Latin America Green News: Vaquita Population Reaches New Low, Argentina’s Renewables Outlook Reaches New High, Venezuelan Energy Crisis Reaches New Extremes

Vaquita Marina

Latin America Green News is a selection of weekly news highlights about environmental and energy issues in Latin America.
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May 11th – 18th, 2016


The latest count of the endangered Vaquita Marina, a rare species of porpoise native to the northern Gulf of California, puts their numbers at 60. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Vaquita numbers have dropped by 20 percent since January, likely due to the use of illegal gillnets used by local fishermen that entangle and kill the porpoise. The use of gillnets continues despite Mexico’s efforts to enforce their ban via the deployment of the navy to monitor marine activity and the setup of compensation systems for fishermen who give up gillnet fishing. During missions, Navy sailors have caught gillnets up to 10 times larger than a football field that entrap totoabas, dolphins, turtles and sea lions. Last year, a total of 600 gillnets were confiscated and 77 people detained. The main driver behind the continued fishing is the high profitability of totoaba bladders, which are believed to cure a host of ailments. Totoaba bladders sell for thousands of dollars in the U.S., Mexico and Asia. Regarding the reported decline of Vaquitas, Director of the WWF, Omar Vidal stated, “We are convinced that it is still possible to save the vaquita, but this is clearly its last chance.” (The Guardian 5/14/2016)


Largely overlooked for their carbon storage capacity, Latin America’s tropical secondary forests are taking on a new meaning in the fight against climate change thanks to a new study published in Science Advances. Secondary forests refer to forests which were previously cleared and have grown back over time. A team of sixty scientists pooled together data on the region’s second-growth forests and concluded that while these trees may seem like the underdogs, over a span of 40 years they could sequester as much carbon dioxide as that emitted from both the burning of fossil fuels and industrial processes in the past 20 years in all of Latin American and the Caribbean. They had also found in a previous study that naturally regenerating forests, at age 20, take up 11 times the amount of carbon of old-growth forests. The research team hopes these results will help establish the importance of secondary forests in climate change mitigation. (El Diario 5/13/2016)

The Peruvian justice system ruled on two cases of illegal deforestation in a protected area, sentencing the accused to five years in prison and charging a $3,000 to $4,500 USD fine. The National Service of Natural Protected Areas (SERNANP) introduced the cases, which involved deforestation in the protected San Matías-San Carlos Forest and the Yanesha community reserve. According to SERNANP the punishment for chopping down protected forests can be anywhere from six to 10 years in prison. (Andina 5/10/2016) 


Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro declared a state of emergency last Friday as the country faces soaring inflation rates, a suffering economy, food shortages and  electricity shortages so bad that public servants were placed on a two-day work week to conserve energy. The economic crisis has brought on a severe public health crisis as hospitals struggle to acquire enough antibiotics, oxygen, medications and cleaning supplies to treat patients. To make matters worse, Guri, the hydroelectric dam responsible for proving 75 percent of Venezuela’s electricity, is facing all time low levels of water. President Maduro blames the electricity shortage on the drought brought on by the El Niño phenomenon while the opposition party blames corruption and poor management in Maduro’s administration. (CNN Español 5/17/16)

Prospects for Argentina’s renewable energy have grown under President Mauricio Macri’s new government and under a new energy law requiring buyers with an annual demand of over 300 kWh “to source at least 8% of their energy from renewable sources by the end of 2017, with the target rising by 4% every two years to reach 20% by 20205.” The new administration has taken several measures to expand the country’s renewable energy production, including the use of its own finances to invest in a 3 GW solar park in northern Argentina. The participation of foreign investors will also be needed to meet the goals.. Among other projects, the country recently signed a USD $220 million deal with the Dutch solar company Gigawatt Global for the development of a 100 MW solar farm in General Alvear. This is part of a larger plan of USD $740 million to transform the city into a leader in solar energy production. (Renewable Energy Focus 5/11/2016)

Fifty-three renewable energy projects are in the pipeline in La Araucania, Chile. Representatives from interested companies recently met with local politicians to discuss the specifics of twelve of these projects that could add 800 MW of energy in wind, biomass and run-of-the-river hydroelectric power. Collectively, the fifty-three initiatives are worth approximately USD $4 billion. According to Alejandro Tardel, director at EBCO Energy, the proposed projects in the region pose a “minimal environmental impact, unlike large hydroelectric or thermoelectric power plants.” (Bio Bio Chile 5/16/2016)

Climate Change

Students at the Technological Institute of Colima and the University of Colima (UCOL) in Mexico have developed a cellphone app called CO2LABORA that provides a platform for users to learn more about greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and climate change. In an interview with the National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT), Alexis Maturana Melgoza, a computer science student involved in the creation of the app, explained that the program seeks to raise public awareness about CO2 pollution and create a network to establish actions to mitigate their emission. The app helps users track their carbon footprint, measured in kilowatt-hours (Kwh), and allows them to share their data on Facebook. (20 Minutos 5/13/2016)

Mexico inaugurated the first national forum on climate change adaptation in the senate. Senator Silvia Garza Galván, the head of the Special Committee on Climate Change, spoke at the inauguration of the forum, stating the urgency for the country to implement adaptation measures in preparation for potential catastrophes from climate change. According to Galván, Mexico is responsible for about 1.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions. (El Sol de Mexico 4/18/2016)

Officials from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) are looking to Arequipa, Peru, for examples of climate-resistant agriculture. Despite being the driest region in the country, Arequipa is rich in agriculture. Under the APEC Policy Partnership on Food Security, officials are trying to define best practices in increasing crop yields in the case of weather disasters, including floods, droughts and disease. "Peru has been a leader of agricultural innovation and adaptation dating back to the Inca civilization 700 years ago and is now on the cusp of a renaissance that could bolster food security across the Pacific in this period of climate change,” said Cesar Sotomayor, Peru’s Vice Minister of Agricultural Policies and Chair of the APEC Policy Partnership on Food Security. (Andina 5/11/2016)

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

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