Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Peru Guts Environmental Protections

Mountain Worshipping
Even as Peru is gearing up to host the 2014 United Nations (UN) Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 20) in Lima, President Ollanta Humala has taken a huge step backward in environmental protections in Peru. Proyecto de Ley N° 3627/2013-PE was approved by the Standing Committee of Congress on July 9th, 2014, designed to ease environmental restrictions to invite private investment and stave off a stagnating economy. Aside from severely limiting the Ministry of Environment's authority and "power to designate protected lands exempt from industrial activity," it also reduces the number of days for environmental impact studies to 45, complicates the process of creating nature reserves and protected lands, and hands out further tax cuts while easing permitting for mining companies.

President Humala is, of course, under a lot of pressure to maintain the 6% economic growth that Peru has maintained, on average, over the last decade — a successful rate in most other Latin American countries, which are projected to grow by less than half that rate according to a 2013 International Monetary Fund (IMF) survey. The World Bank and conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation have heaped praise on Humala for Peru's "economic freedom" and neoliberal reforms. But as we have seen from the recent history of Indigenous protests and ecological damage, these reforms are coming at a heavy price.

Humala has expressed interest in divesting from mining, or at least ensuring that Peru's growth is not wholly dependent on the mining sector. Yet the easing of environmental regulations certainly belie Humala's lip service to economic diversification. Over 100 environmental organizations expressed their dismay over the new law, writing President Humala a letter detailing their concerns:
"In the context of the global climate crisis, where concrete and urgent actions are required, this newly proposed law sends a very bad signal which is made even worst considering Peru’s role as COP20 President. This proposed investment law rewards those parties who do not comply with current environmental rules in Peru; it yields to the strong pressure of economic actors to modify environmental standards to facilitate the expansion of the fossil fuel and mining sectors whose impacts to the environment, including Climate Change, are widely recognized."
(Letter to President Ollanta Humala Tasso, July 8th, 2014)
One can only hope that international pressure for climate change mitigation will reach the same levels that ease of trade has so long enjoyed — all too often at the expense of our planet.

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