MacArthur Awards for Creative & Effective Institutions

Peruvian Society for Environmental Law

Lima, Peru | 2006 Award Recipient

Sharing legal expertise to protect biodiversity in Peru

Even the earth needs a good lawyer. Awed by the natural beauty of Peru and concerned that their grandchildren might not experience the same vibrant, spectacular ecosystems, a group of young lawyers founded the Peruvian Society for Environmental Law in 1986 to offer their legal expertise in helping the nation balance its economic and environmental needs.

As Peru liberalized its economy, the government sought to increase revenue by exploiting mineral, oil, fisheries, and forest resources, often at the expense of important biodiverse areas such as the Andes. To counter the trend, SPDA has helped establish environmental laws and policies to protect conservation areas, improve forest management, and enforce pollution regulations. SPDA has played a central role in establishing legal frameworks to protect natural areas, ecotourism, land use planning, and wetlands conservation. The organization has taken on illegal logging and fishing, mining, energy projects, and large infrastructure projects that risk degrading the natural environment.

A recent trend in Latin America finds control of environmental functions shifting from central to local government control. However, the lack of local technical and regulatory capacity is jeopardizing the legal progress made in conservation over the last several decades. SPDA consults with all levels of government to design the legal foundation for decentralizing environmental governance in the country. It provides invaluable technical assistance and legal support to local governments and community organizations that have little experience in managing conservation policies.

SPDA also ensures continued environmental progress by training public interest lawyers, judges, nongovernmental organizations, and law schools of the major universities in Peru in environmental law. Ensuring continuity, SPDA has documented in case studies the lessons it has learned in Peru and elsewhere in Latin America.

For nearly two decades, the founders of SPDA have tackled many of the most important environmental legal issues in the country. Their work has been integral to strengthening the law and policy framework in Peru for forest management, conservation, and local control over development and environmental issues. New laws and regulations resulting from SPDA’s work form the backbone of biodiversity policy in Peru and have influenced similar efforts elsewhere in the Andean region, thus helping to preserve natural wonders for future generations.


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