The general approval of the Omnibus Law enabled the specific articles to be treated as of today. Among them is the one that enables the modification of the Glacier Law and which aroused strong rejection among environmental organizations and scientists.
Law 26,639 was passed in 2010 to preserve glaciers and periglacial environments, which are sources of water resources for populations and biodiversity. Within the regulations, the national inventory of glaciers was created, developed by the Argentine Institute of Nivology, Glaciology and Environmental Sciences (Ianigla), in coordination with the then Ministry of the Environment of the Nation.
Read also: Enablement to clear forests and creation of carbon markets: what the Omnibus Law says about the environment
The central modification that the Executive wants to introduce with the Omnibus Law is to narrow the definition of glaciers and that smaller ones do not enter this category. Nor those that have not been included in the inventory, which is incomplete.
“The most relevant damage of the modification to the glacier law is that a large extension of the mountain range will no longer be protected. This means that activities that are currently prohibited can be carried out in areas where snow infiltrates and then recharges the river basins,” researcher Lucas Ruiz, who is part of Ianigla, explained to TN. And he added: “The law provides more security so that the water that is born in those basins is not contaminated.”
Glaciers are formed by a combination of factors. This is snow that turns into ice and accumulates in layers over time thanks to the persistence of different environmental conditions, such as low temperatures at very high altitudes. They are a vital reserve of fresh water.
When some layers of a sector of the glaciers melt, both due to the increase in global temperature and because it is the lowest end of the mountain, the water filters into the territory to once again adopt its frozen form underground. . This generally occurs in places that are below the glacier zone and can be considered as underground ice, which also accumulates in layers.
Rubble glacier in Catamarca. (Photo: National Glacier Inventory)
The periglacial environment can be considered as frozen land, where ice can form from the presence of humidity and exposure to low temperatures, generally close to 0º or less. Freezing can occur both on the surface and above or below it, becoming a water reserve since, in the event of total or partial thawing, that mass would be transformed into water.
Other variants are rock glaciers, a combination of underground glaciers and rocks with no ice visible; as well as frozen soils with a large amount of ice but that are not considered glaciers. Both alternatives are water reserves and are underground.
The focus is on mining and Ruiz reinforced the concept that the law not only protects glaciers but also the periglacial environment, the latter “ice that is in the subsoil and cannot be seen, especially in areas of the San Juan mountain range. , Mendoza, La Rioja or Catamarca”.
Rubble glaciers in the Ansilta Mountain Range, San Juan (Photo: M. Castro / National Glacier Inventory)
The researcher clarified that, currently, mining is not prohibited in certain areas “if viable projects are carried out that do not go against the law,” but he warned that the modifications proposed in the omnibus law “are very specific towards certain projects that today “They are in conflict with the glacier law.”
The stages of a mining project, as detailed, are very long-term. Explorations to determine if a territory is viable for exploitation of this type require explorations that can last up to 20 years in which the territories are constantly modified.
Problems for biodiversity
These changes lead to another problem that directly affects biodiversity and nearby populations. The dry climate of the region in question means that there is no forest in the mountain range and that most of the fauna and flora coexist in limited places such as high-altitude wetlands, which are precisely recharged from the thawing of glaciers and underground ice. of periglacial environments.
Read also: Wetlands, the key ecosystems that occupy 20% of the country but have no law to protect them
Affecting the water reserves of these wetlands would begin to put an end to these species that depend on these wetlands to live.
“You have to look in detail at those wetlands that are generated in areas below the periglacial environments. Nothing grows for miles around and everyone goes to those places, everything lives there. If something happens upstream and a plain (flood valley) dries up or is damaged, the little life that exists in the surrounding area disappears,” Ruiz warned, adding that it must also be taken into account that the same water flows down to places where human activities take place.
For Pía Marchegiani, deputy executive director of the Environment and Natural Resources Foundation (Farn), “there is a tendency to unprotect key ecosystems that are already protected.”
And he cited as “not a minor point” the degradation of the rank of Environment, which dropped two levels and went from ministry to undersecretary: “This makes the highest environmental authority of a federal country have an extra challenge.”
The Catamarca plateau has about 38,000km2. (Photo: Humedales Foundation / Wetlands International LAC)
“In addition to the additional complexity of generating environmental protections, we must discuss with other portfolios and with the mining, energy and agricultural authorities, how to have transversal plans that protect these ecosystems,” he noted.
The Ianigla researcher, meanwhile, highlighted that the glacier law “is not anti-mining” but seeks to “preserve water”: “We have to think in the long term. If we damage the environment today, in the future it will be much more difficult to adapt to climate change. It is proven that countries that have destroyed or strongly affected their natural environments today have to spend much more money than those that have not.”