10 advances for Latin America’s environment in 2017
By Laura Yaniz
Although 2017 was a challenging year for environmental defense globally, there have been many advances in the region that are worth celebrating. We’ve seen victories after years of struggle, the strength of community organizing, new initiatives for the protection of land and sea, and the renewed drive of citizens to defend our planet.
1. Rural Colombian town said NO to mining
In response to plans for an open-pit gold mine in their territory, the people of the small town of Cajamarca, Colombia organized a popular consultation to determine whether they were collectively in agreement with the project. In March 98 percent of voters said “No” to mining in their territory. This citizens’ victory generated a wave of popular consultations across the country and the region. Empowered communities are now seeking a voice and a vote on extractive activities that could put their land and water at risk.
2. The fight against fracking advances
In April, Entre Rios became the first province in Argentina to ban fracking; it joins more than 45 towns, cities, and departments across the nation. Other communities have won battles in Brazil, Uruguay and Mexico, even as the controversial technique expands across the region. And the tiny town of San Martín in Colombia is still putting up a big fight. Slowly, the region is following in the footsteps of France, Scotland and Ireland, all of which joined the list of nations that have banned fracking this year. Across Latin America, the Latin American Alliance Against Fracking is organizing and instructing communities on the use of existing legal tools to protect their territory.
3. Two Patagonian rivers will remain flowing free
After more than a decade of struggle, the energy companies Endesa and Colbún agreed to return water rights to the Baker and Pascua rivers to the Chilean government. The companies faced intense community opposition to their HidroAysén project, which would have built large dams in the heart of Chilean Patagonia. In November they decided to cancel the project because it was no longer economically viable, it was opposed by local communities and other stakeholders, and the long-term sale of energy was not guaranteed.
4. The continent added natural protected areas
Mexico declared the Revillagigedo Archipelago as a World Heritage Site, creating the largest marine protected area in North America. The four volcanic islands are considered a sanctuary for large groups of sharks and manta rays, as well as tuna, humpback whales and sea turtles. Meanwhile, Chile announced the creation of a new route of parks in Patagonia, resulting from the donation the 11 million acres of pristine land from the Tompkins family; it created three new national parks and amplified several others.
5. Costa Rica, the first nation with special fund for ocean conservation
The Central American nation announced the creation of the first national fund dedicated exclusively to conserving the ocean. Designated for the more effective protection of the country’s 174 thousand square miles of marine space, the fund will have three main sources of financing: a tax on the contaminating capacity of containers, a canon on the maritime transport of merchandise, and a voluntary contribution of those who fish for sport. The money collected will be used for control, surveillance, cleaning, recycling, seeking productive alternatives, and other research for the benefit of the seas.
6. New hope for Colombia’s largest coastal wetland
In September, the Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta was inscribed in a global list of the world’s most at-risk wetlands. After concerted pressure from citizens, academics and organizations, the Colombian government acknowledged that the wetland was at risk and, by inscribing it in the Montreux Record, opened up the technical and financial support needed to save the vital ecosystem. The Ciénaga had been severely damaged by decades of pollution, forest fires, the destruction of mangroves, and the construction of illegal dikes, among other factors.
7. Victory for indigenous communities in Peru affected by oil spills
In November, after taking control of oil installations in their territory and launching a national campaign in defense of prior consultation, indigenous leaders won a well-deserved victory against the government. After weeks of protest, Peru agreed to implement a prior consultation process in line with Peruvian law for any new contract in oil block 192. Then, in December, indigenous communities affected by the 2014 oil spills from the Petroperu pipeline advanced in their fight for justice. In December, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granted protective measures to people affected by the spills. The struggle continues, however, because although the responsibility of the state-owned company was acknowledged, those affected did not receive adequate medical attention.
8. Hope for a recovery of sea turtle populations
According to a new study, global populations of seas turtles are seeing a rebound. This year, several beaches around the world registered an increase in the number of turtles arriving to deposit their eggs, meaning some species are growing in population. Others, however, like the leatherback turtle, remain in critical danger. Now, scientists are analyzing the success of small-scale conservation methods, and are planning to introduce them in other places and with other species. Scientists say the study is a tale of “cautionary optimism,” and are calling for continued long-term conservation efforts for the sensitive species.
9. Special funding for the defense of indigenous lands
In the face of the indigenous struggle for land rights around the world, foundations and governments came together this year to create the Tenure Facility fund. It’s the only global fund whose objective is to help indigenous communities obtain title to their ancestral territory. The founding argument behind the initiative is key: indigenous peoples are the best guardians of our planet’s natural heritage.
10. Your dedication to building a better world
2017 was a difficult year in terms of international environmental policy, full of struggles and challenges. But those challenges also inspired greater numbers of people to ask themselves what more they can do in their home, in their work, and in their community. At AIDA, we saw that drive to help reflected in each donation we received, each message of support that reached our inboxes, and each new person who joined our webinars, commented on our posts, and became part of our community.
Thanks for all you do. Let’s move into 2018 in solidarity, in defense of our planet and its last wild lands.