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Environmental Crime Legal Framework in Panama

Chapter 7 of Panama’s constitution outlines Articles 118-121. These Articles feature provisions for the protection of the environment. Article 118 reads: “The State has the fundamental obligation to guarantee that its population lives in a healthy environment, free of contamination (pollution), and where air, water, and foodstuffs satisfy the requirements for proper development of human life.”

Article 119, on the other hand, states: “The State, and all the inhabitants of the national territory, have the obligation of promoting economic and social development that prevents environmental contamination, maintains ecological balance, and avoids the destruction of ecosystems.”

According to Article 120, “The State shall regulate, supervise, and apply, at the proper time, the measures necessary to guarantee rational use of, and benefit from, land, river and sea life, as well as forests, lands and waters, to avoid their misuse, and to ensure their preservation, renewal, and permanence.”

Finally, Article 121 ensures that “benefits gained from non-renewable natural resources shall be regulated by law, to avoid social, economic and environmental abuses that could result.”

Featured Legislation

1998: Law 41 (The Environmental Law) was passed, serving as a framework for the protection, conservation and recovery of the environment. It immediately created the Environmental National Authority (“ANAM", for the Spanish acronym) as an autonomous entity of the Panamanian government in charge of natural resources and environmental issues. ANAM is authorized, among other functions, to issue environmental regulations concerning environmental emissions, products, procedures and impose fines. Law 41 ensures that all activities and projects, public or private, require the elaboration of an Environmental Impact Study (“EIS") prior to their execution.

1999: Decree No. 32 was ratified. This Decree creates the National Commission of Phytogenetic Resources of Panama (CONARFIP), attached to the Ministry of Agricultural Development, with the purpose of formulating and coordinating a national program for the conservation and use of phytogenetic resources and the operation of the national network of germplasm banks.

2005: Law No. 13 was adopted. This Law establishes the marine corridor of Panama for the protection and conservation of marine mammals, which includes all marine waters under the jurisdiction of the Republic of Panama, in order to promote research, sighting and investigation of marine mammals.

2008: Law No. 56 was promulgated. The purpose of this General Law of Ports of Panama is to establish the governing regulations for the activity of ports and maritime facilities that exist or are being built, the use of goods granted in concession and the provision of maritime services.

2009: Decree No. 1 was created. This Decree creates the National Climate Change Committee of Panama (CONACCP), in support of the National Environmental Authority (ANAM) in the implementation and monitoring of the National Climate Change Policy.

2015: Decree No. 1  (Initiative for the Development of Ecotourism in the Protected Areas of Panama) was signed. This Decree establishes the Initiative for the Development of Ecotourism in Protected Areas of Panama, led by the Ministry of Environment (MIAMBIENTE), the Tourism Authority of Panama (ATP) and the National Institute of Culture (INAC). The purpose of the Initiative is to define a national vision for the development of ecotourism in protected areas, establish the corresponding inter-institutional coordination mechanisms and a country brand; as well as design a National Action Plan.

2017: Executive Decree No. 47 was instituted. The decree oversees the plan “Panama: The Country of All – Zero Poverty", which is a strategic document of national scope, whose main objective is to reduce poverty in the country, establishing a time horizon of 2030. More precisely, the document is part of the commitment assumed by the Republic of Panama before the Sustainable Development Goals.

2017: The National Strategic Plan was unveiled. This strategic instrument contains the Vision of the State of Panama to 2030. The document is aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals. Based on these Sustainable Development Goals, the priorities are defined around: Decent work and economic growth; Health & Wellness; Peace, justice and solid institutions; Quality education; Sustainable cities and communities. The purposes of the instrument are framed in the following Strategic Axes: 1) Good life for all; 2) Grow more and better; 3) Environmental sustainability; 4) Democracy, institutions and governance; 5) Strategic alliances for development.

Featured Case Studies: Transnational Environmental Crime, Human Security, and Biosecurity

  • Panama is launching a campaign to reverse the deleterious effects of deforestation, most of which is attributed to the expansion of agriculture. Environment minister Milciades Concepcion, in a recent declaration, stated that the country features the highest levels of forest cover in Central America; rainforests take up approximately 65% of its land, as well as mangrove and cloud forest ecosystems. Of late, the “abuse” of logging permits have come to threaten Panama’s forest, rising deforestation rates which have resulted in the nation losing nearly 2% of its forest cover from 2012 to 2019 – the equivalent of about 8,000 hectares (19,768 acres) a year – according to government figures. Concepcion has gone on record that his approach to addressing this will not be punitive because there are socio-cultural dimensions to logging: many rural communities live off logging. In 2021, logging permits granted by the environment ministry were suspended and police have monitored select areas, using drones and satellite imagery to detect and deter these activities. Civil society is also involved in the new campaign; for example, as part of a 2014 pact between the government and business leaders, as well as its national climate action plan, Panama aims to reforest 1 million hectares by 2050, including planting trees on degraded land. In a related vein, Panama is hoping to cut the use of petrol cars by at least 30% in approximately 20 years, investing in technology to increase the electric-vehicle offer on the market, and phasing out fossil fuel-powered government cars. While the transport sector is a key driver of carbon emissions, accounting for about 40% of the total in a nation of about 4 million people, many are skeptical of the government’s ambitions, citing concerns about impending taxes for those who cannot make the transition to electric vehicles.

References and Further Reading


Minister of Environment, Mr. Milciades Concepción Lopez: