An environmental philanthropy law

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Cerro Castillo National Park. Photo: Catalina BillekeCerro Castillo National Park. Photo: Catalina Billeke
 
 
By Eugenio Rengifo
 
Editors Note: The following is from Issue 19
 
Chile has changed. Thanks to public and private efforts, in terms of conservation and national parks, the country has been transformed over the past year into a global model of conservation. Patagonia now concentrates 91.3 percent of the areas protected as national parks in Chile. This geographical area, extending from Puerto Montt to Cape Horn, represents a third of the country’s territory with 17 national parks spread over three regions.
 
The Amigos de los Parques de la Patagonia (Friends of the Patagonia Parks) was formed in response, with the aim of helping to care for and build appreciation of the national parks of Chilean Patagonia. Our organization invites civil society to get involved in parks protection, and to collaborate with the Chilean government by forming alliances with key actors to address the challenges of stewardship. We are united by the conviction that national parks are the best alternative for preserving our natural heritage, guaranteeing its access as a public good and contributing significantly to the economic progress of surrounding communities with tourism as consequence of conservation.
 
One of Chile’s most generous attributes is its natural beauty and diversity. This is an attribute that foreigners particularly appreciate: more than 5.5 million foreign tourists enter the country each year and more than half choose to travel to Chile because of its natural landscape. Still, the Chilean population continues to undervalue its natural assets. In Brazil, a study last year showed that nature protection areas are in fact an effective mechanism to develop local economies as each dollar invested in their management returns 7 dollars to the economy. But in Chile, we have a park service with a deficient budget, one which invests less than 2 dollars per hectare in the management of its protected areas, less than countries such as Costa Rica, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, and El Salvador. It is a poor system lacking in incentives, with budget items actually decreasing as operating income increases through entrance fees, which represent approximately 50 percent of the overall revenue.
 
As well, we have a tax system that punishes donations for environmental purposes by levying taxes on the grantee, which can range progressively from 1 to 25 percent depending upon the amount donated. If the donor is a company, there is little incentive to donate because its seen as a disallowed expense that is subject to the 40 percent income tax, as if it were a profit withdrawal.
 
We are convinced that a citizenry sensitized about the attributes of their national parks, and a state that guarantees its proper management and public-private associativity, is the best route for the future. Amigos de los Parques will be a bridge between the perspectives to mobilize the actors and the resources needed to preserve this wonderful legacy. However, without tools and incentives that promote civil society action, it is practically impossible to ensure their conservation. According to a study by the Centro de Políticas Públicas (Center for Public Policies) of the Universidad Católica de Chile, civil society organizations (CSOs) generate 310,000 jobs, equivalent to 3.7 percent of the country's workforce; nonetheless, environmental organizations are among the sectors with the least presence, its 2,110 institutions dedicated to the issue represent just 0.9 percent of the civil society work force.
 
In order for NGOs to mobilize on behalf of the environment and natural resources, an environmental philanthropy law is urgently needed.
 
If we fail to make progress on this path we will continue in the tremendous paradox of having one of the most celebrated protected territories without the possibility of activating programs and groups of people organized for their care.
 
The writer, Eugenio Rengifo, is executive director of Amigos de los Parques de la Patagonia.