UNEPGEO-2000 Next: MEAs and non-binding instruments -->
Previous: Latin America and the Caribbean 
Chapter Three: Policy Responses - Latin America and the Caribbean

The policy background

Over the past decade, domestic and international pressures to fight environmental degradation have increasingly resulted in environmental issues being dealt with in the context of overall development. Preparations for the 1992 United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development led to the establishment of fora to examine environmental and natural resource issues, and a new approach to North-South differences. Gradual economic globalization has led to new international trading practices with significant environmental implications. Governments have sought to strengthen environmental policies through institutional change and legal, technical and economic initiatives, both at the domestic level and through sub-regional cooperation agreements. The open debate that followed the return to democracies in the region has increased pressures for the development of environmental policies and planning systems.

However, these changes have not, on the whole, led to more efficient management or significant environmental progress. In spite of institutional strengthening, public environmental agencies, with their limited and unfocused mandate, have had little impact on industrial and other productive activities and have been involved in clashes with other public agencies and NGOs. The environmental consequences of public policy decisions and private sector initiatives are not being adequately assessed (Brzovic 1993).

The fundamental economic objective remains the implementation and expansion of a liberal approach which relies on export growth and foreign capital inflows, regardless of the consequences for the environment and the preservation of natural resources, and with no internalization of environmental costs (Gligo 1997). Economic policies continue to be drafted according to criteria that imply unsustainability and, in some cases, sheer indifference to environmental impacts (CEPAL/PNUMA 1997). Economic development programmes to fight poverty continue to be unrelated to environmental policy, and poor inter-agency coordination and the lack of focus on the broader picture have limited progress under Agenda 21. Examples of the lack of sectoral integration in environmental policy are given in the box below.

Implementation of environmental policies is often difficult because of inadequate control, monitoring and enforcement mechanisms. In some cases, the legal framework for environmental management is dispersed among many legal texts in diverse institutions, and one environmental issue may be delegated to several public institutions at various political levels. New policies and institutions have not always included the revision of the old legislation. Environmental regulations include complex and sophisticated instruments and norms that are difficult to enforce because of financial restrictions and lack of human and operational resources (IDB 1996).

 Environmental policies: the lack of sectoral integration

Soil and land use

Explicit policies for soil conservation and better land management have mostly failed because of ineffective legislation, institutional weakness, lack of information, inadequate public awareness and emphasis on short-term productivity goals.

The indiscriminate use of pesticides and other agrochemicals is still a problem, and a major challenge in terms of technological change (Gligo 1997). Land management problems are exacerbated by high rural population growth rates, the absence of land-use planning and persistent land tenure difficulties.


Policies to protect forests have failed, mainly because they do not impact on the underlying factors that cause deforestation. Industrial-scale agriculture and agricultural settlement programmes continue; for example agriculture in Bolivia, the midwest region of Brazil and Paraguay is still expanding at the cost of forests (Paraguay 1995). Firewood is still a major source of cheap energy.

There is, however, increasing recognition of the environmental and social value of forests and their ecosystems, including the roles they play in water management, conserving biodiversity, absorbing greenhouse gases, and creating landscapes and scenic value. There is a growing interest in the use of second-growth forests to reduce pressure on native forests, particularly in countries with humid forests.


Virtually all countries have drafted national strategies to preserve biodiversity but only a few have done so on a comprehensive basis. Policies have been successful only through the implementation of laws aimed at regulating and improving the management of wildlife in conservation areas. Governments have generally failed to strengthen agencies in charge of biodiversity preservation.


Many national policies fail to provide for sustainability or involve groups with a specific interest in water issues. In Chile, for instance, water rights are traded on a free market basis, with no restrictions related to conservation or to strategic or social values (IDB 1996). In many countries laws to control water use have failed to take a comprehensive view because of the lack of coordination between the different regulatory agencies involved (CCAD 1997).

In 1997, however, Brazil approved a National Law of Hydraulic Resources which includes water charges and which assigns management to Watershed Committees and Water Agencies which are required to execute integrated policies with public participation.

Marine areas

Policies have been limited to countering the threats of social upheaval caused by reduced fishing activities, and temporary enforcement of regulatory measures in response to warnings from scientific institutions and international programmes such as the Regional Seas Programmes for the South Pacific and the Caribbean. On the Atlantic coast, Argentina and Uruguay have a joint programme for the La Plata estuary with a bi-national executive secretariat.

A few countries are beginning to experiment with the more integrated approach which is vital for coastal areas. Panama, for example, created the Maritime Authority of Panama in 1997 to integrate all issues related to fishing, coastal management and ports (Government of Panama 1998)


Measures to regulate atmospheric pollution have had some positive impact but continue to be insufficient. Mexico City, Santiago de Chile and São Paulo have adopted stringent measures to restrict the circulation of vehicles to improve atmospheric quality. However, little consideration is given to controlling the growth of vehicle numbers, improving urban management or upgrading public transport in areas where emissions fail to meet WHO standards.


UNEPGEO-2000 Next: MEAs and non-binding instruments -->
Previous: Latin America and the Caribbean