Forty days have passed since the Law creating the Catalan Nature Agency was approved in Parliament on 17 June and published in the DOGC on 7 July. Enough time, now that forties are in vogue. A period of time also sufficient to make a restful analysis and away from some tensions that arose weeks before approval.
The legislative framework for biodiversity and the natural heritage of Catalonia has had historical shortcomings, which does not mean that it has not been effective when it should have been. Possibly the first stone of the legislative framework for the nature of modern Catalonia is found in Law 12/1985, of 13 June, on natural spaces, which makes it possible, among other things, to approve the Plan of Areas of Natural Interest (PEIN) in 1992. The implementation of the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive and the consequent arrival of the Natura 2000 Network, were adding elements to a regulatory catalog that has been deployed mainly with specific instruments such as Special Protection Plans, catalogs of biodiversity, laws for the creation of special protection natural spaces, etc.
Thus, possibly the original sin was (and still is) the lack of technical and economic resources, and not so much the legislative framework. It is in this sense that the Law of creation of the Agency of the Nature of Catalonia was so necessary, because it is a Law that implements tools and resources. It is not a law that complements or complicates the legislative framework, but helps to push it.
The purpose of the Agency, according to the same Law, is to preserve the natural heritage, biodiversity and geodiversity and to guarantee the environmental services and the positive externalities of the ecosystems with criteria of integrity, sustainability, persistence and efficiency. A fundamental objective of the Agency will be to integrate and group in a single autonomous body competencies and staff that is now disintegrated, although the integration will not be completely complete. At the same time, it will be an administrative body that will be able to receive direct funds to carry out its functions. On the other hand, and not least, the Agency will be equipped with mechanisms for participation, decision-making and scientific monitoring that are enviable by many other bodies. After years of severe economic and administrative cuts in the management of the natural environment, the approval of the Law and the creation of the Agency are a breath of fresh air that will allow us to breathe deeply and take flight soon.
That said, the controversies that arose weeks before the passage of the Act, around which the Agency would or would not do, are completely unrecognizable in the wording of the Act and, in any case, could become opportunistic. . However, the emergence of this tension, coming largely from a sector of the traditional forestry and agro-livestock sector and a politicized reading of the Nature Agency, makes us see that there is something unresolved. We are facing a conflict, with an important political component, but which also hides a social component and perception of what is and what is not nature conservation. Maybe some haven’t explained themselves well enough, but maybe others haven’t wanted to listen carefully enough. In short, it is a conflict that must be addressed, as long as all parties so wish. But it will be clear that this tension arose solely and exclusively for other interests.
From INSTA we have always contributed to the improvement of environmental law applied to the natural environment, with projects to establish regulatory frameworks for the application of mechanisms for regulating ecosystem services or seeking the best legal form for public and private bodies working by the natural environment. For those of us dedicated to environmental law in our day to day life, seeing Catalonia endow itself with new instruments to make its environmental legislative framework effective is always good news. Even more so when it comes to a legislative framework that is equipped with tools and resources. We cannot legislate if we are not able to make a careful application of it; the Nature Agency was born precisely to prevent this. Probably two years from now this article will be good to do again, assessing how the Agency has been implemented, what has emerged from the drafting of its Statutes and how the tensions that have arisen have evolved. Time to time, but without time overtaking us.
July 27, 2020
Joan Pons Solé
Environmentalist and environmental law consultant at “INSTA – Environmental Legal Services”