Latin America Green News: Solar Shines in Mexico’s First Energy Auction, Don Diego Mining Project Rejected, Climate Change Aggravating Asthma

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

To get the weekly Latin America Green News blog delivered directly to your email, subscribe here.

April 4th – 18th, 2016

Climate Change

After being one of only seven countries that did not submit an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to the United Nations (UN) in the lead up to the Paris Climate Conference this past December, Panama announced this week that it will present its tardy climate commitment at the signing of the Paris Agreement at the UN’s headquarters this Friday. Preliminary reports indicate that Panama’s INDC will likely include a commitment to generate 30 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2050. It may also expand on President Juan Carlos Varela’s plans to plant 1 million hectares of trees and build a modern transport system, announced at the December talks. (La Estrella 4/15/2016)

According to Center for Asthma and Allergy in Mexico (CAAM) climate change is the main risk factor for developing allergic rhinitis, a health problem that affects more than 36 million people in Mexico. Carlos Leon Ramirez, director of the center, asserted that the changing climate has caused changes in stages of pollination, making them longer and more intense and therefore concentration new pollen where it previously did not exist. This makes the symptoms of patients with asthma more intense and prolonged. (El Imparcial 04/05/2016)

In an effort to engage Venezuelan youth in the issue of climate change, Provita, a local non-profit has launched the “I Change” campaign in Venezuela with support from the British Embassy. The aim of the campaign is to raise awareness and share knowledge on climate processes and propose solutions to some of the biggest climate issues facing the country through various audiovisual materials and workshops. The initiative hopes to change the apocalyptic perception of climate change and promote the idea that a better quality of life is possible through adaptation to climate change and mitigation. (Panorama 4/7/2016)

The monarch butterfly is an indicator of climate change—when the environment is not healthy, the monarch butterfly suffers—according to Conservation Director of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Mexico, Jorge Rickards. Mexico’s National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP), in coordination with WWF, has been working for the last 12 years to preserve the monarch sanctuaries in Mexico where they hibernate every year. The latest initiative, which will take off in October and last until December, will be comprised of 100 park rangers, 10,000 people tasked with monitoring the monarchs’ ecosystem, as well as the inclusion of communities located near the sanctuaries. In addition, WWF is working with phone company Telcel to reforest 10,793 hectares with 10.7 million native trees and to develop three sustainable logging companies that are expected to generate more than 300 new jobs. Most monarchs have begun their migration north, leaving a few behind in their sanctuaries. (Informador 4/07/2016)

Marine

The phosphate mining project known as “Don Diego,” which was proposed by Exploraciones Oceanicas, the Mexican subsidiary of a U.S. enterprise, was stopped by the Mexican government last week when the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) rejected the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) submitted by the company. The project would have mined some 91,000 acres of seabed and brought potential negative and irreversible impacts to gray whales, sea turtles and the surrounding communities and fishermen. In a press release, the company expressed disappointment but hinted that they may submit the EIA again in the future. (BCS Noticias 4/11/2016)

As China’s demand for the swim bladders of the Mexican totoaba fish increases, the Vaquita Marina, a rare species of porpoise endemic to the Gulf of Mexico could become extinct. While official estimates put the vaquita numbers at less than 100, more recent, unofficial estimates put this number at less than 50. Three vaquitas have died this season due to “trauma, entanglement” from being caught in gillnets used to catch the totoabas. Totoaba bladders are worth $2,500-$9,400 per 100 grams. “While this lucrative market continues, vaquita will inevitably die in illegal fishing nets and dwindle to extinction. Governments, customs and other enforcement agencies need to urgently step up efforts to halt the illegal totoaba trade in order to save both species,” warned the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). In the past three years, half of the vaquita population has been killed in gillnets. (Mongabay 4/13/2017)

Renewables

In its tenth edition of its report, “Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2016,” the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) excluded dams from the definition of renewable energy. The UNEP defined renewable energy as wind, solar, biomass, biofuels, geothermal and small hydro and specifically excluded large hydro-electric projects greater than 50 MW. According to Patagon Journal, the UNEP’s new definition for renewable energy could reopen discussions on renewable energy in Chile. The Committee of Ministers has approved several large hydroelectric projects in Chile’s southern region, including the Puelo plant (210 MW) and the Cuervo River plant (640 MW). This is happening at the same time as Chile’s Electricity Transmission Law (LTE) is under scrutiny. Last year, lawmakers included language in the LTE requiring zones that are being developed to be made up of 70% non-renewable energy. President Michelle Bachelet recently filed a statement for the Finance Committee to bring this percentage down to 20%. (Patagon Journal 4/8/2016, Economía y Negocios 4/14/2016)

Mexico had its first long-term energy auction, allowing companies to directly compete with the Federal Commission on Electricity’s distribution and commercialization of electric energy. Nearly two-thirds of the new energy that will be added to the country’s grid will come from solar. A total of 1,100 MW will be made up by solar, and the rest, 620 MW will be wind energy. Many of the solar companies will be building their plants with solar panels made in Mexico. Under the country’s Energy Transition Law (LTE), by 2018 30% of large consumers’ energy must come from renewable energy. (Expansion 3/30/2016)

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

About the Authors

Amanda Maxwell

Director, Latin America Project

Join Us

When you sign up you'll become a member of NRDC's Activist Network. We will keep you informed with the latest alerts and progress reports.