Latin America Green News: Optimistic forecast for Chilean renewables, Costa Rica seizes illegal wood, Mexico at risk from climate change

Latin America Green News is a selection of weekly news highlights about environmental and energy issues in Latin America.

July 29-August 2, 2013


BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, co-owners of the huge Escondida copper mine in Chile’s northern Antofagasta region, announced plans to build a $3.4 billion desalination plant to supply water for the mine’s operations. Planned for completion in 2017, the plant would pump 2,500 liters of seawater per second to Escondida, increasing the water supply by 50 percent. BHB Billiton and Rio Tinto, also announced last year plans for a $4.5 billion expansion of the mine. The desalination plant would allow the mine to increase its production of copper from 1.1 million tons in 2012 to 1.3 million tons by 2015. (Santiago Times 7/26/2013, Brisbane Times 7/26/2013)

The Ministry of National Assets announced that concessions for renewable energy projects in Chile have doubled over the last seven months, growing from 16 authorized projects with a combined capacity of 795 MW of capacity in December 2012 to 24 projects with 1,493 MW in total capacity now. At the end of last year, there were 12 solar and four wind projects in the works, covering a total land area of 7,858 hectares (19,418 acres). Presently, the 24 projects in the pipeline are comprised of seven wind farms, and 17 solar plants, covering a total of 12,707 hectares (31,400 acres). (La Tercera 7/29/2013)

A new report finds that a greater presence of renewables in Chile’s grids will not increase costs to the system, delivering a blow to a main argument posed by opponents of the growing clean energy sector. The authors of the analysis are from “Escenarios Energéticos Chile 2030,” a technical working group formed by several foundations, associations, and civil society organizations. They found that Chile’s main grid would be more economical if 42 percent of the installed capacity came from renewables –wind, solar, biomass, mini-hydro, and geothermal energy. The authors also concluded that the cost of investing in solar energy in Chile will fall significantly by 2030, with photovoltaic costs falling 48 percent over 2012 prices and concentrated solar power falling 35 percent.  (El Mercurio 7/29/2013, Diario Financiero 7/31/2013)

The Inter-American Development Bank closed a financing deal of $41.4 million for the Pozo Almonte and Calama solar plants, which will supply the Collahuasi and Codelco mining operations in the northern Atacama Desert. The installed capacity of the solar plant will be 26.5MW, making it the first large-scale solar project in Chile and one of the largest in Latin America. (Estrategia 7/29/2013)

Ten young Chilean kayakers are visiting the U.S. this week as a part of the Ríos to Rivers exchange program, to learn about the impacts that large dams have had on rivers in the U.S. and on the surrounding natural landscapes. The Chileans are accompanied by Aysén senator Antonio Horvath, and will meet with energy experts, scientists and local communities as they travel to Glen Canyon Dam and paddle 290 miles with U.S. kayakers on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.  (Aspen Daily News 7/31/2013)

Costa Rica

Since the Interpol started working to halt illegal trafficking of wood earlier this year, approximately $40 million worth of illegal wood has been seized in several Latin American countries.  Of the twelve countries where the Interpol is carrying out operatiosn, Venezuela and Costa Rica are the two where the most wood has been seized. In Costa Rica, 292,000 M3 of wood has been confiscated and in Venezuela, 188,000 m3. (El Financiero 7/26/2013)

Sixty cantons, or 74% of all the cantons in Costa Rica have been declared free of genetically modified organisms (GMO). Eight months ago, only 8 of these municipalities were GMO-free, but through a series of forums, motions and public mobilizations the issue has  steadily come under scrutiny across the country. There is now even a proposal to draft a bill that would ban GMOs nationwide. (El País 7/27/2013)


Mauricio Cárdenas, director of Intragreen, has pointed to Querétaro as a place with enormous solar energy potential, especially due to its short rain season. He notes, however, that this potential is not being put to use since less than 0.5% of local businesses are utilizing solar energy. Intragreen plans to develop implement and install sustainable technology in the region which could save businesses between 60%-100% of conventional energy depending on which systems they chose to install. The solar energy company has already installed technology in businesses such as the Center for Innovation in Advanced Manufacturing and the Center for Innovation in Small-Scale Sustainable Agriculture, and is in discussions to install more in four large companies in Querétaro. (El Economista 7/29/2013)

The Methodological Guide on emissions estimation published by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) declares that the concentration of suspended particles has doubled the permissible amount decreed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and even more than doubled the limits set by The World Health Organization. Semarnat highlights the health risks associated with exposure to this contamination: damage to the respiratory tract, and increased risk for strokes and heart disease if entered into the blood stream. The largest contributor of these particles is vehicles utilizing diesel, emitting black carbon, followed by gasoline vehicles and then industry and mining. These high concentrations not only have local impacts but also regional and global. (El Universal 7/28/2013)

On Monday, France and Mexico signed an agreement of cooperation with the purpose of sharing science and technology to further renewable energy sources and sustainable communities. The two governments financed this project with 250 thousand euro, 70 thousand from the Mexican representative, the National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change (INECC), and 180 thousand from the French Development Agency. Elizabeth Beton Delègue, the French government representative, said that developing a green economy will have social, economic and political impacts, some of which may be negative. Francisco Barnés, the director of INECC, agreed, stating that some companies may not make it in this new sustainable economy. (El Diario 7/29/2013)

According to the Mexican Network of Climate Modeling, 1,385 municipalities, totaling 27 million inhabitants, are at high risk of natural disasters due to climate change impacts. While the highest items at risk are population and infrastructure, a Social Vulnerability Index has been created to also judge what other items are at risk and to what extent. Many municipalities are poised to experience flooding, landslides, drought, heat waves and disease transmission if climate change impacts continue on their current path and are not mitigated. Because of these findings, the National Climate Change Strategy, put forth by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, proposes plans to strengthen and improve public and private infrastructure while also reducing the country’s carbon footprint.  


Latin America has access to funding to face climate change, but lacks necessary implementation capacity and cross-institutional coordination. Available climate financing is estimated to be about $100,000 through the year 2020. One of the key barriers to accessing such funding, according to a climate finance expert from the Interamerican Development Bank, is the lack of coordination between government institutions in Latin American countries. Another barrier is the lack of experience managing technical instruments like  fiduciary trusts that major funders require.  (El Financiero 8/1/2013)

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