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Working for healthy people, animals, and ecosystems

October 13, 2020

Miguel Stutzin stands in front of a mountainous landscape in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
Miguel Stutzin stands in front of a mountainous landscape in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile. Photo courtesy of Miguel Stutzin

Miguel Stutzin is a Chilean veterinarian and international environment specialist who serves as his country’s Operational Focal Point to the Global Environment Facility. In an interview, he shared his hopes for a green recovery to the coronavirus pandemic. 

What do you do for a living?

Throughout my life, I have been able to complement my passion and work on environmental conservation with veterinary clinical practice, which has been really gratifying.

After graduating from the Universidad de Chile, I started working as a small-animal clinician and, at the same time, in a Chilean environmental NGO called CODEFF, the Committee for the Defense of Fauna and Flora. As part of my work at CODEFF, I helped with the creation of one of the first wildlife rescue centers in the country, where we took care of endemic animals that were rescued from illegal trade, such as pumas, foxes, pudus, and parrots, and also exotic animals like monkeys. After that, I started working full-time at Chile’s Agriculture and Livestock Service and later joined the Ministry of the Environment where I continue to work today. My role in the International Affairs Office relates specifically to projects funded by the Global Environment Facility. I still do some veterinarian work, mainly on the weekends through house call services.

What are Chile’s main environmental priorities?

The main environmental problems affecting my country are rooted in an unsustainable economic and development model based on the extraction of natural resources. We face many negative impacts which have resulted in urban air pollution, degradation and destruction of terrestrial coastal and marine ecosystems, deforestation of native forest, and the loss of biodiversity and environmental heritage. It is not only an environmental issue, quality of life is also affected. Desertification and water scarcity are also serious problems, intensified in the last decade by a severe drought in Chile.

What does your work as an Operational Focal Point entail?

As the Operational Focal Point, I am the contact for the GEF’s activities in the country. My job is to coordinate what's being done in Chile with the GEF, and make sure that projects proposed for funding comply with the GEF’s policies and relate to national environmental priorities and international conventions. I also help with coordination and outreach to stakeholders, engaging with projects during their design, execution, and evaluation phases.

How has the pandemic affected your work?

This pandemic has profoundly impacted the development and execution of GEF projects, because they rely on fieldwork and community work. Our challenge has been to adapt our methodologies to comply with social distancing requirements. Relevant adjustments have been made by the leading teams, ministries, and implementing agencies in order to nevertheless meet all the projects’ objectives and goals in the best manner. My job as Operational Focal Point has always implied that I accompany fieldwork activities, so I have had to find new online strategies to keep in touch and keep the projects going.

COVID-19 is a devastating example of how human societies have surpassed the barrier of the possible and adequate with nature and the environment. The emergence of this pandemic zoonosis is the result of a degradation in the relationships between human systems and wildlife. We need to collectively restore balance and health to all ecosystems, following the One Health principle based on the interrelationship of human health, animal health, and the health of ecosystems.

Even though the pandemic has been a terrible experience for the whole world, it is important that we realize that we now have a historical opportunity. It is time that countries adopt politics, policies, and agendas that embrace an understanding of economic development that is inseparable from environmental and social sustainability and justice, prioritizing the green economy as a fundamental pillar of development.

Miguel Stutzin (left) stands at a sign for Archipelago de Juan Fernandez National Park
Miguel Stutzin (left) stands at a sign for Archipelago de Juan Fernandez National Park. Photo courtesy of Miguel Stutzin

What first motivated you to work in this field?

A love of nature and commitment to environmental and social justice runs in my family. I was raised with the values of respect for nature, animals, and all forms of life. My father Godofredo Stutzin, a lawyer and writer, was a pioneer in the field of environmental law in Latin America, and of nature conservation in Chile. I've had the privilege and luck of studying and working in fields that match my interests, motivations, and convictions.

What makes the Global Environment Facility’s approach distinctive?

I've had the opportunity of being involved with the GEF in different roles and functions. Prior to becoming Operational Focal Point, I worked as a project manager and participated in the elaboration and design of projects. What I learned through these experiences is that GEF-supported projects need to have a comprehensive, multi-sectoral, systemic, and interdisciplinary vision. This is very important, and it is also a challenge that I appreciate because it involves working with a diverse group of actors and finding new ways to work together. It is typical for GEF-funded projects to involve local communities, Indigenous peoples, municipalities, civil society organizations, and the academic sector, jointly with ministries and public agencies. It's not always easy, but it's worth it.

Is there a GEF-supported project that is close to your heart?

When I joined the Ministry of Environment in 2007 as head of the Natural Resources Division, my first activity was to participate in a meeting about a GEF-supported project focused on conserving globally significant biodiversity along the Chilean coast. This project allowed us to create the technical, administrative, and legal basis for the establishment of Multiple-use Marine and Coastal Protected Areas, which did not exist in Chile before. These areas integrate sustainable use, tourism development, and conservation with significant community engagement. Under the GEF project three such areas were created. In total, Chile now has 13 Multiple-use Marine and Coastal Protected Areas covering different ecosystems in the Patagonia region, Rapa Nui Island, and Juan Fernandez Archipelago in northern and southern Chile.

What environmental changes do you hope to see by the time you retire?

I deeply wish that we could establish a more ethical relationship of interdependence and solidarity with nature, the environment, and with ourselves as humans. I hope for a world with enhanced models of development, prosperity, and well-being grounded in equity, environmental and social justice, inclusion, and respect for diversity (both biodiversity and sociocultural diversity). This is my big wish for the future.

Over the next decade – that's the time until my retirement – I would be satisfied with three concrete goals that I believe will have important socio-environmental effects: 1) deep changes in production and consumption patterns, both at macro and individual levels; 2) putting the principle “reduce, reuse, and recycle” at the core of production and consumption dynamics; 3) a rapid breakthrough in the implementation of non-conventional renewable energies. It is also imperative to stop deforestation, illegal logging of native forests, and illegal commerce of wild animals. I have many more wishes, but this would be a good start.