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Fires: the protection of the Parana Delta thanks to a key ruling of the Court. By Ricardo Lorenzetti

The fires that occurred in the Paraná Delta area have prompted the intervention of the Supreme Court of Justice of Argentina, which issued a precautionary measure. The importance of this measure is decisive for the protection of the environment.

Regarding this matter, our country has a developed legal system.

From a general point of view, the National Constitution (art. 41), the Civil and Commercial Code of the Nation (arts. 14, 240 and cc) and the law 25,675 protect the environment.

Specifically, the law 26,562, issued in 2009, establishes minimum budgets for environmental protection to control burning activities throughout the national territory, to prevent fires, environmental damage, and risks to health and public safety (Article 1). The law understands burning as the work of eliminating vegetation or vegetation residues through the use of fire, with the purpose of preparing land for its productive use (article 2). Said basic regulations prohibit throughout the national territory any burning activity that does not have the proper authorization issued by the competent local authority, which must be specifically granted (Article 3).

The competent authorities of each jurisdiction must establish conditions and requirements to authorize the burning, which must consider, at least, climatic, seasonal, regional parameters, soil preservation, flora and fauna, as well as technical requirements to prevent the propagation of fire and safeguard public health and safety (article 4).

This law of minimum budgets, applicable in a uniform and even way throughout the territory of the Nation, typifies a system of sanctions, according to the nature of the offense and damage caused: a) warning; b) fine; c) suspension or revocation of other burning authorizations.

The law 26,815, issued in 2013, establishes minimum budgets for environmental protection in the field of forest and rural fires in the national territory (art. 1) and applies to actions and operations for the prevention and combat of forest and rural fires, which burn living or dead vegetation, in native and implanted forests, protected natural areas, agricultural areas, meadows, grasslands, bushes and wetlands (Article 2).

The law 26,331, issued in 2007, protects native forests and their environmental services.

On September the 25th, 2008, the national State and the provinces of Buenos Aires, Entre Ríos and Santa Fe, signed a document called “Letter of Intent” in which they committed themselves to the preparation of a “Comprehensive Strategic Plan for Sustainable Conservation of the Paraná Delta ”(known in Spanish as PIECAS-DP). Within this plan, it was contemplated to deal with the problem linked to the extensive fires or burns of grasslands, mostly intentional, which affected more than 170,000 hectares in different areas of the Paraná Delta.

This brief description is sufficient to reach the conclusion that there is a Constitution, a Code, a general environmental law, a forest protection law, a law prohibiting burning and fires, as well as a strategic plan referring to the Conservation of the Paraná Delta.

These normative instruments, which are part of a broader legal system, did not prevent us from reaching the current situation, in which thousands of hectares have been burned, damaging both the environment and human health.

What is the problem, then?

The issue here is its application, or as it has been currently said, the process of implementing the laws.

The first phase aims to reinforce voluntary compliance with the laws, through awareness-raising processes of the local population and the creation of economic incentives for sustainable use.

The second phase’s goal is compulsory compliance with the law when its non-compliance is verified. In this field, the most complex aspect resides in the fact that conflicts exceed jurisdictions. The problem is that environmental and human damage extends to various municipal, provincial, or national spheres and also to different judicial powers, as has happened in this case.

The Court has advanced by ordering the creation of a committee that includes all jurisdictions and all parties, focused on solving the problem, and has done so through a precautionary measure. With the subsequent development of this process, other aspects that exceed what is urgent will be addressed.

That is why the performance of local authorities, the participation of the population, and the control of law application by the judicial power are so important.

We must take care of the Paraná Delta and the entire environment in general, because a good part of our future quality of life, especially the future generations’ quality of life, is at stake.