Three analysts highlight some of the initiatives of the president-elect, Guillermo Lasso, and propose how to execute them and the country’s environmental priorities.
The government plan of president-elect Guillermo Lasso “is quite general, it focuses on the what but does not indicate the how, and it contains some very ambitious goals that will be difficult to meet in the current economic context,” says Luis Suárez, executive director of Conservation International in Ecuador.
Added to what is written in the plan is the public commitment to the group Frente al Ambiente, on April 1, which includes a broad agenda. “Keeping his word is, in itself, a great challenge, since it is necessary to regain the public’s trust in the word of politicians, ” he says. In this sense, he adds: “It is important that Lasso define a roadmap for compliance .”
Suárez lists 14 priorities, which are:
- The political, technical, budgetary and operational strengthening of the Ministry of the Environment and Water. With a strong, efficient and stable environmental authority, we all win.
- Strengthen and expand the National Program of Incentives for Conservation (Socio Bosque), which provides direct incentives to collective and individual owners of forests, páramos, mangroves and other native ecosystems to reduce emissions, conserve biodiversity and generate entrepreneurship in rural areas.
- Strengthen the management of the National System of Protected Areas (SNAP), through decentralized management with a landscape approach that is financially sustainable and involves participatory governance that promotes the effective management of our natural heritage.
- The recovery of the environmental institutional body on the Coast, through the creation of the Undersecretariat of Marine and Coastal Management and the strengthening of the Inter-institutional Committee of the Sea, which promote integrated coastal management with the coastal GADs and marine spatial planning.
- A front-facing fight against corruption and impunity in order to sanction environmental crimes – such as lunging and hunting – in an exemplary way, as well as combating pollution through coordinated work between the Police, the Navy, the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Judicial bodies.
- Provide priority attention to indigenous peoples and nationalities in regard to the comprehensive management of their territories, while respecting their rights and autonomy, valuing their traditional knowledge and promoting economic alternatives based on nature.
- Promote the reform of article 74 of the Constitution, in order to develop a voluntary carbon market that allows reducing and offsetting the carbon footprint (achieving carbon-neutrality) and financing the conservation of forests and other native ecosystems through direct economic incentives for the owners, either individual or collective.
- Strengthen environmental control and auditing of infrastructure works and mining, oil, forestry and fishing activities, applying the hierarchy of mitigation to prevent, reduce, mitigate and compensate for social and environmental impacts.
- Strict respect for the intangible zone and the uncontacted peoples in the Yasuní, as well as independent monitoring and socio-environmental auditing of oil operations.
- Expand the protection of Galapagos marine biodiversity through the creation of a new multiple-use protected area, with strict protection zones and zones for regulated tourism and fishing activities, to strengthen ecological connectivity with other protected areas in the Eastern Tropical Pacific.
- Combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and the capture of threatened species by national and foreign fleets in the territorial sea and in the exclusive economic zone, through coordinated actions between environmental, fishing and maritime authorities.
- Promote water security throughout the country, including access to safe water, sanitation and wastewater treatment, comprehensive management of water resources for productive activities, and disaster prevention.
- Repeal the regulations that allow the “incidental capture” of sharks and manta rays, as well as the transport, commercialization and export of shark fins, increasing the control and sanction measures for the fishing of these species.
- Promote environmental education, the circular economy, electric mobility, agricultural production free from deforestation and entrepreneurship based on biodiversity, through coordinated and intersectoral work.
The first thing, says Suárez, is to designate an environmental authority that has the capacity and commitment to lead, over the next four years, the strengthening of the MAAE. “Let’s hope that the ministers will last four years in office and that the president will eliminate the bad practice of oxygenating the Cabinet, which has done so much damage to the country, by subtracting continuity and stability from public management.”
“We must have more control and sanction capacity,” says former Minister of the Environment María de Lourdes Luque
There are three elements that have outlined the environmental strategy of President-elect Guillermo Lasso during the campaign. The first is what is contained in the government plan. The second is the green economy proposal added in the second round. And the third is the commitment he signed with environmentalists in Quito, in which there are more concrete commitments, says María de Lourdes Luque, former Minister of the Environment.
This roadmap, says Luque, requires environmental institutions. “This is the main problem we have. When you see that the Chinese fleet arrives and fishes at the gates of the Galapagos Islands, nothing can be done about this shortcoming.”
Rivers contaminated with mining waste and plastic floating in bodies of water are some of the effects of the lack of control, which the new regime will have to remedy, she says. “When certain environmentalists say that the Galapagos Marine Reserve must be expanded, I wonder how you are going to take care of it if you cannot protect what we already have.”
An alternative, which is included in Lasso’s government plan, is the creation of alliances with civil society to better control the environment. “The capacity for control and sanction must be strengthened. Along with this, the highest possible capacity for innovation and technology must be demanded regarding the exploitation of natural resources; it must be demanded that Ecuador is not the garbage dump of oil and mining technology,” adds the specialist.
It is necessary to give guarantees to the population, says Luque, that the exploitation will not generate a deterioration in the quality of life of those who live near the deposits, but rather a sensible distribution of profits. “You have to guarantee that things will not be done as before. The problem of mining is that we have in our heads the image that oil has served to enrich a handful of living people that they leave with the pollution.”
The use of technology in control is essential. “Yes there are ways, but what is lacking is political decision.” Luque assures that the plan must be accompanied by environmental education and communication to report environmental crimes directly.
“Zero deforestation should be the goal in the coming years,” says Tarsicio Granizo, WWF director in Ecuador.
The loss of forests, mentioned as a problem in the Ecuador Verde plan of the president-elect, Guillermo Lasso, is one of the two greatest challenges that the new regime will face, says Tarsicio Granizo, director of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in Ecuador. The other serious problem, he adds, is the effect of climate change. “This requires specific measures in the global arena to have regional positions.”
The goal should be zero deforestation in the coming years, he says. “There are no accurate data, but it is estimated that the country loses between 40,000 and 80,000 hectares of forest each year. In the most conservative scenario, that is 40,000 soccer fields. I am concerned that, due to the economic situation in the country, there are proposals to implement large-scale agriculture without mentioning the need not to increase the agricultural frontier,” says Granizo.
According to the specialist, the roadmap of what has been proposed must be employed via a government program focused on environmental, social and economic sustainability and which is formalized as State policy.
Lasso’s plan includes the reorganization of fisheries in the Galapagos archipelago, says Granizo, but that must also be done “throughout the territorial sea,” as well as promoting research.
“Part of the problem is that we don’t know [the extent and value of] our biodiversity. One of the key issues for the country’s economy is to start looking for answers in what is called the bioeconomy, but for that, research is needed,” adds Granizo. In Ecuador only 5% of the national biodiversity is known , he adds.
Lasso proposes a transition to produce in a more sustainable way. This will require, says Granizo, improving production per hectare without having to expand the agricultural frontier. “The hectare of African palm in Colombia, passing the river, produces more than 50% of what is produced in the same area in Ecuador; that must be fixed with research, bringing in external experience if necessary, on how to improve productivity without opening new fronts,” says Granizo. (I)
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