamber. Once approved by one of the Chambers, the project is then evaluated by the other which can either approve it without changes or introduce modifications in which case it will return to the Chamber of origin. The latter may approve it by accepting the changes or insist on the original wording for which it will need the same or a higher majority than the House of Review. If this is not achieved, the text adopted in the reviewing Chamber is approved.
In Argentina, the provinces are the owners of the natural resources existing in their territories according to article 124 of the National Constitution (NC). But, to avoid the disintegration of policies, in pursuit of the common good, and to achieve uniform protection of the environment throughout the country, the provinces delegated to the Nation, in section 41 of the CN, the power to sanction laws of minimum environmental budgets. These are standards that aim to impose the necessary conditions to ensure environmental protection, establishing a minimum floor of protection that the provinces may complement, even providing for more demanding requirements, but never be below the established national minimum base.
A Wetland Law needs to be governed from an ecocentric vision and under principles such as the ecosystemic, preventive, precautionary, non-regression, intergenerational equity, indubio pro-nature, indubio pro aqua, transparency and participation, rights perspective (including interculturality and gender approach), and protection of common goods.
A precise definition of wetlands, a national enforcement authority with proactive and comprehensive powers, budget allocations to meet challenges, the development of wetland inventory and land use planning, and impact assessment tools such as strategic environmental assessment, environmental impact assessment, and cumulative impact assessment are some of the backbone elements of national law.
Some strategic areas of work in the Wetlands Law are conservation, environmentally friendly use and restoration of wetlands; legal clarity in access and tenure of land and natural assets; support for scientific research, traditional knowledge, and citizen science; collaborative work with other government plans, programs and projects; monitoring and evaluation of established objectives and goals; environmental awareness and education; and capacity building and institutional strengthening.
The COVID 19 pandemic, which is causing so much human suffering, makes it clear that the more we alter ecosystems, the more we are at risk. And no sector of society is exempt from this. We must build a new relationship with nature. Banish limited visions of ” good quality of life” focused only on consumption and unlimited accumulation, and give rise to new ones that ensure social and environmental justice.
Passing a Wetlands Act would be a step in the right direction. We are confident that the National Congress will rise to the occasion.