Latin America Green News This Week: 7/7 - 7/13/2016

Mexico’s Ambassador to the United States, Carlos Manuel Sada, with representatives from the Natural Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace, Animal Welfare Institute and the Center for Biological Diversity
Credit: AWI

Efforts to save the Vaquita Marina continue, Lake Poopó is gone for good, Colombia to add climate change mitigation to constitution 

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July 7 – July 13, 2016


Experts in marine biology are urging for international cooperation to prevent the disappearance of the endangered Vaquita Marina, a rare species of porpoise native to the northern Gulf of California in Mexico. With approximately 60 Vaquitas left, (a 97 percent reduction since 1997) the coordinator of research and conservation of marine mammals at the National Institute of Ecology of Mexico, Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho, has asked the governments of the United States, Mexico, China and other countries to intervene in the illegal trafficking of the Totoaba bladder. The Totoaba fish is caught with gillnets that also ensnare and kill the Vaquita Marina. Since 2011, demand for this fish has grown significantly in China where the fish is believed to have medicinal properties and is sold for around US$17,000 in the black market. As the numbers of this rare species dwindles, environmental groups are becoming more vocal. Representatives from several international environmental groups including NRDC, met with Mexican Ambassador Carlos Manuel Sada last week to urge the Mexican government to make permanent the two-year ban of gillnet fishing imposed by President Peña Nieto last April. “There is a way to save the vaquita,” said Zak Smith, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Marine Mammal Protection Project, “but it’s going to take an all-out effort. Mexico needs to take responsibility to step up enforcement and protect every single vaquita – because every individual is vital to the species’ survival.” (EFE Verde 7/11/2016, AWI 7/7/2016)

The endangered spectacled bear in Colombia is threatened by a myriad of human activity, including the country’s decades-long armed conflict. Over the years, agriculture, illicit crops, hunting, mining, logging and the construction of roads and houses have fragmented and degraded this bear’s habitat, found in the hillsides of the country’s tropical region. An estimated 73,000 square kilometers of suitable habitat for the bear is in the process of being cleared for human activity. Despite the fact that sport hunting is illegal under Colombian law,  between 30 to 60 spectacled bears are hunted every year. The country’s armed conflict is also a factor in the bears’ diminishing numbers, where explosions and gunfire have forced the species out of its home. The spectacled bear is the only bear species in South America. (Canal Capital 6/9/2016)

Climate Change

Lake Poopó, what used to be Bolivia’s second largest lake, has dried up for good. The indigenous population of Uru-Murato people, whose livelihood depended on the lake for food, jobs, and medicine, are now joining a growing group of global climate refugees. After decades of surviving water diversion and cycles of El Niño droughts in the Andes, the lake succumbed to the effects of a changing climate last year and ceased to exist. The countless species of fish and wildlife that thrived in it for centuries are now gone too. As a consequence of the lake’s demise, many Uru people have moved to working in nearby salt mines or attempting to learn a new trade but struggle daily to adapt to a new lifestyle. Milton Perez, an ecologist at Oruro Technical University, said scientists had known for decades that Poopó fit the profile of a dying lake but the prognosis was estimated to be centuries, not years. (New York Times 7/7/2016)

In response to countless financial losses and environmental catastrophes experienced in Colombia due to a lack of effective local climate change mitigation strategy, Attorney General Eduaro Montealegre Lynett, has instructed the Ministry of the Environment to thoroughly examine the National Development Plan and in consideration of regional social, cultural and economic aspects, propose a constitutional national model for climate change adaptation. The Attorney General’s Office said that the country has already suffered harsh consequences due to ignorance and poor management of climate change at the local level, and therefore the importance of promoting this proposal within constitutional framework is critical. (El Espectador 7/10/2016)

Costa Rica appears to be on track to be the first Latin American country to ratify the Paris Agreement later this summer. Foreign Minister Manuel Gonzalez and Environment and Energy Minister Edgar Gutierrez delivered the document to interim President of the Congress, Jose Alberto Alfaro this week in hopes that the legislature will quickly approve the ratification of the treaty. Alfaro said they will make efforts to expedite the process and become the first country in the region to do so. Minister Gutierrez was hopeful adding, “We believe that Costa Rica can achieve carbon neutrality if we change our consumption habits for 2021.” (La Prensa Libre 7/7/2016)


The National Forestry Commission of Mexico (CONAFOR) aims to reach zero deforestation by 2030. The five regions making up the bulk of this effort are the Yucatán, Campeche, Jalisco Chiapas and Quintana Roo, which have all been working since 2012 to reduce emissions from deforestation and prevent desertification, an effort they hope will receive international financing from entities like the World Bank. Each region will tackle forest fires and reforestation, in coordination with cattle ranchers and farmers. In addition to cutting deforestation, Mexico also plans to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation by 22 percent by 2030. (Cancun Mio 7/5/2016)

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