Sustainability and Environmental challenges

Between 1998 and 2018, Argentina lost 6.5 million hectares of native forests, of which 2.8 million occurred between 2008 and 2018. The annual percentage of loss decreased from 0.94% in 2007 to 0.34% in 20151 . However, since 2016 the rate increased to 0.42 in 2018 (about 180 thousand hectares). Four regions hold 87% of the deforestation, Chaco Park region, mainly Santiago del Estero (28%), Salta (21%), Chaco (14%), and Formosa (13%). The area constitutes the second focus of deforestation in South America after the Amazon1 . Deforestation links directly linked to agricultural expansion. Argentina is the first world exporter of soy meal and oil and the third of soybeans2 which has made that land use cover change is the main environmental pressure in the country. Between 1991 and 2013, the area sown with soy, corn, and wheat grew from 13.3 million hectares to 33.7 million (+153%)3 . From these crops, soy is relevant because it accounts for more than 40% of the national cropland4 . Besides, soy expansion is also associated with deforestation in the Bolivian and Paraguay Chaco5 . It is worth to pointed out that agricultural expansion links to other kinds of environmental degradation like the use of agrochemicals6 which increased tenfold in the last 20 years, air pollution, loss of pollinators and other fauna, contamination of water resources, and soil depletion7 . Analysis of tradeoffs between expansion and intensification of agriculture is essential. For example, the use of genetically modified (GMO) crops from which Argentina is the 3rd user in the world, use of fertilizers, water demand and pollution8 . Besides the environmental challenges in rural areas, for human population, cities where more than 90% of the people live9 , the environmental challenges are dominated by air and water pollution, poor waste management, and exposure to natural hazards, especially urban floods8 .

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Source:, Author: Hector Perez (San Salvador de Jujuy, Argentina)
  • 1 a b Mónaco, M., Peri, P., Medina, F., Colomb, H., Rosales, V., Berón, F., Manghi, E., Miño, M., Bono, J., Silva, J., González, J., Kehler, J., Ciuffoli, L., Presta, F., Gar, A., 2020. Causas e impactos de la deforestación de los bosques nativos de Argentina y propuestas de desarrollo alternativas. Ministerio de Ambiente y Desarrollo Sostenible, Argentina. 60p.
  • 2Calzada, J., & Rozadilla, B. (2018). Despachos de aceites vegetales al exterior en 2017. Bolsa de Comercio de Rosario – Informativo Semanal, 35(1854), 4–6.
  • 3Cáceres, D.M., Gras, C., 2020. A tipping point for agricultural expansion? Technological changes and capital accumulation in Argentina's rural sector. Journal of Agrarian Change 20, 79-97.
  • 4MAyDS, 2020. Informe del estado del ambiente 2019; Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires. Ministerio de Ambiente y Desarrollo Sostenible de la Nación (MAyDS), 2020.
  • 5Fehlenberg, V., Baumann, M., Gasparri, N.I., Piquer-Rodriguez, M., Gavier-Pizarro, G., Kuemmerle, T., 2017. The role of soybean production as an underlying driver of deforestation in the South American Chaco. Global Environmental Change 45, 24-34.
  • 6Jergentz, S., Mugni, H., Bonetto, C., & Schulz, R. (2005). Assessment of insecticide contamination in runoff and stream water of small agricultural streams in the main soybean area of Argentina. Chemosphere, 61(6), 817–826.
  • 7Bouza, M., Aranda-Rickert, A., Brizuela, M., Wilson, M., Sasal, M., Sione, S., Beghetto, S., Gabioud, E., Oszust, J., Bran, D., Velazco, V., Gaitán, J., Silenzi, J., Echeverría, N., De Lucia, M., Lurman, D., Vanzolini, I., Castoldi, F., Etorena J., Johnson, T., Meyerm, S., and Nkonya, E., 2016. Economics and Land degradation in Argentina, in Economics of Land Degradation and Improvement – A Global Assessment for Sustainable Development, Ephraim Nkonya, Alisher Mirzabaev Joachim von Braun (Editors), Springer Open, ISBN 978-3-319-19167-6, ISBN 978-3-319-19168-3 (eBook). DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-19168-3. Pp.291-326.
  • 8 a b The World Bank, 2016. Argentina Country Environmental Analysis.
  • 9UN WUP 2014: World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision, United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. Highlights (ST/ESA/SER.A/352)
Analysis of drivers of environmental degradation

The main driver of environmental degradation in Argentina is the continued expansion of industrial-scale agriculture, especially soy production, which experienced a remarkable increase in cultivated areas. Deforestation for cattle production has also expanded in the region during this period1 . Underlying causes related to this degradation are 1) insufficient land use planning and enforcement and 2) favorable policy, market, and technological conditions, including high commodity prices, which have favored the expansion of soy production. Based on the Environment Performance Index (EPI), in 2020, Argentina’s score is 52.2 out of 1002 . This index pointed out that the country has many challenges in the fisheries sector due to the lack of the Federal Fisheries Law reinforcement on trawling catches are discarded that is estimated in 25-30%, threatening many fish and invertebrate species. In addition, there is bycatch of more than 20 species3 of sharks and rays, many of them considered to be highly vulnerable to exploitation4 . These figures suggest a second driver related to the increasing demand for sea products that is fisheries management. A third driver is associated to urban expansion which negatively impact air and water pollution and waste management. For instance, air pollution in Buenos Aires, Córdoba, and Mendoza are many times higher than the WHO recommended threshold. The average PM2.5 pollution in Buenos Aires exceeds the WHO recommended threshold of 10 µg/m3 almost 6-fold, Córdoba about 3-fold, and Mendoza about 2-fold. This relates to the circulating cars that increased from 2 million vehicles in 1990 to 12 million in 20141 . Moreover, urban expansion affects the augment of waste production1 . Another driver is the mining sector that left a legacy of land-use change, harmful by-products, waste, and difficult mining closures1 .

Analysis of combined environmental impacts

Agriculture and livestock production is important for the Argentinian economy. Record yields of soy and a flourishing in Argentine beef sales to China have come environmental consequences of a model that pins hopes of limitless macroeconomic growth on agricultural exports1 . Despite the economic development, there are many negative impacts associated with the profitable agricultural sector. Many evidence in Argentina, support the affectations of the land use cover change on biodiversity2 , agricultural suitability (soil erosion and fertility), climate regulation (carbon storage in biomass and soil), and flood regulation (excess rainfall retention by vegetation)3 , and regional and local climate4 . Some synergies and combined effects relate these economic activities related to food production. On the one hand, agriculture, livestock, and land-use changes account for more than 35% of the greenhouse gases emissions5 . On the other hand, climate change and the modifications in frequency and intensity of extreme events like droughts affect the agricultural and livestock sector and ecosystems. In 2019, Argentina experienced prolonged and severe droughts impacting water supply disruptions, forest fires, reduced agricultural yields, decreased river transport on the Paraguay and Parana rivers, and a considerable drop in hydroelectric energy production6 . Regarding fires, in 2020, Argentina experienced 74,111 fires, the highest number in twenty years and more than 200% of those fires in 20197 . The most affected areas were the Parana River Delta and Buenos Aires and Cordoba Provinces8 . Climatic trends and possible nonlinear interactions among human activities well beyond sustainable levels need to be carefully assessed. This assessment requires a combination of scientific knowledge through dynamic modeling and participatory research of the stakeholders to coproduce conceptual developments and to propose actions to increase the resistance and resilience of the socioecological systems9 . It is to notice the relationship among the agroindustry, the agricultural livestock, and urban expansion, with the increasing risk and reinforcement of climate change impacts. Consequently, it is evident the necessity to analyze and propose jointly actions to achieve the 2,6,12,13 and 15 SDGs.

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Author: Recep Tayyip


  • 1Profeta, D., 2019. Argentina reels from soy and beef expansion, in…, consulted 05/11/2021.
  • 2Torres, R., Gasparri, N.I., Blendinger, P.G., Grau, H.R., 2014. Land-use and land-cover effects on regional biodiversity distribution in a subtropical dry forest: a hierarchical integrative multi-taxa study. Regional Environmental Change 14, 1549-1561.
  • 3Barral, M.P., Villarino, S., Levers, C., Baumann, M., Kuemmerle, T., Mastrangelo, M., 2020. Widespread and major losses in multiple ecosystem services as a result of agricultural expansion in the Argentine Chaco. Journal of Applied Ecology 57, 2485-2498.
  • 4Salazar, A., Baldi, G., Hirota, M., Syktus, J., McAlpine, C., 2015. Land use and land cover change impacts on the regional climate of non-Amazonian South America: A review. Global and Planetary Change 128, 103-119.
  • 5Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Desarrollo Sostenible. 2020. Inventario de gases de efecto invernadero 2019. Available in…
  • 6Naumann, G., Podesta, G., Marengo, J., Luterbacher, J., Bavera, D., Arias Muñoz, C., Barbosa, P., Cammalleri, C., Chamorro, L., Cuartas, A., de Jager, A., Escobar, C., Hidalgo, C., Leal de Moraes, O., McCormick N., Maetens, W., Magni, D., Masante, D., Mazzeschi, M., Seluchi, M., Skansi, M. M., Spinoni, J., Toreti., A. The 2019-2021 extreme drought episode in La Plata Basin, in Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2021, ISBN 978-92-76- 41898-6 (online), doi:10.2760/773 (online), JRC126508.
  • 7INPE, 2021. Fires Statistics by country, in…
  • 8NASA, 2020, Fires in Argentina, available in, consulted 05/11/2021
  • 9Izquierdo, A., Grau, H., Navarro, C., Casagranda, E., Castilla, M., Grau, A., 2018. Highlands in Transition: Urbanization, Pastoralism, Mining, Tourism, and Wildlife in the Argentinian Puna. Mountain Research and Development 38, 390-400.
Data Gaps

Argentina has developed advances in environmental information and its accessibility1 . The country has websites on greenhouse gasses emissions2 , native forests3 , biodiversity4 , protected areas5 , and risk to climate change6 . However, these portals need to be improved. We identified some areas of missing or outdated data:

Land use/ cover: 
  1.  native forest distribution through the time;
  2. agricultural and livestock grazing areas expansion;
  3. spatial data of mining concessions;
  4. land use/cover national maps for different time horizons.
Agriculture and livestock:
  1. annual spatial data distribution and production of main crops;
  2. cattle distribution and production at different levels (districts, communes, or municipalities);
  3. data about the use of agricultural fertilizers at different levels (districts, communes, or municipalities);
  4. data on agricultural subsidies (departments, communes, or municipalities);
  5. spatial data on soil fertility, 6) data on the use of water by the agricultural and livestock sector, and its treatment;
  6. sensitivity of main crops to climatic variables (temperature and precipitation).
  1. Missing spatial location (geographical coordinates) of the taxa records in the National System on Biodiversity;
  2. data on population trends of threatened species;
  3. Annual data on poaching and illegal trade of species;
  4. data and analysis on the effectiveness of protected areas;
  5. data on population trends of threatened species;
  6. spatial distribution of alien species and population trends.
  1.  changes in climatic variables (maximum or minimum temperature, precipitation, seasonality, evapotranspiration) based on the latest IPCC’s scenarios (CMIP6).
Waste and pollution.
  1. Waste generation at the department, commune, or municipality level;
  2. recycling rate at the department, commune, or municipality level.
  1. Water use at the department, commune, or municipality level;
  2. treatment rate at the department, commune, or municipality level.
  1. Socioeconomic indicators (i.e., Gini, illiteracy, education level, etc.) at the department, commune, or municipality level.
Policy and strategy reponses

Argentina has different tools for its environmental management. These tools can be classified into three classes. 1) To refer to technical-administrative procedures (like the Environmental Impact Assessments or Environmental Planning); 2) to manage a particular biome or region, and 3) to regulate or specify normative aspects (covering all kinds of norms, be they laws, decrees, or resolutions of environmental content)1 .

The General Environmental Law No. 25,675  is the framework law regarding minimum budgets.  It incorporated the Environmental Impact Assessments, and it has focused on many environmental issues. Besides, there are guidelines such as those for the Environmental Impact Studies like the Strategic Environmental Assessments. The second political response focuses on a certain topic or ecosystem, like the Mountain Committee. This committee provides actions to avoid or mitigate processes as erosion and land-use change. The Committee of Mountains links to The Mountain Committee Action Plan and SDG 15.4, which focuses on conserving mountain ecosystems, including their biodiversity. It also has synergies with SDGs 4, 6, 7, and 13. There are some projects like No one is left behind. SDG in ActionMountain shelters of the Argentine Army and incorporation of energies renewable (Neuquén), Honey Added Value Project (Valle Beekeepers Association Traslasierra), Regional Project of Participatory Management of Mountain Areas, within the framework of the Andean Initiative, and the green cover mountains index. Finally, the normative can be divided into topics like soil (the National Action Program Fight Against Desertification, Land Degradation, and Mitigation of the Drought), water (State of Water Emergency in specific regions/ Act 67/19). Some normative regarding biodiversity are resolutions 04/19 and 38/19 lead to alien species. There are some normative for specific aims like the management plan for Bulnesia Sarmiento, guanaco, the National Restoration Plan of Native Forests, the National Strategy of Sustainable Housing. Regarding residues and climate change, Argentina has normative like the National Strategy of Sustainable Waste Management Universal Generation Specials and the First National Plan for Adaptation and Climate Change Mitigation1 .

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All for the Earth, Author: Artem Podrez



Alma Mendoza-Ponce, Consultant

UNEP’s Latin America and the Caribbean Office


Specific documentation from the country
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