The Ministry of Environment was set up in March 2015. How does it differ from its predecessor and what are some of your goal and achievements?
One of our biggest accomplishments is the realization of a National Water Security Plan that ensures an integral and holistic approach to the capacity to plan in in the mid and long term. Environmental issues are typically long-term issues that involve timeframes beyond that of any current government. We need to ensure that what we do is sustainable, will last, and that the fruits of our investments can be enjoyed by future generations. We also work on promoting sustainable tourism. Over 40% of Panama is under a protected area category. Communities in these areas typically do not see any benefits to living in these protected areas. One of our objectives is to incorporate the private sector, NGOs, and communities in protecting these areas, while also showing them the benefits of sustainable tourism. This will enable us to appreciate and understand the natural wealth and resources in Panama, while bringing in a source of revenue. In terms of climate change, we participated in the Paris Climate Talks and took part in all the negotiations. We launched, with President Varela, an initiative that will lead to the creation of an international carbon market and the creation of carbon credits through market mechanisms. The need for climate financing is much higher than what can be met through public funds, so we need to incorporate the private sector in that transformation to maintain the global temperature increase at less than two degrees centigrade.
How do education and training come into play in your efforts?
Planning is crucial in terms of setting out the investments that need to happen and in creating awareness of why these investments are important. We are currently doing an extensive consultation on the plan in all the different provinces in Panama. This year we will initiate an important contribution to a private sector initiative for a nationwide competition on water involving high school students who will engage in research and learn about water issues. With the office of the First Lady, we also work with 450 primary schools, supporting projects related to taking care of our surroundings, the importance of recycling, of having trees near water resources, and so on. Projects like this are an effort to invest in our country's future by grooming new generations of Panamanians who realize, understand, and value the importance of environmental resources, security, and sustainability.
What is being done to encourage and develop recycling in Panama?
There are a number of recycling companies in Panama but unfortunately, on the whole, Panamanians are not used to recycling. Recycling is not really a government responsibility, so instead we try to create the right conditions for businesses to take this on and fill that niche. We are also working to create a general law on garbage that will make conditions for better recycling, reducing waste, using space and landfills more efficiently, and providing better services from garbage disposal authorities and municipalities
How is the ministry working to develop sustainable infrastructure in protected areas to promote eco-tourism?
We have started an action plan on sustainable tourism focusing on five protected areas in particular. There are the pilot areas where we invest in infrastructure, create trails and better signaling, improve apps, and establish visitor centers. Each protected area typically has a management plan, and the management has a section that is called a “public use plan" that we will implement. Panama is the regional leader in sustainable tourism and the dynamic agent for communities and the private sector surrounding protected areas. This is the vision we agreed on, as our concept of green tourism. It will serve as a guideline for the government, the private sector, and communities to develop their protected areas into appealing destinations and encourage green tourism in Panama.