Latin American nations struggle to reconcile growth, climate action - experts

by Santiago Ortega Arango | @sortegarango | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 10 December 2014 22:41 GMT

Llanganuco lake, which is filled with glacial meltwater, is seen in Huascaran National Park in Huaraz, Peru, on September 18, 2013. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

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Countries are calling for zero net emissions globally - but may find it hard to achieve even at home

By Santiago Ortega Arango

LIMA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - At the U.N. climate talks this week, a group of Latin American and Caribbean countries are pushing a bold goal: A world with zero net emissions by 2050.

But achieving that even within their own borders will be a challenge as the region struggles to harmonise often competing ambitions for economic growth and climate action, Peruvian and Colombian experts said.

At Lima, the Association of Independent Latin America and Caribbean states, or AILAC, has called for a legally binding new climate agreement in which every country in the world has emissions reduction goals.

The group, which includes Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Chile, Guatemala and Peru, also wants strong action to help countries adapt to inevitable climate change impacts.

But the countries may find it difficult to comply at home with what they are asking abroad as a result of policies that put the need for poverty alleviation and economic growth ahead of environmental goals, the experts said.

That is particularly true because the main economic sectors in the region - agriculture, energy and extractive industries - have considerable impacts on emissions and land.

Peru, the host nation of this year's climate negotiations, represents just one example of how difficult it may be to harmonise economic growth and climate change action.

"There is a sort of internal conflict about the direction the country should take regarding development," said Pedro Solano, the executive director of the Peruvian Society of Environmental Law.

Earlier this year, Peru suffered an environmental setback when Law 30230 (known as "El Paquetazo") was signed in order to boost economic growth.

The law reduces the time allowed for environmental consultations, limits budgets for environmental oversight, and cuts the decision power of the Ministry of the Environment.

According to a report from the Center of the International Forestry Research, this law "weakens the environmental institutions and endangers land ownership in Peru".

However, Peru has also taken key steps to act on climate change and environmental protection. In 2014, the Peruvian government created the Institute of Glaciers and Mountains, signed the first law on environmental compensation and consolidated national strategies on climate change and biodiversity.

"I think is good that these contractions arise regarding climate change," Solano said. "Climate change will force the institutions to work (together) in a more functional way."

COLOMBIA AND RENEWABLES?

For the world to reach zero net emissions by 2050, adopting renewable energy will be crucial, experts say, and in some ways Latin American nations are well positioned to make the switch.

Colombia, for instance, has abundant water resources and mountain ranges - the perfect ingredients for hydropower. Even today, almost 70 percent of the country's electricity comes from hydropower, with the remaining 30 percent from fossil fuels.

However, this large hydropower dependency also makes the country very vulnerable to droughts, especially those caused by El Nino, experts say.

To deal with that threat, Colombia has focused on ensuring reliability. Large power projects in Colombia are required to compete in an auction in order to supply energy to the grid. The cheapest and more reliable projects win tenders.

So far, projects under 20 megawatts have not been required enter the auction and can be built freely - and this is where non-conventional renewables have gained a foothold.

The scheme has worked very well for the last 20 years, and no drought-related blackouts have occurred in that time, experts say.

But as part of efforts to ensure even greater reliability, new regulations have been proposed that would require all energy projects to compete in the auction system.

If the new rules pass, they would erase the efforts an ambitious Renewable Energy Law passed by the Colombian Congress last March, said Pablo Corredor, the former manager of XM, the company that runs the electricity market in Colombia.

"(This proposal) goes against the spirit of the efficient use of energy resources" Corredor said, and will send a signal that any energy expansion should be done using fossil fuels or large hydropower plants, leaving solar, wind and other renewables on the side. (Reporting Santiago Ortega; editing by Laurie Goering)

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