Argentina confirms plans to review ‘restrictive’ forest and glacier protection

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Buenos Aires Times, Bonn

While planning ahead the climate agenda as the upcoming G20 president, Argentina’s role at the COP23 climate change conference was scrutinized because of statements by Environment and Sustainable Development Minister Sergio Bergman questioning the Forest and Glacier protection laws.

Bergman headed the delegation of Argentina at COP23, aimed at working towards the implementation of the Paris Agreement signed in 2015. Asked by the Buenos Aires Times at a press conference, he said both legislations are “restrictive and address the problems too late”.

“We need to have an open discussion regarding forests and glaciers. Our laws don’t solve how we manage the resources. They are just trying to stop what we have already desecrated,” said Bergman. “We need to review them as they don’t have efficient mechanisms to be implemented”.

Since sanctioned, the Forest Law never received the budget it was supposed to, something frequently questioned by environmental organizations. Meanwhile, the Glacier Law was passed in 2011 and the inventory hasn’t been finished yet, with the Environment Ministry aiming at doing so next year.

Civil society organizations attending the COP23 received the news with surprise and asked the Mauricio Macri administration not to backtrack on its climate change agenda by changing the laws, after having reviewed and upgraded its climate change pledge, also known as National Intended Contribution (NDC).

“As countries seek to increase climate ambition in Bonn to protect the ecosystems and the communities that depend on them, Macri goes on the opposite direction and seeks to weaken the Forest and Glacier Laws,” Enrique Maurtua Konstantinidis, head of climate change at Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (FARN), told the Buenos Aires Times.

“It’s really shocking, especially considering the steps forward taken by the government in climate change. It’s a clear step back,” he said

Following the same train of thought, Enrique Viale, head of Argentina’s Environmental Lawyers Association, who travelled to the COP with Senator Fernando Solanas, said Argentina is “aiming to destroy its glaciers and forests to favour multinational companies,” claiming the Macri administration is seeking to affect all natural resources.

Argentina committed in 2016 to reduce its emissions 18 percent unconditionally and 37 percent conditionally by 2030, improving a previous and less ambitious pledge. Nevertheless, the goal is still considered “highly insufficient” by Climate Action Tracker, an independent organization that tracks the commitment of countries.

For Bergman, Argentina is already “mitigating all the greenhouses gasses that it emits” and dismissed the idea of increasing ambition on its NDC. He said the Macri administration had to “pick up the pieces” after “years of no environmental policies” during the former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration.

G20 climate agenda

Argentina will soon take over the G20 presidency from Germany and the role that climate change will have on the agenda was one of the key discussions at the COP23, with growing concern from environmental organizations.

The Mauricio Macri administration aims to create a climate sustainability group, instead of having two separate groups of energy and climate as Germany did. Argentina will seek to reach a consensus with all countries, including the United States, the only one to reject the Paris Agreement.

“We won’t confront with the position of the United States. Trump rejected the Paris Deal but not reducing emissions. It will be another player towards climate sustainability. Argentina will aim at reaching consensus at G20,” Bergman told the Buenos Aires Times.

Patricia Espinosa, head of the United Nations Climate Change Framework Convention (UNFCCC), was also optimistic regarding Argentina’s role when speaking with the Buenos Aires Times: “We hope and want that Argentina takes a leadership position on climate change at G20. I’m optimistic, it can be achieved.”

Nevertheless, that’s not the picture environmental groups saw at the COP. Climate Action Network (CAN), which groups civil society organizations from across the globe, published on its daily newsletter ECO at the COP that climate change might just be “one issue among many” for Argentina at G20 and questioned the lack of certainties on agenda to be pushed by the country. 

“With only three weeks remaining before Argentina officially takes on the G20 Presidency, ECO is very discouraged by this seeming lack of a clear climate focus, particularly coming from a country whose economy has so much to gain from sustainable development,” the newsletter read.