Growing concern over environment ministers among Amazon countries

26 January 2019

The shared territory of the Amazon makes it crucial to understand the governance of the territory shared between the four key countries in charge of this large area: Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. A recent article by Open Democracy rightly focuses on the fact that all four countries have recently-appointed environment ministers and that it behoves us to understand who they are.

The Brazilian minister has just been appointed after a potentially disastrous step from Jair Bolsonaro was thankfully reversed. This has sought to abolish the ministry altogether and move management of the environment into the ministry of agriculture. However, the newly-appointed Minister, Ricardo Salles, gives little reassurance. He states that he does not consider global warming of more than secondary importance, and Open Democracy says he has pledged to simplify environmental licensing and to defend private property from ethnic communities. His appointment has reportedly “caused great concern among environmentalists”.

The new Colombian minister, Ricardo Lozano, is a more encouraging appointment. He is seen as an ally by more progressive people. By contrast, the new minister in Ecuador, Marcelo Mata Guerrero, gets short shrift having previously worked for Repsol. The NGO Ecological Action says "it is unacceptable that the head of the ministry of the environment is a former corporate officer of the first company to extract oil from the Yasuní national park."

In Peru, Fabiola Muñoz Dodero was appointed by President Martín Vizcarra last April. Since taking office she has pushed forward some good initiatives, such as the anti-plastics law. In regard to the Amazon, Open Democracy mentions that she has significant experience in the forestry sector, focusing on her previous role at SERFOR (the state institution responsible for sustainable forest management) on logging and the illegal wood trade. What they fail to mention is that in that role, she often had issues with environmentalists.

They also fail to mention the bigger problem that we highlighted last week, as we have done frequently over the last two years: the loss of power of the Peruvian environment ministry which she has so far failed to withstand. This is made more significant now that it is feared that OSINFOR, up to now an unusually effective supervisory body of forestry resources, will likely become less effective once transferred from the prime minister’s office to her own ministry 

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