Dozens of international groups, the United Nations, and even Peru’s own citizen ombudsman are objecting to a new law that weakens environmental protections in the Andean nation even as it prepares to host international climate talks this year.
The law was originally aimed at increasing investment, will strip Peru’s six-year-old environment ministry of jurisdiction over air, soil and water quality standards. It also stops the ministry’s power to establish nature reserves exempt from mining and oil drilling.
Peru’s president, Ollanta Humala, enacted the law on July 11th. The law now further streamlines environmental reviews for new projects. For the next three years, it lowers by half the maximum fines for all but the most serious environmental violations.
At the same time, it re-establishes tax breaks for big mining multinationals, which already enjoy such benefits as simultaneous, indefinite concessions for both exploration and exploitation as long as they make nominal payments. In some Peruvian states, more than half the territory is under concession.
“As far as Latin America goes, we are the country backpedaling the most,” said Jose de Echave, a former deputy environment minister. Manuel Pulgar Vidal, Peru’s environment minister and COP20 president, voted against the bill which is a major setback for the country’s policies on climate change.
The extraction industries in Peru, including oil, gas, copper and gold were responsible for 75% of Peru’s exports in the first half of 2012 and accounted for 5% of its GDP.
“The aim of this law is to stimulate economic growth. For Peru, that means the hydrocarbon sector,” said Helen Bellfield from the Global Canopy Programme, a group working on the protection of forests.