Colombia’s mudslide kills hundreds, Chile’s first geothermal plant starts operations, Mexico’s emergency plan to save the vaquita marina
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March 31 – April 6, 2017
Water-related tragedies have stricken Latin America in the past few months and left communities in crisis and chaos. The small town of Mocoa in Colombia is the latest victim of such natural disasters. A period of unusually heavy rains led a nearby river to overflow causing an enormous mudslide to cover the town, killing almost 300 people, injuring hundreds more, and sweeping away homes and cars. Due to the deluge, residents do not have access to potable water or electricity. President Juan Manuel Santos declared a state of emergency and pointed to climate change and deforestation as the main causes of the disaster. “Climate change has generated tremendous results in terms of intensity, frequency and magnitude of these natural effects,” he said, while also pledging to continue to put measures into place that can make communities more resilient to these types of events. To date, the World Meteorological Organization has warned that more than 500 municipalities in Colombia are at risk of mudslides, mainly due to rampant deforestation. (The New York Times 4/1/2017, PressTV 4/5/2017, El Heraldo 4/2/2017, Informaria 4/2/2017)
Meanwhile, intense rainfall continues to cause severe flooding along the northern coast of Peru. According to a report from the Amazon Conservation Association the cause is coastal El Niño, produced by abnormal ocean warming along the coast of the Pacific Ocean. The rains led to a mudslide recently that killed 75 people, destroyed scores of roads and buildings, and left thousands of people homeless. (MAP Project 4/3/2017, Infobae 3/20/2017)
After reports earlier this year that only approximately 30 vaquita remain in the world, the Mexican government announced this week plans for an emergency operation that seeks to prevent the permanent extinction of the small porpoise. The federal government allocated three million dollars to the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) to administer the CPR program (Conservation, Protection, and Recovery) that will involve moving the remaining vaquitas to a temporary protected shelter where they can reproduce without the threat of being snared by gill nets. Many marine experts are skeptical about whether this plan will work, as vaquitas have never been successfully captured in the wild. Moreover, the ability of the vaquita to survive and reproduce while confined to a sanctuary is uncertain. The project is set to start in autumn when the seawaters become calmer, and will be lead by SEMARNAT with support from a consortium of more than 12 conservation organizations from around the world. (Informador 4/4/2017)
CMPC, the third-largest market pulp producer globally, just became the first Chilean company to issue a bond that meets the World Bank’s principles for a green bond. The company announced that it became guarantor and co-investor of a US$500 million bond issued in the U.S. on Thursday. Meeting the World Bank’s principles means the bond will be used to finance or refinance projects with environmental benefits, such as renewable energy or green infrastructure initiatives. The 10-year term bond will pay a nominal interest rate of 4.375 percent. Curious about what green bonds are? Read here. (La Tercera 4/1/2017)
In more good news, a report from Asobancaria shows that in 2015 financial institutions in Colombia committed US$400 million to finance projects that reduce emissions. These funds were either provided internally by public institutions such as Findeter, Finagro, and Bancoldex, or originated from the multilateral sector such as the International Finance Corporation and Inter-American Development Bank. Projects financed through these funds covered a wide range of sectors including solar panel installations, development of sustainable infrastructure, and support for electric vehicle start-ups. Ligia Castro, director of the Climate Change Unit of the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF), stated that since 2013 the CAF has been working on these types of initiatives not only by supporting industries in their projects but also by raising funds to finance them. These projects will ultimately help Colombia meet its goal of reducing emissions by 20 percent by 2030. (El Tiempo 3/30/17)
Two projects that are part of the road map to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement were launched this weekend in Panama. The first project establishes the International Center for the Reduction of Emissions caused by Deforestation and Forest Degradation (ICIREDD), while the second establishes the Panamanian Center for Regional Collaboration (RCC) on climate change policy. ICIREDD will promote international cooperation and capacity building of the REDD + initiative, as well as to encourage low-carbon development strategies. The RCC, whose previous location was in Bogota, seeks to strengthen support given to countries in Latin America to help them with the implementation of the Paris Agreement. The center will continue to be managed by the UNFCCC in partnership with the Development Bank of Latin America. Patricia Espinosa, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, praised the two projects and stressed that the region “must protect forests and land because they are fundamental to the achievement of our climate objectives.” (La Estrella De Panama 4/3/17)
South America’s first geothermal plant, Cerro Pabellón, began operations this week in Chile’s northern Atacama Desert. The 48MW plant will eventually generate 340 GWh per year, enough to power 165,000 homes each year and avoid the emission of 166,000 tons of CO2 annually. Chile was recently branded the “solar Saudi Arabia” thanks to its extraordinary solar energy potential in this same area. The country’s Atacama Desert is considered the best location in the world for solar energy because of its lack of rain and high solar irradiance. Dropping technology prices have made solar installations competitive, but there are other factors driving the shift towards non-traditional renewables as well. Hydroelectric dams and coal plants have fallen out of favor with local populations as these projects often face political opposition and community resistance. If Chile’s northern grid is connected to the populated center of the country, as scheduled later this year, solar energy projects will become more competitive than ever before. (La Tercera 4/1/17, Washington Post 3/31/17)
This week's blog features contributions from Michael Khayan.