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Climatic change and environmental functions of forests


The situation in Navarre with regard to climate change is one of concern given that gas emissions from the greenhouse effect are even greater than the average in Spain (45%). This is the conclusion of Miren Sarasíbar Iriarte on defending her PhD Law thesis at the Public University of Navarre recently. She analysed sources involving legal norms regulating the environmental functions of forests with reference to international, European Community and Spanish legislation.

Doctor Sarasibar argues that climate change is the most serious problem of all time and that one of the best measures to put a halt to it, using legislation on forestry, is for public administration to encourage the environmental function of drainage by forests. Moreover, forestry protection and conservation are amongst the challenges for rural development policy.

Atmospheric climate and weather as legal entities

Climate change is a serious problem and of a global nature, both in its causes and its effects and, thereby, cries out for the attention from all aspects of public administration. In this regard, the Intergovernnmental Panel on Climatic Change (IPCC), the ruling scientific body in this field, has stated quite clearly the undoubted existence of climate change. Given this, and using current legislation as a basis, legal solutions to the problem have been sought.

The thesis is divided into two parts. In the first climate change is approached as a judicial study where conceptual questions, the norms concerning global warming and other questions of interest thereof are analysed. It is established that both the atmospheric climate and weather are legal entities in so far as legislation confers legal status and consequences on them.

When climate change was first recognised in legal terms was at the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Subsequently, the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 developed the contents of the Convention. The aim of both was to reduce the anthropogenic emissions of the atmosphere. This very objective has been incorporated into the international, European Community and Spanish legislation that regulate measures for fighting against climate change.

Something more than its contents arise from the Kyoto Protocol: primarily, commitments by Participating States are established for the reduction of emissions. Nevertheless, given the difficulties in complying with such commitments, mechanisms for flexibility have been foreseen: countries can work jointly to reach the fixed percentages. This is the joint application mechanism or joint action, the mechanism for a clean development and trade in rights of emission.

The last of these is the one which has had the most legislation to date and, in the other two mechanisms, projects for afforestation and reafforestation in a different State are involved, directed at ameliorating the effects of climate change due to CO2 emission by means of the drainage function of forests.

This drainage function means taking advantage of and obtaining performance from a natural resource – the forests – as an efficient means of reducing atmospheric contamination and, in consequence, limiting the global warming of the planet. In this regard, forests have to be considered three-dimensionally -economically, socially and environmentally. This multifunctionality needs a suitable forestry policy in order that all these uses and functions can co-exist with an appropriate analysis of all forestry resources.

Spanish forestry policy

In the second part of her thesis, Miren Sarasíbar analyses Spanish forestry policy throughout its history and whereby the predominance of the economic and productive nature of forests can be traced as far back as to the 1957 Law on Mountains. This tendency changed with Legislation on Mountains 43/2003, giving more importance to environmental aspects.

Legislation provides three forms of subsidies: loans, allowances and economic incentives. These measures, according to the researcher, are the best way to incorporate a real environmentalist philosophy, given that the granting of subsidies by the Authorities provides the individual with more motivation for carrying out sustainable forest management.

Also, as a way of encouraging specific initiatives, there are the subsidies for afforestation and reafforestation in order to trigger the drainage function in rural development policy. Moreover, it is worth pointing out the relevance of the biomass and forestry residues in the fight against climate change. In this regard, the Law on Mountains confirms the environmental benefits of both.

On the other hand, the researcher is more critical with the little interest shown by local authorities in this Law, when it is legislation that directly affects them legally, given that they are the ones responsible for management and care of the forests.

Irati Kortabitarte | alfa
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