Latin America Green News: 3/3 - 3/9/2017

Credit: Agencia UNO

Brazil weakening Amazon protections, countries protecting wetlands, Chilean campaign to protect penguins

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 March 3 – 9, 2017


Despite an increase in deforestation within the Brazilian Amazon over the last three years, Brazilian President Michel Temer and Civil Minister Eliseu Padilha intend to introduce a measure in Congress that would reduce conservation areas in the southern Amazon region and help open up the area to the mining of resources such as gold and iron ore. If the bill were to pass, more than one million hectares of protected rainforest will be opened up to development. Four recently created conservation areas will lose 40 percent of their combined size, down from 2.8m hectares at present to 1.8m hectares, and one will disappear altogether. Brazil’s main contribution to the reduction of climate change, under the Paris Agreement, is reducing deforestation. Shrinking the area of protected forest to benefit private interests directly contradicts this, WWF says. In addition to the loss of carbon storage capacity, mining of this land would open up water resources to pollution and destabilize weather patterns that could prompt droughts and flooding throughout the region. (Climate News Network 3/2/2017) 

Chile’s on going fire crisis is now the seventh largest in the world since the start of the new millennium, behind Russia, Malaysia, and Australia, Argentina, and Canada. To date, the uncontrollable fires have consumed over 580,000 hectares of land, destroyed 1,600 dwellings, and killed at least 11 people. While fire chiefs blame multiple factors for the blazes, environmentalists say the lack of regulation of plantations has made the problem bigger than it should have been. For one, many communities and companies failed to install firebreaks between human settlements and eucalyptus plantations, which the US Forest Service has deemed highly flammable. Sara Larraín, director of the environmental NGO Chile Sustentable, said: “We’ve been warning the forestry sector for the last eight years about the growing threats, and these plantations are never subjected to environmental risk assessments – they’re completely unregulated.” (La Tercera 3/3/2017, The Guardian 3/3/2017)

Climate Change

While Brazil appears to be stepping down their climate leadership, Argentina has taken another step up. Authorities finalized this week the creation of the National Observatory of Climate Change, an entity which they hope will strengthen the country’s efforts to fight climate change. The observatory will be headquartered in FAdeA, Argentina’s main aircraft manufacturer. Ercole Felippa, head of FAdeA said the facility will allow for the “permanent monitoring and control of issues surrounding climate change.” He went on to say it will ultimately provide greater predictive, analytical, and operational capacity to understand the causes, minimize the effects, and mitigate the risks of events caused by climate change in accordance with international guidelines and compliance with environmental commitments. (La Vanguardia 3/3/2017)

Latin American countries are increasingly promoting the protection of wetlands due to their central role in combatting climate change. In addition to their role in reducing emissions and regulating local climates, they are vital because they provide food, fresh water, fuels, biochemical and genetic materials. Costa Rica, for example, has begun to take action to protect these areas, which make up seven percent of the country’s land. This week, the Costa Rican government signed the National Wetland Policy that will identify and rehabilitate wetlands that are identified as decaying. Alice Shackelford, a representative from the United Nations Development Programme, praised the policy as fundamental to mitigating climate change and stressed the urgency with which countries must protect their wetlands. Mexico is also taking similar steps.  The Institute of Ecology is partnering with the University of Nottingham to map out existing wetlands in three states. The goal of this research is to identify the most important wetlands for conservation. This study is the result of a previous study on the ecosystems of the state of Veracruz, which highlighted the importance of wetlands in reducing emissions.  (La Nacion 3/6/17, Conacyt 3/6/17)

Green Finance

Mexico is emerging as a regional leader in green finance with Mexico City receiving the Green Bonds Award 2017 for being the first Latin American country to issue a municipal green bond. Valued at one billion pesos (US$ 50 million), the green bond will finance projects related to energy efficiency, sustainable water infrastructure and management, and sustainable public transport. These projects will help Mexico City meet the goals established in its 2014-2020 Climate Action Program. In receiving the award, Mayor Miguel Mancera noted it represented “extra motivation to continue to working to protect the environment in the fight against climate change.” Mancera also committed to meeting the Climate Action Program’s goal of mitigating 10 million tons of CO2. (Publimetro 3/7/2017)


As if the historical fires Chileans have experienced during the past weeks were not enough, Mother Nature strikes again. Massive floods have left five million people in the metropolitan region of Santiago without water supplies, 19 missing, and three deaths. Problematically, the shift from droughts and fires to flooding has left the land susceptible to landslides. One such occurrence has already blocked the entrance of a bridge connecting towns and left the Maipo river so turbid with soil particles that it could not be deployed as drinking water. The floods have also delayed the opening of schools, which were set to start again now that summer is coming to a close. (La Tercera 2/27/2017)


A study conducted by the University of Chile found that atmospheric pollution plays a significant role in causing respiratory problems in children. The study was conducted on Chilean children and found that those with asthma could have as high as a 100 percent increase in respiratory symptoms on days with high pollution. Even children without asthma experiences similar increases in respiratory problems. The study found that in some cases copper smelters and thermoelectric plants were significant sources of contamination, highlighting the need to strengthen pollution standards for these facilities. (La Tercera 3/7/17)


Humboldt Penguin
Credit: William Warby

The “Chao Pescao” campaign has assembled in Chile in defense of the penguins of the Humboldt National Penguin Reserve. The reserve is an important breeding site for the Humboldt species and one which the Dominga copper and iron mining company soon hopes to open a mining project in. The project is scheduled to operate from 2020 to 2045 with an investment of US$2.5 billion and is expected to mine some 12 million tons of iron and 150,000 tons of copper. Though the company claims they use mining practices that respect wildlife and minimize harmful effects to the environment, campaign leaders believe the project is putting the financial interest of a single private entity ahead of the community, wildlife, and the environment. The movement, through a celebrity and artist petition video campaign, is calling for the Bachelet administration to reject the project in order to protect this unique sanctuary. (El Dinamo 3/1/2017)

#ICYMI: In case you missed it, the most recent report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature found that less than 30 Vaquita marinas remain in the world, just half of the population from a year ago. Though the Mexican government has made efforts to ramp up protective measures and resources, the illegal wildlife trade is pushing this unique species to the brink of extinction. For an in-depth, bi-lingual recap of the current status of the Vaquita marina and the last-ditch effort to save them, read this featured story from the New York Times.

This week's blog features contributions from Michael Khayan.