Latin America Green News: Peru’s New Goldman Prize Winner, Panama’s New Monorail, Argentina’s New Energy Auction, the Amazon’s New Coral Reef Discovery

Latin America Green News is a selection of weekly news highlights about environmental and energy issues in Latin America.

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April 21st – 27th, 2016

Feature Story

Peruvian subsistence farmer Maxima Acuña was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize this year, the most prestigious award honoring grassroots environmental activism, for her demonstrated courage in preventing the mining of her land.  While not part of any environmental organization and with no education or literacy, her steadfast refusal to sell her 60-acre plot of land in 2011 to the largest gold-mining project in the continent made her a hero to the movement. Despite death threats, intimidation and other threats, Acuña continued to defend her native land and became involved in legal proceedings that continue even today. While she was in the U.S. receiving the award, unidentified gunmen fired shots in her home where her husband remained. Many fear Acuña’s life is in danger and worry she will face a fate similar to that of Berta Cacares, another Goldman recipient who was murdered in March. (BBC 4/18/16, Telesur 4/25/2016, The Guardian 4/25/2016)

Climate Change

Last Friday, 175 nations gathered at the United Nations headquarters in New York City to formally sign the Paris Agreement reached during the COP21 this past December. The signing of this historic agreement marks the beginning of a new global effort to combat climate change. Latin American had a strong presence at the signing with all but the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Chile signing. Brazilian President, Dilma Rousseff, who is on the brink of impeachment back home, reassured those at the signing ceremony that she would “avoid any setback” in implementation. Juan Manuel Santos, President of Colombia, said his country is already working towards implementation citing the establishment of the National Climate Change System as well as the government’s emphasis on stopping deforestation and illicit crops through the ongoing peace process. Meanwhile, Rafael Pacchiano Alamán, Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources signed the agreement on behalf of Mexico, saying “Paris was not the finish line but was the starting point.” (The Associated Press 4/22/16, Nacion 4/22/16, El Pais 4/22/2016, Excelsior 04/22/2016)

In evaluating how to implement the Paris Agreement, Colombia’s National Planning Department (DNP) conducted an analysis of the investments required to “fulfill of the commitment to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases compared to a baseline scenario in 2030 by 20%" , the institution said in a statement. Results shows about USD $1 billion in investments will be necessary annually, of which roughly 69 percent will need to go to the transport sector. The results also show implementation will lead to a two percent reduction in the country’s unemployment rate. (RCN Radio 4/23/2016)  

Latin America and the Caribbean can reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to zero and become "carbon neutral" by the middle of this century, this according to a study published last week by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Technical University of Denmark. While the region produces only ten percent of global emissions, it is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The study suggests that in order to achieve this feat, the region must focus on reducing emissions from its four largest emitting sectors which combined total 90 percent of emissions: electricity generation, transportation, land use and industry. In particular, they suggest meeting energy demands should through renewable sources and integrating national electricity grids as a critical step. (El Pais 4/21/2016)

Scientists working along the border of Brazil’s Maranhão State and French Guyana discovered a large coral reef at the mouth of the Amazon River. The area contained high levels of suspended particles and coralline algae, indicating conditions different from those that form typical tropical coral reefs. Rodrigo Moura, from the Universidad Federal de Río de Janeiro and head of the research team, says the reef’s “health offers information about how coral ecosystems can respond to the acceleration of global warming.” The team warned that industrial scale development in the Amazon, such as oil exploration near the reefs, could present a significant challenge to the unique coral system. (La Tercera 4/25/2016)

Forests

As part of its adaptation and mitigation goals to tackle climate change, Peru plans to restore 3.2 million hectares of forest by 2020. The country will be working on its forest initiative with several environmental organizations, including Sustainable Management of Forest Heritage and Wildlife at Peru's National Forestry and Wildlife Service (Serfor), Agro Rural and Minagri. Peru has over 10.5 million hectares of land that can be reforested, comprising 7.5 million hectares in the highlands, 2.5 million in the jungle, and 500,000 on the coast. According to Mirbel Epiquien, Director General at Serfor, Peru has nearly 1,600 trees per person, and “over 4,000 out of the 22,000 flora species recorded in the country are trees.” (Andina 4/23/2016)

The three states that comprise the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, Yucatan, Quintana Roo and Campeche, signed an accord this week with the goal of becoming the first region in the country that achieves zero deforestation by 2030. The Yucatan peninsula currently loses around eighty thousand hectares of forest each year to livestock or forest utilization. The states are also seeking financing to develop strategies such as reforestation campaigns, curbing degradation of forests and partnering with companies to pay for environmental services. Ecuador is also striving for zero deforestation by 2030 and in honor of Earth Day last year, committed to reforesting 300,000 hectares of forest by next year. (Sipse, El Comercio 4/22/16)

Transportation

Panama and Japan reached a $2.6 billion USD agreement to add a third metro line, called Project Line 3. The new line, which will benefit more than 500,000 people who commute to the West side of Panama City, will be the first system in the Americas to use Japanese technology. Project Line 3 is part of Japan’s initiative called “Actions for Cool Earth 2.0,” which aims to reduce CO2 emissions and mitigate the impact of climate change. Spanning 16.6 miles, from Albrook to the center of Arraijan City, the line will have 14 passenger stations. (Market Watch 4/20/2016)

Renewables

Argentina’s new renewable energy law aims to elevate the amount of renewable energy consumed nationally from 1.8% to 8% by the end of 2017, representing a 3,000 MW increase. To meet this goal, the country aims to attract $5 billion USD in investments through its first renewable energy auction. Undersecretary for Renewable Energy, Sebastián Kind, listed mini hydroelectric power plants as the main interest for investors, followed by biomass, solar and wind. According to Kind, developers, investors, banks, industries and multilateral development banks are showing interest in the renewable energy potential in Argentina.  The Ministry of Energy predicts that the renewable energy demand will grow 25 percent in the next 10 years, and under the new renewable energy law the country is expected to add 10,000 MW by 2025. (El Patagonico 4/25/2016)

About the Authors

Amanda Maxwell

Director, Latin America Project

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