Latin America Climate, Energy and Environment News: 6/4 - 6/8/2012


On June 5, the president of Endesa España, Borja Prado, whose company is a co-owner of the HidroAysén hydroelectric project, met with the Energy Ministry in Santiago, Chile following the announcement that its co-sponsor, Colbún, wants to suspend the project indefinitely because of an unsteady political climate. Given the controversy surrounding the project, the meeting raised suspicions about future progress and how Endesa will move forward. Endesa Chile proclaimed last week that only technical findings will be considered in their decision-making, reflecting an effort to distance themselves from the political climate (Diario Financiero 6/5/2012). 

While work on environmental impact assessment of HidroAysén’s transmission line has been suspended, Chile’s Intelligence Unit for Projects and Businesses (UNIP) reported that there are 211 other energy projects in development throughout the country with a sum cost of US$45 billion. Seventy-five percent of the projects are for electricity generation and the remaining 25 percent are for energy transmission. The majority of the proposed projects are concentrated in the regions of Los Lagos with the Bío Bío region in close second. Seventy-two percent of the projects are in the planning stages while 16 percent are in construction. Some of the projects include geothermal and solar energy, such as the US$7 million initiative to explore and develop geothermal energy in the mountains of the Vicuña area. Other companies such as Quiborax and E-CL are working to develop a solar energy plant in region 15 in the north (La Nación 6/4/2012).

Chile’s energy ministry plans to undertake four non-conventional renewable energy (NCRE) proposals or tenders before the end of the year. This decision supports a goal recently set by authorities of having 20 percent of Chile’s energy capacity composed of NCRE sources by 2020. Two of the proposals will focus on solar energy projects in the north, the first of which is scheduled in July and will give companies the right to construct a 500KW photovoltaic solar energy plant near the town of San Pedro de Atacama. The ministry will also launch a bidding round for companies to develop the first concentrated solar power plant in Latin America on land already set aside by the public lands ministry. The third tender will support geothermal energy companies and the final tender has yet to be decided, but will fund other NCRE pilot projects such as near shore wave and tidal energy initiatives (Business News America 6/6/2012).

Former public works minister, Sergio Bitar, advocates for solar powered               desalination plants to help Chile meet the northern region’s water demand in the next ten to fifteen years. According to Bitar, desalination is a feasible option for Chile and while the process normally requires considerable and costly energy inputs, the incorporation of solar power makes desalination both more affordable and sustainable.  For this reason, Bitar told Business News Americas that solar energy must be incorporated into desalination initiatives. While President Sebastián Piñera's administration plans to build new reservoirs to ensure water availability, Bitar believes that developing solar powered desalination plants is the most viable strategy to create long-term water security in the region (Business News Americas 6/5/2012).

The national petroleum company (Enap) has embarked on reorganizing efforts to prepare for future challenges and regain its title as one of the principle energy companies in the country. Led by the company’s general manager, Ricardo Cruzat, a key focus of the company’s plans to modernize and become more profitable is investing in new, cleaner, and more efficient fuels such as natural gas and other non conventional hydrocarbons in order to diversify risks and increase efficiency (Electricidad 6/2012).

Costa Rica

A new study reveals that more than half of Costa Ricans would be willing to pay higher taxes if the money were directed toward environmental wellbeing.   1,200 people were surveyed and 54 percent said they were “totally willing” or “somewhat willing” to pay more taxes to ensure the preservation of the environment. Costa Rica already has a 3.5% percent tax on gas that supports efforts to stop deforestation by providing incentives for landowners to conserve their forests (La Nación 6/5/2012).

Lawrence Pratt, the director of the Latin American Center for Competitiveness and Sustainable Development at the INCAE Business School produced a report identifying Costa Rica’s options for emission reduction to achieve its goal of being carbon neutral by 2021. In an interview with La Nación, Pratt says that while Costa Rica has been a pioneer in the implementation of conservation efforts, political consistency and coherency is still lacking if the country is to significantly reduce its consumption of fossil fuels.  While the goals have been clearly defined, policies to reduce the use of fossil fuels have been difficult to implement especially in the transportation sector (La Nación 6/5/2012).

Walmart has collected 7,000 tons of recyclable waste this year in Costa Rica from its six recycling stations that are located in the parking lots of its supermarkets. The company’s Central American Director of Sustainability, René Cedillos, said that the recycling programs are part of Walmart’s efforts to reduce waste and save energy. According to Cedillos, the savings are equivalent to 106,631 trees and 9,905 barrels of oil (La Nación 6/5/2012).

Eduardo Carrillo, who has spent 20 years studying biodiversity in Latin America, believes that while Costa Rica claims to be environmentally progressive before the international community, the country is at a standstill in terms of managing biodiversity.  According to Carrillo, the protected areas are suffering from insufficient resources and protection because priority has been given to tourism. He recommends that the government work with the country’s scientists and universities and invest in education in order to strengthen the protected areas (La Nación 6/5/2012).


On World Environment Day, Mexican Presidential Candidate Gabriel Quadri de la Torre announced that he was against the proposed tourist project near Cabo Pulmo, which is a protected national park and home to precious marine wildlife. He opposed the tourist development, Cabo Cortés, due to the fact that it puts fragile marine ecosystems at risk. He believes that Mexico needs tourism that is based on sustainability and the protection of wild areas and he emphasized that the preservation of national areas is fundamental for the country’s development. The presidential hopeful also believes that the government must better monitor national seas and if elected, he will create a costal and seas agency to direct more funds towards environmental protection (La estrella 6/5/2012). 

Hansa, the real estate agency that is expected to construct the tourist development, Cabo Cortés, failed to comply with 9 out of 20 conditions required in the environmental impact report, which gives the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARANT) the authority to cancel the project indefinitely. According to Greenpeace Mexico, SEMARANT has known since April that the company did not obey the necessary requirements, making the authorizations that the company received unlawful. While the agency has the authority to cancel or revoke the authorizations, the Director of Environmental Impact and Risk (DGIRA) is arguing that it can only act in the case of a suspension or resolution. Greenpeace is asking President Felipe Calderon to urge his officials to uphold the law and reconsider the authorizations (Greenpeace Mexico 6/7/2012).

A community located in the northwest region of San José del Cabo celebrated the 17th anniversary of the Cabo Pulmo as a natural protected area. Cabo Pulmo was declared a national park on June 6, 1995 and to commemorate the anniversary, a community celebration took place not only for the purpose of enjoyment, but also as a means to raise awareness about environmental conservation.  The theme of this year’s event was recycling and education related to proper recycling practices (Cabovisíon 6/5/2012).


A new study estimates that the effects of climate change will cost US$100 billion annually in damages for Latin America and the Caribbean in 2050. The loss of agricultural production due to droughts and flooding from rising sea levels along with other unforeseen complications will cost an estimated $100 billion each year. The study recommends that countries should begin investing in initiatives to help reduce carbon emissions since the cost of investing in a clean energy economy far outweigh the future costs of inaction. The report will be distributed at the Rio+20 sustainable development summit on June 20-22 and hopefully inspire new sustainable energy programs (El Financiero 6/5/2012). 


This week’s news was compiled by Emily Jovais.

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.