Argentina to sell environmental services

Argentina to sell environmental services

Here’s a short story I did for Free Speech Radio News on Argentina’s environmental policy, biopiracy and carbon market.

Argentina’s government has announced that the South American nation will form a new National Bio-diversity Council this year. Environmental and Sustainable Development Minister Atilo Savino says the council aims to promote programs for the sale of environmental services. The government has also signed an agreement to form a joint bio-diversity policy with MERCOSUR trade bloc nations (Uruguay, Brazil and Paraguay).

A key feature to Argentina’s new bio-diversity policy, with the support of the UN Environmental Program, is the sale of environmental services. Contrary to what the name suggests, through privatizing the environment these services jeopardize Argentina’s diverse and rich ecosystems. The government argues private environmental management services will facilitate companies to preserve ecosystems, while providing jobs for local communities.

Many local advocates say that the sale of environmental services will allow corporations to conduct harmful industrial activity in susceptible eco-systems and hotspots for bio-diversity. According to Naomi Abad, director of Argentina’s largest ecological awareness websites: ecoportal.net, the trade of carbon credits serves as a "loophole" helping corporations evade emissions cuts.

"The sale of environmental services is transforming the environment into another business. This would mean allowing companies that have money to pollute while those of us without resources continue in poverty. In stead of ceasing to pollute, developed countries that need to cut down on their carbon emissions to stop global warming, buy credits for emission from countries with native forests. And native forests are later replaced with fast growth industrial tree species like eucalyptus and pine."

The carbon market is projected to become one of the largest markets ever, reaching US$60 billion by 2008. Spain and Britain lead bids for carbon credits in Argentina. The World Bank’s Carbon Finance Unite has financed specific carbon credit projects in Argentina. Through this program the World Bank ensures developing countries become key players in the emerging global carbon market.

Argentina’s government offers bio-prospecting as another environmental service. The University of Arizona has lead bio-diversity prospecting in Argentina, Chile and Mexico. Javier Rodriguez Pardo, a leading environmental researcher and writer, considers bio-prospecting synonymous to bio-piracy.

"The labs in the first world patent species without any participation from the local communities in the south and much less from indigenous people. They are the ones who transmit this ancestral knowledge. Patenting is a way of acquiring and dominating knowledge. And that the people don’t have any way to access it, unless they buy the patent. Indigenous people end up paying for a drug patented in a lab from a pharmacist."

Royalties offered in bilateral bio-prospecting agreements are typically less than 3 percent of the profits from products based on indigenous knowledge and resources. Communities in Argentina have moved to launch campaigns similar to those in Brazil and Chiapas against bio-piracy and environmental services. Forest fires, flooding and the spread of diseases like cholera and leprosy are just some of the immediate consequences of the government’s environmental policy. In a report released last December, scientists concluded Argentina will lose half of its native forests in the next few years. For Free Speech Radio News I’m Marie Trigona in Buenos Aires.

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