Peru’s presidential hopefuls are uninterested in the environment
Peru has six former presidents on trial for corruption and has witnessed 197 social conflicts in the last year. More than half of these are related to the environment, such as pollution or water use. The country's economy has been devastated by the pandemic, which has resulted in the deaths of more than 158,000 Peruvians, according to the Peruvian National Death Information System (Sinadef).
Peru's next leader will have the responsibility not only to revive the economy, but also to heal the country’s wounds. "Recovering confidence”, in Peru’s economy, as Peru's environment minister Gabriel Quijandría told Diálogo Chino, “is a priority”.
The question is: what will be the priority for the next government?
In the presidential run-off on 6 June, right-wing Keiko Fujimori of the Fuerza Popular party will face off against left-wing Pedro Castillo from Peru Libre. While the former promotes a social market economy – the continuity of the current model – the latter proposes a bigger role for the state, intervening and renegotiating the distribution of profits with mining and oil companies.
Despite the need to build electoral support and sign pacts with other political parties and civil organisations that demand a greater commitment to the environment and society in Peru, the two candidates maintain their conservatism and also their lack of clarity on environmental and human rights issues.
Does Peru's next president care about the environment?
NGOs and the Ombudsman's Office have spoken out, demanding more information from candidates on the issue. "The environmental issue is strategic in our country. People have the right to be clearly informed about what their environmental proposals are," said Alicia Abanto, deputy of the Ombudsman's Office for the Environment, Public Services and Indigenous Peoples.
However, in recent weeks, discussions within the two parties have responded to such demands.
"In no case is there any mention of increasing the number of natural protected areas or having some areas that are untouchable. There are certain ecosystems that must be conserved and, preferably, in some of them there should not even be any type of productive activity", Beatriz Salazar, coordinator of the Climate Change Programme of the Peruvian Centre for Social Studies (Cepes), told national newspaper El Comercio, stressing that, despite this, both parties have shown "interest in expanding and prioritizing water programmes".
Silvana Baldovino, Director of the Biodiversity and Indigenous Peoples Programme of the Peruvian Society for Environmental Law (SPDA), said: "Fujimori's and Castillo's government plans do not consider the environmental issue as a fundamental axis of our country's development.”
In a 90-page government plan, Fujimori has an environmental chapter that consists of one and a quarter pages. Castillo devotes two pages to it in his 77-page plan. Nor do we have any idea how they will manage our protected areas, the Peruvian sea and its resources.
Peru, environment and climate change
According to an analysis of both government plans by journalist Paul Maquet, neither climate change or environmental crisis are terms that appear. Nor are there any real proposals for the reduction of polluting emissions and deforestation.
In the case of Fuerza Popular, it pledges: "to reduce, according to our capacities, the environmental impact of economic activity and to prepare the country to be in a position to face the present and future challenges that global warming brings with it".
On Peru Libre's side, the only mention is a criticism of NGOs, "which present themselves, for example, as defenders of nature, when in their countries of origin they sustain the most inhumane system that is causing global warming".
Rolando Luque of the Ombudsman's Office says indigenous peoples are demanding environmental remediation and economic compensation for the constant environmental impacts caused by extractives activities.
of social conflicts in Peru relate to the defence of the environment
Environment minister Quijandría, adds that "access to water and environmental remediation" are included in all demands. Some 65% of the 197 social conflicts generated in the last year involve defending the environment.
"Peru has lost six environmental defenders in the last year. That is why we need to ratify the Escazú Agreement and continue strengthening the environmental defenders' regime. We need immediate action to avoid more deaths," stressed Baldovino.
Fuerza Popular did not support the ratification of the Escazú Agreement in Congress, a pending issue for Peru. Likewise, in its government plan, it does not mention anything about human rights. Peru Libre "strongly questions the international justice system on human rights issues", as Paul Maquet comments, expressing his concern that Castillo’s party will try to delegitimise international bodies.
Both Keiko Fujimori and Pedro Castillo promote the exploitation of natural resources for development in their government plans.
The right-wing candidate points to the importance of generating investment and economic growth, "maintaining a model of intensive exploitation of natural resources under the same ownership and taxation scheme", according to Maquet.
The representative of the radical left, with his slogan: "No more poor people in a country of rich people", would promote, as his government plan states, sustainable and responsible extractivism. "He proposes profound changes in property schemes, including the nationalisation of a series of large mining, hydrocarbon and energy projects”, Maquet says, adding that he also plans to reform how they are taxed. “Bolivia and Ecuador serve as his as models," he adds.
In neither case is their mention of Peru’s climate commitments under the Paris Agreement, let alone a national climate change strategy. Fujimori has been a staunch defender of informal mining, which has deforested more than 209,000 hectares in the Southern Amazonian department of Madre de Dios in the last two decades. The area lost is equivalent to as if the Barcelona, Miami, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires and Lisbon combined.
The outlook for Peru in the coming years looks uncertain in environmental and social terms. With little clarity on how its next leader plans to address these critical issues, the country faces an uphill challenge.