International Association for Impact Assessment


  • Learn more about Claudia Valls of Argentina.

    Claudia Valls, the recipient of the 2024 IAIA Individual Award, recently chatted with IAIA CEO Gary Baker. Find the full transcript below.

    Gary Baker: Hello, again. We are back interviewing our award winners for 2024. I am delighted and honored to have a chance to introduce the recipient of our Individual Award. This is for really outstanding achievement over a long period of time. I'm delighted to be joined by doctor and professor Claudia Valls. Claudia has dedicated her career to environmental law development; writing about it, the link with environmental practice, impact assessment, has always been interested and deeply involved, initially in Argentina, Latin America, but an awful lot of other consequences and influence that she's had outside of that.

    I was very interested to read the write-ups recommending your work, and I'm delighted to get the chance to have a brief conversation. You have had this long career at this intersection of environmental law. You have also done a lot of environmental impact assessment and practice. What has that experience given you?

    Claudia Valls:  First of all, thank you, Gary Baker, as the CEO, to have time to stay with me.
    To find I'm representing environmental law and environmental impact assessment as a woman, as an Argentinian, as a Latin American -- I was very happy of that. About what you asked me, I want to tell something, but I think it's very important that this legal framework, it's always present and latent in all this process. First of all, about legal aspects and practice. As a lawyer, you have to know first if you can do or you cannot do an environmental impact assessment. If it's legal or illegal, a lawyer must be first and it must not be substituted for anybody because you have to know if you can or you cannot do it. I used to work in environmental impact assessment from all the sides. I evaluated environmental impact assessments from the Minister of Environment in Argentina, principally mining projects, and also I have worked in making the studies of environmental impact assessment. I always know in advance what is going to happen to the other sides because I have been involved in many of the positions in this area. It's like Messi, in the football games. He plays in several positions and he knows how can to play the role of the other participants. I think that is very important. I'm not like Messi, but I have different roles. What I do is to try to transfer my experience to be in several parts; when I teach at the university, when I prepare inspectors, prepare federal judges and federal justice. I have seen this environmental impact assessment too many times. I know what obstacles you find and how you solve it. That gives you only the experience. You have to match the experience of many years working in this subject with the force of young people to push, to go. But you can say where to go because you have done the same thing.

    Gary:  I can see that you've had this unique experience, but what are some of the biggest challenges that you faced? On which side do they really come from?

    Claudia:  The challenges? I can tell you some experiences. For example, I used to work in the rural area between Malaysia and Thailand, and we tried to unify or to have one position about environmental impact assessment and what to include in the in the project. It was very difficult because you cannot unify criteria about what to have involved because the criteria must be local. A lot of countries are trying to define what environmental impact assessment is, what is making social impact assessment. We have Muslims, rural people, small projects, managers, very hard and good work for females in power, and sustainable projects, but the result was it must be local decisions. Transversal and local decisions. We fight with everybody because everybody wants to decide which are the things that we have to put in them. It must be local. You must be there. You must grow and decide what is the best decision.

    Gary:  It's interesting, as well as that experience, you have a tremendous passion. That comes through so strongly. Where do you get your energy from? Is it teaching? Is it the academic work, developing the law, the application of it? Where do you get most of your energy and enjoyment?

    Claudia:  Where I put more energy? That's the question. I work both sides with the same. Since I can remember, I teach (like 35 years), and I work in environmental law since I before I have my lawyer degree, and I put all my energy in both. When I started teaching, 35 years ago, people didn't know what environmental law was and what environmental impact assessment was. Now people have more compromise and know what you're talking about. Not something new. 30 years ago it's ecological. Now people know what is happening. I try every day, while I'm teaching environmental law and environmental impact assessment, to teach environmental impact assessment separately of environmental law. I try to promote and to give to student’s force and energy to believe and to fight because young people have a lot of trust, on one hand, but on the other hand, they see the environment is each day worse. It's my work to tell them you must do it. It's not for the future, it's for today. We say in the future we are going to get worse. In the present we are worse. People have energy, but also they say, well, working in these 30 years we don't do the right things. We must act now. I think we must act, not to read more papers and think what we have to do. We have to do something concrete. Few things, but concrete.

    Gary:  One final question. Given your journey over the last 30 years, where do you see that balance in Argentina, in Latin America, in terms of awareness of environment and actual action that you're talking about? Is that happening or are you more optimistic or more pessimistic?

    Claudia:  I must be optimistic, but we have enough laws to protect the environment. Legislation in Latin America and Argentina, it's very different situations. I want to advise about that.  Our very different countries with very different situations and legislation. You say Latin America, it's like say Germany and Peru, for example. It's nothing to do between. But we have a superabundance of legislation in Latin America, also in Argentina, and there is something new that we have to focus on, that is the Escazú Agreement, that it empowers people to fight for the environment. I think now, after signing two years ago, we have more skills, more instruments to defend the people who work for the environment. They stopped killing people after the signing of Escazú Agreement. They would kill the people who defended the environment. A very important advance in law in Latin America and the Caribbean is the Escazú Agreement.

    Gary:  Brilliant, Claudia. Thank you very much for saying a few words and introducing yourself. I'm sure a lot of people have learned a lot about Latin America, Argentina, and most of all about the passion that you bring to it. You are a very deserved winner of our Individual Award. I'm delighted that we've recognized you, and I wish you very well in your ongoing work. I hope we can continue this conversation.

    Claudia: Thank you very much. It was amazing. I will continue with this new topic. I'm very happy with this award and to have this meeting with you. Thank you, Gary.

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