Latin America Green News: 1/27 - 2/2/2017

Presidents Juan Manuel Santos and François Hollande last week
Credit: Juan David Tena | Government of Colombia

Extreme fires persist in Chile, EU supports renewable projects in Colombia, warming temperatures threatens future of coffee market

To get the weekly Latin America Green News blog delivered directly to your email, subscribe here.

January 27 – February 2, 2017

Forests

Chile continues to be ravished by extreme fires that have killed 11 and devastated 233,000 square miles in recent weeks. Fire brigade chiefs have said that poor planning for climate change and monoculture plantations have contributed to the ongoing flames. Despite international aid offered after President Bachelet declared a state of emergency, the national emergency office acknowledged on Saturday that fewer than half of the 110 fires are under control. One fire officer in San Nicolas says, “The situation right now is a fire completely out of control.” Meanwhile, the National Forest Corporation (Conaf) has alerted citizens to native species that are escaping their habitats running towards urban areas to escape the fires, and the country’s capital, Santiago, experienced record-breaking temperatures this week. (The Guardian 1/29/2017, El Dinamo 1/27/2017) For video coverage of Chile’s continued fire crisis visit here.

A decade after Argentina implemented a forest protection law, new reports from Greenpeace show that about one-third of deforestation continues to take place within protected areas. Last year saw 41,595 hectares of protected forestry destroyed, half of which was located in Santiago del Estero. This province is particularly vulnerable to social conflict because armed groups in areas containing rural communities sometimes carry out deforestation efforts in Santiago. Due to continued failure in enforcing forestry laws, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recently rated Argentina as the ninth-worst country in terms of caring for local forestry. In their report, Greenpeace beckoned the government to pass a law that criminalizes illegal deforestation and increase enforcement of protection laws. (Clarin 1/26/2017)

Climate Change

President of France, François Hollande, wrapped up what will likely be his last visit to Latin America late last week in Colombia. He expressed support for the ongoing peace process with the FARC and highlighted the country’s importance in tackling climate change, calling on President Juan Manuel Santos to join the global front in ensuring the implementation of the Paris Agreement. Hollande also used the visit as an opportunity to call out President Donald Trump’s controversial stand on climate change saying, “I do not even understand how some may still question the very existence of climate change and global warming, surely those who claim that lack some information.” Hollande had a similar narrative while meeting Chilean President Michelle Bachelet earlier in the week, when he warned against creeping protectionism, which he called the “worst response” that “impedes trade, hinders growth and even affects employment, including in countries that advocate for it and implement it.” He also expressed solidarity with Chile as they experience some of the worst fires in history and underscored once more the importance of adhering to promises made in the Paris Agreement. (Sostenibilidad Semana 1/23/2017, Excelsior 1/21/2017)

Energy

Two development banks have committed €4 million to promote renewable energy projects in Colombia. The funds were approved under an initiative promoted and implemented by the CAF (Development Bank of Latin America) in cooperation with the German Development Bank with resources from the European Commission’s Investment Facility in Latin America. The goal of such investments, according to the Colombian Vice Minister of Energy, is to “ensure clean and reliable energy for all users of the national grid.” The non-conventional energies that are produced as a result of the investment will have direct-payment mechanisms for its users and lower the country’s emissions. It is expected that this investment will help reduce 500 thousand tons of CO2 by 2021. (Confidencial Colombia 1/27/2017)

Chile’s Environmental Superintendent (SMA) initiated sanctions this week against the company responsible for the Alto Maipo hydroelectric dam project in San Jose de Maipo due to a series of environmental violations. In total, the Superintendence formulated 14 charges for non-compliance with the conditions, rules, and measures established in the Environmental Qualification Resolution (RCA) of the project. Nine of the charges were qualified as serious while the remaining charges were classified as minor. Among the charges determined by the SMA are wetland damage, unauthorized transportation of machinery, exceeding permitted metal levels in treatment plants, crossing construction on Manzanito estuary without approval and not applying mitigation measures from blasting exercises, among others. (El Dinamo 1/30/2017)

Agriculture

Coffee field in Nicaragua
Credit: Dennis Tang

As warmer temperatures threaten coffee production, necessary changes in cultivation practices will negatively impact the global market. Drops in quality are expected as cultivators find themselves forced to use less desirable coffee species that are capable of surviving unfavorable conditions. A drop in productivity is also expected, as less land will be suitable for coffee cultivation. Nicaragua, in particular, could see a significant drop in productivity, a concerning fact considering coffee makes up 13 percent of the country’s exports. Overall, 90 percent of coffee farmlands in Central American are projected to see decreases in suitability by mid-century. (GreenBiz 1/26/2017)

An agreement to sell Argentine lemons in the American market was suspended under the Trump administration. So far, the decision is being acknowledged by US officials as a customary 60-day stay on newly-signed agreements when a new administration transitions into the White House. It is unclear what the reason behind the suspension is but some speculate it could have something to do with health regulations under the new administration. Jorge Neme, International Relations Secretary of the Tucumán province in Argentina says he sees no reason to suspend imports into the US but hopes the stay is a parenthesis, not a punctuation point.  (America Economia 1/26/2017)

This week's blog features contributions from Michael Khayan.