Environmental compensation advances in Latin America amid controversy

Environmental compensation advances in Latin America amid controversy

By Emilio Godoy

“No market mechanism solves the underlying problem. The most serious is the environmental liability. What do you do with what is already done? How can we really make it compensation and not just remediation? ”Asked Margarita Flórez, executive director of the non-governmental Asociación Ambiente y Sociedad de Colombia.

“We continue to lose resources and it has not been possible to stop with anything. The mechanism is full of contradictions, ”he told IPS.

Since August 2012, Colombia has the "Manual for the allocation of compensation for loss of biodiversity", although it is not yet applied. This model allows entrepreneurs to know precisely where, how and how much to compensate for the ecological impact of their activities.

The plan stipulates that compensations must occur in ecologically equivalent areas to the affected place and can be carried out in a portfolio of areas prioritized by the National Restoration Plan or the National System of Protected Areas.

Compensation actions must last the same as the useful life of the project and can materialize in financing to create or strengthen protected areas or the generation of conservation agreements with private owners, indigenous and Afro-descendant territories. The manual will be applied to works in the mining, hydrocarbons, infrastructure, electricity, ports, power generation projects, as well as new international airports.

The excluded areas are national protected areas (ANP), national natural parks, biosphere and forest reserves, whose activities depend on special regimes.

For secondary vegetation, the compensation ranges from 0.01 to 0.02 square kilometers for each square kilometer affected, while if natural ecosystems are affected, the range goes from 0.02 to 0.1 square kilometers for each square kilometer .

In Colombia there are officially 55 ANPs, which represent 10 percent of the country's surface.

The compensation is one of the six “innovative financial mechanisms”, classified by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), in force since 1993, which some qualify as the “constitution” of sustainable development and which has been ratified by 193 countries.

The others are environmental tax reform, payments for environmental services, markets for green products, financing of biodiversity in climate change, and biodiversity in international financing for development.

Currently, only a fifth of the signatory countries have environmental compensation mechanisms and some 45 programs are operational, with an investment between 2.4 and 4 billion dollars.

In Latin America, in addition to Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela have it, which have some kind of environmental compensation system, while Ecuador is studying how to establish the mechanism.

Chile, for example, is working on the creation of a loss compensation scheme, based on the new regulation of the Environmental Assessment Service that incorporates compensation guidelines, in a country with 19 percent of its territory as protected areas.

In Peru, with 166 natural areas that represent 17 percent of its territory, the guidelines for the preparation and application of the Environmental Compensation Plan of the Environmental Impact Assessment System are currently being debated.

In Mexico, Pedro Álvarez, general coordinator of Corridors and Biological Resources of the governmental National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity, considers it feasible to combine conservation mechanisms with economic production.

"If the communities revalue biodiversity, it becomes a good opportunity to generate hope in the management of natural resources," he analyzed for IPS. Of course, "for it to work, public funds have to be guaranteed for long periods," he warned.

In addition, "we must choose the sites with the highest biodiversity" and prevent it from becoming the one that "if they pay me, I'll take care of it," he said.

The Sectorial Program of Environment and Natural Resources 2013-2018 indicates that almost 29 percent of the Mexican territory lost natural ecosystems, in a country with 176 natural areas

The National Commission for Protected Natural Areas manages 176 natural areas, which encompass 13 percent of the Mexican territory. With the Environmental Compensation Program for Land Use Change in Forest Lands, the National Forest Commission financed 275 projects last year over an area of ​​321 square kilometers.

“In Colombia, the incentives for conservation have been tiny. The manual is very illustrative, it lacks the entire procedure of how it is going to be applied. It must go into detail, how much, under what conditions and what happens if it is not applied, "said environmentalist Flórez.

In the first phase of the project, use can be made of the Tremarctos-Colombia tool, an early warning system that preliminarily assesses the impacts on the biological wealth of infrastructure works and provides recommendations on the eventual compensations that they should assume.

In the second stage, the manual will be used to establish compensation for the loss and in the third stage, monitoring and follow-up will be carried out to compare them with the baseline and guarantee no net loss of biodiversity.

At least Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela lost natural wealth between 1990 and 2008, according to the Inclusive Wealth Index, a study of 20 countries led by the United Nations Environment Program.

“New mechanisms must be created. But it is not about paying to pollute, that is dangerous. The precautionary principle should be included in environmental rulings and also a kind of environmental insurance premium ”in the case of accidents, advised the Mexican Álvarez.

The "No to compensation for biodiversity" movement issued a manifesto against it in November 2013 in the Scottish city of Edinburgh, denouncing that the formula "could lead to increased damage, but what is even more worrying is that could lead to the commodification of nature ”.

The document, signed by dozens of organizations around the world, criticizes that the scheme allows, or even encourages environmental destruction "with the promise that the habitat can be recreated somewhere else." That measure, according to critics, benefits companies that cause damage, since they can present themselves as companies that invest in environmental protection, "thus passing their products and services as ecological. The promoters of the rejection argue that the compensation of biodiversity will not prevent its loss, will harm communities and that it seeks to separate people from their environment, where their culture is based and where their economic activity has traditionally taken place, as well as the potential for increase the loss of natural capital.

One of the goals of the CBD Strategy for Resource Mobilization is to consider compensation mechanisms, where relevant and appropriate, while ensuring that they are not used to weaken unique components of biodiversity.

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