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Colección: INTERAMER
Número: 69
Año: 2000
Autor: Ramón López and Juan Carlos Jordán, Editors
Título: Sustainable Development in Latin America: Financing and Policies Working in Synergy


The need for effective environmental enforcement is increasingly recognized in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Declaration of Santa Cruz de la Sierra (December 1996) states that the countries will “develop national mechanisms for effective enforcement of applicable international and national laws and provisions.”

The political acknowledgment of the importance of environmental enforcement is likely to stem from the recognition that the degree to which environmental quality can be improved by public policy depends not only on the wisdom inherent in the policy design, but also on the effectiveness of its enforcement. Policies that initially seem to offer promise may, in the glare of hindsight, prove unsuitable if enforcement is difficult or lax. Implementing a successful sustainable development strategy requires careful attention to the environmental consequences of economic activities. Ignoring these environmental impacts or treating them as inconsequential can undermine human and ecosystem health and the resource base on which all economic development ultimately depends (Tietenberg, 1996).

Environmental enforcement has been broadly defined as “the range of actions governments and others may take to encourage and compel compliance with environmental requirements” (Wasserman, 1994). Environmental enforcement is obviously important to protect environmental quality and public health. When enforcement actions are planned and carried out effectively, environmental enforcement also contributes to building and strengthening the credibility of environmental requirements, ensuring fairness, and reducing costs and liability (Wasserman, 1994). In general, a lack of official response to violations could harm the credibility of environmental laws and governmental agencies. This lack of credibility in turn may lead to serious costs for business and undermine efforts to attract investors. Moreover, a system under which there is no coherent priority setting and no systematic policy to target polluters will result in inefficiently high costs of compliance. In those cases pollution control is often pursued where resistance is least rather than where costs are lowest or benefits are highest (World Bank, 1996).

However, how best to focus environmental enforcement activities in order to achieve cost-efficient environmental compliance (that is, with a maximum of benefits over costs, or net benefits) is still subject to much debate. Much depends on the adequacy of the environmental laws and regulations themselves, but also on the costs related to enforcement activities, such as monitoring, and the availability of instruments and capacity of institutions, not least the judiciary. This report will describe some of the recent developments in the Latin American and Caribbean countries in this respect. It will also review whether environmental fines can contribute to revenue generation and highlight some of the changes that are taking place through increased private enforcement and voluntary compliance. Whereas private enforcement may bring nontraditional actors in the enforcement scene, such as non-governmental organizations and private companies, programs of voluntary compliance are focused on the potential polluters (“the regulated community”) themselves, to make them more responsible for and responsive to environmental laws and regulations.