Saturday, June 07, 2008

Peru to (Finally)Get Ministry for the Environment

In a couple of posts on Peru, I've mentioned that it has no Ministry for the Environment. Within a generally weak state apparatus, this appears a particularly glaring absence. With its huge tract of jungle and numerous ecological niches, Peru is one of the world's greatest reservoirs of biodiversity. It also has a long history of rapacious resource exploitation: boom and bust periods of nitrate, guano,and rubber exploitation left scars on the environment, while the mining industry has a long history of contamination and damage.

Despite this, until no central authority has been charged with overseeing the protection of the environment. Bodies like the National Commission on the Environment (CONAM) and Institute of Natural Resources (INRENA) lack teeth and have roles that gap and overlap with regional governments. The Ministry of Mining and Energy has the role of assessing environmental impact reports at the same time as it is supposed to promote investment in mining.

Credit to Alan Garcia's government: it has recently announced that a Ministry for the Environment will be established. The exact shape and role of the Ministry is yet to be determined by legislation, but it will be part of central government with its own Minister and oversight of all things environmental.

Some commentators are suggesting that the long-overdue measure has only occurred because the government needs to demonstrate that it is serious about getting its laws and regulations in shape for the entry into force of the free trade agreement with the US. This may be so, but it's better than not happening at all. This also suggests some credit should be given to the centre-left Democrats like Charles Rangel and Sander Levin who negotiated the strengthening of the labour and environmental conditions in the FTA.

Of course, the real test is just how active and effective a Ministry for the Environment will be in a country where the president has recently complained that too many natural areas are 'lying idle' and declared several major mining projects to be 'in the national interest'.

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