Latin America Green News: August 10 – 17, 2016

Credit: David Amsler

Brazil’s senate approves Paris Agreement, Energy leads private investment in Chile, Malaria makes a comeback in Venezuela


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Featured: Venezuela’s Public Health Crisis


As if Venezuela’s recent economic collapse, public health crisis, energy shortages, and food scarcity weren’t enough, the country now faces a threat once thought long resolved. Malaria is making a comeback in Venezuela, and with a vengeance. Experts blame recent malaria spikes on the economy, for thrusting many Venezuelans into illegal mining in the jungle where mosquito breeding conditions are ideal. Due to a lack of proper healthcare and fumigation, people returning from mines pass the disease on to others by the thousands, and this internal migration makes it difficult to contain the spread of the disease. During the first half of the year, malaria cases rose 72 percent. So far, the Venezuelan government denies there is a crisis and has not published epidemiological reports on the disease in the past year. (Foreign Affairs 09-10/2016; El Diario 8/14/2016, NY Times 8/14/2016)


#ClimateQuestion: Can climate change make infectious diseases like malaria worse? Read on.


Climate Change

This week, Brazil’s senate took a break from the impeachment proceedings of President Dilma Rousseff to approve the Paris Agreement. Now that the treaty has legislative approval, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will prepare the instrument to be signed by interim President Michel Temer and ultimately sent to the United Nations. In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said “Brazil actively contributed to the adoption of the Agreement, committing from the beginning to the negotiations, working to build consensus and showing ambition in their domestic actions." Brazil accounts for 2.48 percent of global emissions. In order to come into force, the treaty must be ratified by 55 countries representing 55 percent of global emissions. (NY Times 8/11/2016, Terra 8/11/2016)



One of America’s favorite fruits is posing a threat to Mexico’s forests. The price and demand for avocados has increased fourfold in the past fifteen years, causing Mexico’s avocado farmers struggle to meet the demand with existing crops. Consequently, they are resorting to illegal deforestation of pine forests to plant new avocado trees. Pine trees thrive in similar conditions as avocado trees. Unfortunately, the Michoacán region in central Mexico, which contains a high concentration of pine trees, also serves as wintering grounds for monarch butterflies. Scientists now fear the monarchs will be adversely affected by the deforestation, bringing an additional challenge to the already-struggling species. (Washington Post 1/22/2015, Terra 8/10/2016)



The city of Puerto Montt, Chile will be launching its first solar-powered water taxi next month. The taxi will have solar panels installed on its roof and can accommodate up to 36 passengers, including disabled passengers and those with bicycles. Mayor Gervoy Paredes said the project cost about $150 million CLP and seeks to position the coastline city as an anchor of safe and sustainable tourism and transportation. (El Dínamo 8/15/2016)


#WatchThis: “A small country with big ideas to get rid of fossil fuels”. How Costa Rica is can set an example for the world by committing to clean transportation.



The Salar de Atacama, the largest salt flat in Chile, is under threat from over extraction of water by the mining company Sociedad Quimica y Minera (SQM). According to Alonso Barros, a scientist at the University of Cambridge and a senior researcher at the Atacama Desert Foundation, the company is currently removing 7,500 liters of water per second while only returning 3,000 to the salt flat in an effort to extract brine. Located in the Atacama Desert, one of the most valued ecosystems in the country, the Salar is also home to flamingos which feed on small crustaceans that live in the salt water. When SQM extracts brine, water salinity also decreases, reducing the food source for these birds. The mining company responded to accusations by releasing a statement saying that SQM extracts 240 liters per second, not the alleged 7,500. (El Dínamo 8/16/2016)



In Chile, energy is now leading the private investment sector, with non-conventional renewable energy (NCRE) making up the bulk of the country’s new projects. In its analysis, the BBVA said that Chile has enormous untapped potential in NCRE, particularly in solar and wind energy. Technological advances have allowed NCRE production costs to decrease approaching those of non-renewable energy. This, coupled with a lower environmental impact, has made it a more attractive investment. Chile is fourth in energy investments around the world and 10th in NCRE investments. While the country’s energy mix demonstrates an increase in NCRE sources, particularly in solar energy, coal continues to be the main source of power. However, in the country’s most recent energy auction on August 17th, renewables won more than half of the energy up for bidding and at record low prices. (ACERA 8/17/2016, La Tercera 8/9/2016)

Yucatan is poised to become the leading area in renewable energy production in Mexico. International companies are in the process of installing 16 wind farms and solar plants, which would make the Yucatan the largest producer of renewable energy in the country by 2018. In fact, the municipality of Ticul will be the second largest producer of clean energy in Latin America with the installation of two solar farms, each producing 500 MW daily. French investors will develop the US$500 million project in an area of ​​1,730 acres. The region’s investments come at a time when the hotel sector is actively seeking to lower electricity costs through the use of clean energy. The president of the Hotel Association of Cancun and Puerto Morales, Carlos Gosselin Maurel, reported that electricity is the second largest expense for hotels, accounting for an average of 11 percent of income. Hotels currently pay 1.30 pesos per kilowatt and Maurel hopes to lower that price by up to 15 percent through renewable energy. (Yucatan 8/12/2016, Yucatan 8/13/2016)


This week's blog was completed with the help of contributions from Andrea Becerra.