Behind the scenes of a ‘growth-economy’
But just like in many places, things in Argentina are not what they appear to be. Yes, it is true that civil society organizations are free to denounce conflicts of interest. Thanks to the relative freedom of expression and the availability of independent media, these organisations can call for attention for the impacts of the unlimited exploitation of natural resources and export of raw materials. Often, their claims are backed up by law. Unfortunately though, this does not lead to any fundamental changes.
Like in many countries, Argentinian law demands that large-scale energy and infrastructure projects are assessed for their environmental and social impacts, but such law is not brought into practice. In some provinces, for example, shale gas exploitation has started without the required risk assessments nor citizen consultations. In a similar vein, binding regulations to protect forests based on formal spatial planning are simply ignored. And despite good legislation on public access to information and public participation, it is a constant struggle for civil society to gain even minimum access to plans for large public works.
Reality in Argentina shows that despite rhetoric and existing laws and regulations, there is no real space for sustainable development and people’s involvement. There is a trade-off between good water quality and large mining projects. Protecting the Argentinian population from the effects of chemical pesticides after all seems far less important than increasing the already huge soybean exports.
What is hidden in other countries is visible in Argentina - thanks to the vibrant community involvement and a reasonably free press. Hidden or not, the reality in other countries is similar; in countries where public debate is less open and freedom of expression is limited, the temptation for governments to sell a country’s natural resources and surrender them to market forces is equally real. Just like in Argentina, economic, political and citizen interests do not always go hand in hand.
Countries like Argentina demonstrate that we should not be naive. Despite good growth figures, the reality behind the scenes show that sustainable and equitable development is a huge challenge. Undoubtedly, representing the Dutch in her new function, Queen Máxima will at some point in the near future visit her country of birth, where she can make an important contribution to bridging the sustainability challenges both her countries face.
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