Latin America Climate, Energy and Environment News: 3/17/2012 - 3/23/2012


Only 7% of approved non-conventional renewable energy (NCRE) projects in Chile are currently under construction. Chile currently has 720 MW of NCRE already installed. An additional 3,4000 MW are approved from mini-hydro, wind, biomass, solar and geothermal, but only 7%–or 242 MW—are actually moving forward and in construction. A report by the Center for Renewable Energy found the reason for this back-log is that most of these projects have a difficult time acquiring financing from banks or through contracts with client (Pulso 03/22/2012).

A verdict is near on the fate of the HydroAysén dams and the Castilla thermoelectric project. Decisions on both these projects now lay in the hands of the Supreme Court who will give their final say within the first half of 2012.  The issue of energy is at the forefront for Chile as energy demand is expected to grow between six and seven percent by 2020. But the proposal to generate energy from dams in Patagonia, has been frought with oppostion due to social and environmental impacts as well as complications created by the lack of clear land regulations throughout the country. According to Matthias Guiloff, Law Professor at the University of Diego Portales, “This lack of definition causes issues such as project design and location to be defined case by case. The decision is then perceived as unjust” (El Mercurio 03/19/2012).

A farm tour organized by the Council for Clean Production of the Lakes Region was held in Puerto Montt this week to unite Chile’s agricultural sector with the country’s Non-Conventional Renewable Energy (NCRE) strategy. Farms in the southern region of Chile face particular difficulties in energy efficiency as they are primary producers of cheese and beef, both processes which require high consumption of water and energy. The agriculture tour focuses on visiting various biomass producers to raise education and awareness of clean energy alternatives available within the agriculture sector (Futuro Renovable 03/21/2012).

Plans for a new oil refinery plant, ENAP, in the industrial district of Concón have come under fire for an outdated environmental impact statement. The company’s original impact statement was submitted in 2007 and is no longer adapted to new conditions and standards, moving residents of the region to call for an updated impact statement. Opponents are also worried that the plant will use large quantities of water from the Aconcagua River which has recently experienced a tenfold decrease in water flow ( 3/21/2012).

Costa Rica

A study released by the United Nations Development Program and the National Meteorological Institute stated that climate change would directly impact Costa Rica’s seasons and rainfall patterns by 2040. The country’s climate usually consists of one rainy season and one dry season, but this study predicts the arrival of two rainy seasons and two dry season in the coming years with increased rainfall on the Caribbean Coast and decreased rainfall on the Pacific Coast. The result of such changes could mean drastic floods and drought. Officials are hopeful that this early warning will allow the country adequate time to plan mitigation mechanisms such as improved infrastructure on the coasts in order to cope with these foreseen climate challenges (La Nación 3/22/2012).

Costa Rica’s forest cover has increased by one percent putting it back at the levels reported in 2005. The report showing this forest increase was compiled by the National Forestry Financing Fund (FONAFIFO) in conjunction with The University of Alberta, Canada and the Technological Institute of Costa Rica with support from the German Government. Rene Castro, Environmental Minister points to previous policies implemented to reverse high rates of deforestation in the 1980’s as the keys to success. But Castro also noted the need to continue improving monitoring systems and conservation efforts (La Nación 3/22/2012).

Costa Ricans use eight percent more water than the average global citizen. A recent study compared relative aquifer supplies and water consumption and concluded that the global per capita average water consumption is 1,385 cubic meters per year where the average in Costa Rica is  1,490 cubic meters per year. This falls in line with Costa Rica’s increasingly unsustainable energy use, waste management and growth trends dubbing it a country that is growing faster than its resources and infrastructure (La Nación 3/21/2012). Contamination is also a growing issue in Costa Rica, as recent findings revealed that Costa Rica is home to the most polluted river in Central America. The Tárcoles River receives 3,200 liters of unsanitary water every second. The contamination is due to flawed infrastructure systems throughout much of the country which allow a large portion of waste water to flow into water bodies instead of waste treatment plants (La Nación 3/20/2012).


Within seven days of launching a campaign against the Cabo Cortés mega resort, Greenpeace has garnered over five thousand physical votes and another 52 thousand online votes against the tourist facility. Greenpeace called the project a prime example of “predatory tourism” which emphasizes immediate financial benefits to developers while ignoring the long term ecosystem damages to surrounding areas (Milenio 3/23/2012).

Mexico is tackling climate change by setting aside 19 percent of its territory under a new framework called Management Units for the Conservation of Wildlife (UMA). The framework promotes the conversion of land previously used for livestock and agriculture to enter a system of payment for ecosystem services. The new system promotes sustainable land use and conservation over former uses that deplete the soil and degrade the land. The government has also allocated 8.3 million dollars to support drought affected communities (Biosfera 3/20/2012). This is particularly crucial in light of recent reports which state the climate change has launched Mexico into the second agricultural crisis of the century. The first crisis was recorded in 2008. There is now a deficit of 7 million tonnes of corn, a sharp increase in tortilla prices, and an increase in grain imports which leads to economic impacts on local crop production (Provincia 3/20/2012).

Mexico could lose up to 99% of its cloud forest by 2080 if conservation efforts are not undertaken quickly. A study completed by the Universities of Mexico, Australia, and the United states showed that climate change is drastically affecting cloud forests due to their extremely vulnerable ecosystems. Thus far the government of Chiapas and various civil society organizations have promised over one million dollars to protect the Triunfo Cloud Forest Reserve but much remains to be done for the remaining areas of cloud forest in Mexico (La Crónica 3/22/2012).


March 22nd marked the Commemoration of World Water Day. The United Nations called for a  renewed effort to address the world’s water issues in light of growing population and increased food scarcity. The official UN statement said, “Agriculture is by far the largest user of fresh water. Unless we increase our ability to use water wisely in agriculture, we cannot end hunger and open the door to a number of problems, including drought, famine and political instability.” Water will undoubtedly be a recurring theme in the upcoming Rio+20 conference later this summer ( 3/22/2012). Water will be an increasingly hot button issue in Latin America as well. The UN predicts economic growth, mining, and climate change will combine to create increased pressure on rivers and aquifers in Latin America in the coming years (Los Andes 3/21/2012).


 Composed by Amanda Wheat

 Note: The linked articles and excerpts in this post are provided for informational purposes only and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of the Natural Resources Defense Council.