Tag Archive | "Environment"

Editorial: Argentina’s Unsustainable Path

The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its fifth report on Monday, entitled Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Head of UN climate panel, Rajendra Pachauri, has said he hopes the report will “jolt people into action”.

His plea may well fall on deaf ears in Argentina, where climate change is a non-topic, and as a result the standard response to its dangers is inertia.

The lack of action is worrisome – 97% of the world’s scientists agree that climate change is happening and temperatures are set to rise at least 2°C by the end of the century (those are conservative estimates – many predict rises of up to 6°C) unless drastic action is taken to reduce carbon emissions, and fast.

The effects of climate change are already being seen around the continent, and Argentina is not immune. Already, between 2000 and 2010, over 600 extreme weather and climate events occurred in Latin America, leaving near to 16,000 fatalities and 46.6m people affected, generating economic losses amounting to US$208bn. Last year’s flooding in La Plata, which killed 89 people and caused US$500m of damage, is one local example of such an event.

Hielo Azul glacier is one of the popular spots for trekkers willing to put in an extra effort and see its cool green water.

Hielo Azul in Río Negro is one of many of Argentina’s retreating glaciers (photo: Brian Funk)

According to the much-anticipated report, rising temperatures will affect Argentina’s agricultural productivity, and the country will face changing rain patterns, with increased rainfall -and likely flooding- in the pampas and east (including Buenos Aires), and droughts in the west, as glacier retreat and lower rainfall lead to decreased run-off in the rivers.

The report also highlighted that 4.3% of global deforestation now occurs in Argentina. Deforestation in the north, particularly in the Chaco forest, has accelerated in the past decade due to agricultural expansion, and is now the most important source of carbon emissions for the north of Argentina.

However, these dramatic findings were greeted by all but radio silence in Argentina. There was no mention of the subject in Monday night’s cadena nacional, and no media front-pagers. In fact, none of the national media even covered the report’s release, preferring to focus instead on Sunday’s superclásico and whether Boca should have had a penalty or not.

Whilst the government and media ignored the report, various environmental think tanks, foundations, and NGOs responded quickly to the long-awaited findings. The Foundation for the Environment and Natural Resources (FARN), released a statement in coalition with Greenpeace, Vida Silvestre, Avina, and others, which said: “The development of more active policies on climate change adaptation are needed, as we have reached a situation in which we don’t have any more time to lose.

“This IPCC report has been endorsed by governments – including Argentina’s – on the international stage; and more than 100 scientists from our country have collaborated in its development. Politicians can no longer stand with their arms folded in front of this evidence.”

Images of deforestation in the Chaco (Photo: Greenpeace)

Images of deforestation in the Chaco (Photo: Greenpeace)

So Where Does Argentina Stand on Climate Change?

In 2010, the last year for which figures are available, Argentina’s carbon emissions were 315m tonnes, accounting for 0.63% of the global total. In a world with a globalised economy, with international trade and many nations with export-based economies, there are endless debates about how to calculate what each country’s share of carbon emissions should be. Population can be an indicator as to how an emissions budget should be carved up, giving each of the countries an equal share based on population.

Argentina’s population, at just over 40m, is 0.56% of the global total. So in terms of per capita emissions, the country is not doing too badly, compared to say, the US, which has 4.4% of the world’s population, but is responsible for nearly 20% of emissions. But compared to Bangladesh, which has 2.13% of global population and is responsible for just 0.37% of global emissions, Argentina is contributing more than its fair share. What is undeniable is that to prevent its share from rising, any future economic growth in Argentina must be done without increasing emissions – and even by lowering them, if the world is to set itself on the right track. (Science dictates that 350 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere is a ‘safe’ upper limit, but there are currently 400).

And that is where we find a sticking point, as lowering emissions through clean development is not on the government’s agenda. No, the country is looking to fossil fuels to power any future growth. After last month’s discovery of a new oil field in the province of Río Negro, expected to yield 15m barrels of crude, head of YPF, Miguel Galuccio, spoke of an “energy revolution” and highlighted how growth and development can be generated around the country as a result of these reserves and the huge Vaca Muerta gas fields, leaving no doubt about the key role these dirty energies will play in Argentina’s development.

Silos of soy in the fields of Junin. (Photo by Nicolás Lope de Barrios)

Silos of soy in the fields of Junin. (Photo by Nicolás Lope de Barrios)

Add to that the government’s 2011 Strategic Agrifood Plan (PEA), which targets a 60% national increase in grain production by 2020, paying little attention to the inevitable increase in deforestation and emissions (agriculture is currently responsible for 36% of the country’s greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions).

These energy and agricultural plans – along with the national silence on the subject – seem to contradict  Argentina’s claims on the international stage, which on closer inspection sound more like an excuse for inaction. In its second report to the UNFCCC in 2007, the government admitted that the country is vulnerable to climate change, and that various government-commissioned studies have laid out both mitigation and adaptation strategies. However, it insists that substantial non-refundable international funds are necessary for their implementation. A request that is unlikely to be granted.

The World Bank estimates that poor countries need US$100bn a year to try to offset the effects of climate change, something that has been deemed an unrealistic demand by richer nations. If the historic polluters can’t dig deep enough to help the poorest who are already feeling the worst effects of climate change, they certainly won’t be helping Argentina – a member of the G20 with a growing economy – on its way to sustainable development.

If Argentina wants to mitigate the effects of climate change it will have to do so by itself, following the lead of the many countries, taking the threat of climate change seriously, that have started to do so. Let’s return to Bangladesh. The country has a GDP that measures a quarter of Argentina’s, for a population almost four times as big, yet it has managed to invest US$10bn in climate change adaptation. And so if other, poorer countries are managing to find the way, why is Argentina not acting?

Published earlier this year, the comprehensive Fourth Edition of GLOBE Climate Legislation Study analyses Argentina’s lack of legislation and regulation related to climate change, highlighting the 2007 presidential decree 140/2007 (the only piece of legislation related to climate change), which declared the “rational and efficient” use of energy a national priority. The report says: “Investments necessary to mitigate emissions and adapt to climate change are conceived as politically pitted against social investments in health, education and poverty in a zero-sum game. As such, Argentina has neither enacted comprehensive legislation related to climate change nor made an official pledge to reduce GHG emissions by a measurable difference.”

YPF station in Vaca Muerta, Neuquén (photo: Foto: Pepe Delloro/Télam/aa)

YPF station in Vaca Muerta, Neuquén is one of the many new sites set for exploitation in Patagonia (photo: Foto: Pepe Delloro/Télam/aa)

And even that presidential decree is risible, as “rational and efficient” use of energy seems to set aside investment in renewables, focusing instead on the development of Patagonia’s oil and gas fields. According to Bloomberg’s annual report on green energy investment, published in January, public and private investments in renewable energy in Argentina actually fell from US$539m in 2012 to just US$94m in 2013. (This compares to US$1.4bn in Chile last year and in Mexico the figure was US$1.1bn).

All of this leaves those who do care about climate change wringing their hands: no leadership from the government, no media coverage, and no public pressure are combining to set Argentina on a very unsustainable path indeed.

It can be argued that Argentina’s total emissions are only 0.63% of the global total, and as such the country will unlikely play a major role in tipping the world over the 2°C warming threshold. But does that mean it should endorse policies that go completely against the tide of global consensus?

No, business should not continue as usual. For climate change to really be tackled, all nations need to be working together in setting real, attainable targets in terms of future carbon emissions. The quick lining of pockets may seem like a good idea today, but what will the legacy of this plan be for the people of tomorrow? An old, Native American concept from the Iroquois talks about seventh generation sustainability. In making a decision, it is considered how the actions would affect those around in seven generations’ time, and there is an entire process around thinking through if the idea will be beneficial to them. In Argentina’s case, the undeniable response to the government’s current inaction is a resounding ‘no’, and the country – while perhaps not having to look 150 years ahead, could well benefit from a less shortsighted approach to its management of natural resources and its land.

But unfortunately, when ecology comes up against economy, the former inevitably loses out.


Lead image by Alejandra Bartoliche / Télam

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Latin America News Roundup: 29th January 2014

Minister of Rural Development, Nemesia Achacollo at the press conference when the state of emergency was declared. (Photo: Jose LIrauze, presidencia.gob.bo)

Minister of Rural Development, Nemesia Achacollo, at the press conference when the state of emergency was declared. (Photo: Jose Lirauze, presidencia.gob.bo)

Bolivia – State of Emergency Declared after Flooding Kills Dozens: Bolivia has declared a state of emergency after heavy rains led to flooding which has left dozens dead and over 20,000 displaced. According to Vice President Alvaro García Linera, 80 of the country’s 339 municipalities are facing flash floods, flooding, hailstorms and building collapses as a result of the rains, which look set to continue into February. The rainy season started in October, but this year has been particularly bad, with at least 43 people dead so far. The situation culminated when rains caused a mudslide on Saturday in the town of Rurrenabaque in the country’s Amazon basin, in which eight people died. In the central region of Cochabamba, 11 rivers have burst their banks. Troops have been sent to various parts of the country to help bring aid to those affected.

Uruguay Ranks top in Environmental Performance Index Categories: Uruguay has ranked top in two categories of the annual Environmental Performance Index (EPI), a global ranking of countries’ environmental results. The country performed best in the sections of ‘air quality’ and ‘forest’, overall ranking 70th out of 178 countries, with a score of 53.61 out of 100. The EPI is an annual report put together by Yale University, using data from dozens of environmental organisations from around the world. It bases its ranking on two sections: environmental health and ecosystem vitality. The former includes health impacts, air quality, and water and sanitation. Under ecosystem vitality, water resources, agriculture, forest, fisheries, biodiversity and habitat, and climate and energy are all taken into account. Switzerland was ranked first overall in the poll, while Chile was top in Latin America, coming 29th with a score of 69.93. Haiti ranked lowest in the region, coming 176th out of 178. The report stated that: “The poorest performers are those with significant political or economic strife, suggesting again that other pressing issues can sideline effective environmental policy.” Argentina ranked 93rd, with a score of 49.55.

Campaigns Close ahead of El Salvador and Costa Rica Elections: Ahead of this Sunday’s elections, presidential hopefuls in both El Salvador and Costa Rica have closed their electoral campaigns. In El Salvador, current vice president, Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the governing FMLN party, is leading the five candidates by a 14-point margin, although an estimated 15-20% of the 4.9m voters are said to be still undecided. If the winning candidate fails to win an absolute majority on Sunday, a second round will take place on 9th March. The winner will take power on 1st June and will govern the country for the next five years.

Further south, in Costa Rica, polls indicate none of the 13 candidates will win the 40% needed to avoid going to a run-off in April. Leading the race are former mayor of San José, who is running for the governing PLN party, leftist José María Villalta, and right-leaning businessman Otto Guevara. Anticipating a run-off, candidates are said to be looking at potential alliances, although none have officially commented. Just over 3m people will vote in Sunday’s election.

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Latin America News Roundup: 27th January 2014

The map shows the proposed boundaries (in red and blue) and the final boundary as established by the ICJ (in black). Courtesy of ICJ.

The map shows the proposed boundaries (in red and blue) and the final boundary as established by the ICJ (in black). (Image courtesy of ICJ)

Chile and Peru: The International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague issued a ruling today on a long standing maritime border dispute between Chile and Peru. The ruling considered both positions in establishing a new maritime boundary, which extends along the line proposed by Chile -parallel to the Equator- for the first 80 nautical miles, and continues along the equidistance line proposed by Peru from there on. The dispute between the two countries, brought before the ICJ by Peru in 2008, concerned a triangle of around 38,000km2 rich in fishing resources, especially anchovies. The fishing industry in this area produces revenue for an estimated US$200m yearly, and the places most affected by the decision will be the Chilean town of Arica and the Peruvian town of Tacna. Whilst both governments have pledged to abide by the ruling, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera said that “this transfer constitutes an unfortunate loss for our country.” Peruvian President Ollanta Humala celebrated that the ICJ “recognised the validity of the Peruvian position” and that his country “has won over 70% of the lawsuit.” Alvaro García Linera, Vice-president of Bolivia, said that the ruling “offers a very important precedent” and that President Evo Morales will refer to the matter tomorrow at the Celac summit in Cuba. The landlocked country is also involved in territorial disputes with Chile.

Honduras: Juan Orlando Hernández was sworn in as President of Honduras today. The ceremony took place at 9.50am local time in Tegucigalpa, and was attended by foreign dignitaries from around 80 countries. During his opening speech, Hernández promised to create 100,000 new jobs and to improve the quality of life of the 800,000 Honduran families that earn less than US$1 per month. He also pledged to improve the social security system, education, and to fight against corruption. Hernández was elected president on 24th November for a four-year term, amidst allegations of fraud by rival party LIBRE. Members of LIBRE organised a demonstration in Tegucigalpa to coincide with the ceremony, in protest against the “fraudulent” electoral process.

Ecuador: A man has been sentenced to six months in prison for killing a condor. Manuel Damián Damián, 61, confessed to the crime after pictures started circulating on social networks in April 2013 showing him with a dead female condor. Since he was arrested in November 2013, he will have to complete another four months in prison, pay a US$5,333 fine, and upon his release he will have to complete a series of environmental remediation tasks imposed by the tribunal. The condor is an endangered species -according to Ecuador’s Environment Ministry, there are fewer than 50 left in the wild, and 19 in captivity, in the country.

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Argentina News Roundup: 8th January 2014

The 'Spring Without Monsanto' protest in Malvinas Argentinas (photo: Paola Castillo, via Tierra Negra)

The ‘Spring Without Monsanto’ protest in Malvinas Argentinas (photo: Paola Castillo, via Tierra Negra)

Córdoba Court Rules Against Monsanto: A labour court in Córdoba halted the construction of a seed plant by Monsanto in Malvinas Argentinas, 14km away from the provincial capital. The three members of the court ruled 2-1 in favour of environmental activists who had filed an appeal for legal protection against the multinational company, and ordered that construction of the plant be suspended until the environmental impact assessment is completed. Newspaper La Voz, from Córdoba, informed that the report could be ready as early as February. Whilst members of the citizens’ assemblies that have opposed the construction of the facilities celebrated the ruling, the company indicated they will file an appeal.

Argentina to Import Food Over the Coming Months: The government announced that it will encourage the import of foodstuffs in order to guarantee an adequate level of supply and a range of prices consistent with the new price agreements. Chief of Cabinet Jorge Capitanich informed this morning that the first products to be imported will be tomatoes, which will be bought from Brazil, as climate factors affected the harvest, pushing prices up. Afterwards, purchases abroad “will be carried out for all the products that have seasonal supply issues or that may affect the prices in the [price agreement],” said Capitanich. The minister also indicated that the price agreement for 100 products, which is already underway in the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires, will extend to the coast of the Buenos Aires province on the weekend and to Chinese supermarkets and the rest of the country throughout January.

Hundreds of Dead Fish Appear on Palermo Lakes: Hundreds of dead fish washed up on the shores of the Lago de Regatas in Palermo today, apparently as a result of the recent heat wave. Experts have indicated that the rise in temperature would have caused the levels of oxygen in the water to decrease, killing the bigger fish. Alejandro Pérez, Director of the Tres de Febrero Park, confirmed that the latest water quality tests, performed in December, showed no anomalies. Still, authorities informed that both the water and the dead fish will be analysed in order to confirm the cause of the deaths.

Deputy Proposes Moving the Capital to the North: Deputy and former agriculture minister Julián Domínguez sparked something of a debate today as he proposed to move the country’s capital from its current location in Buenos Aires to a northern province. He justified the proposal by saying that “this model of state was conceived 200 years ago with its capital by the port, and countries with large projects don’t have their capitals by the ports. Colonies have their capitals by the ports.” Domínguez suggested that Argentina should “be thinking again about gaining an outlet to the Pacific [Ocean]” by establishing a trade route through the northern provinces. He did not, however, specify which city should serve as the country’s new capital. Domínguez’s idea of moving the capital is not new -in 1986 the Alfonsín administration pushed a bill that made the city of Viedma, in Río Negro, the country’s new capital.

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Peru: Congress Approves Law to Privatise Part of State Oil Firm

Petroperú (Wikimedia Commons)

Petroperú (Wikimedia Commons)

Peruvian Congress approved a law yesterday allowing for the sale of up to 49% of the country’s state oil company, Petroperú.

As part of a governmental push to increase the production capabilities at Peruvian oil refineries, the law passed offers investors the opportunity to take a minority stake in the firm for the first time in its 40-year history.

President Ollanta Humala proposed the new law as one of the key measures in increasing and stimulating the nation’s energy production.

Petroperú currently works in refining, transporting, storage and marketing of petroleum based products. Shares will eventually be floated on the Peruvian stock exchange however the exact time these will be available remains unknown. Of the 49% to be sold, at least 5% will be offered “exclusively” to the general public, in accordance with the new legislation.

Humala hopes to convert Peru into a large exporter of energy through this transformation. Congress also approved a US$3.5bn plan to expand and modernise the Talara refinery, which will increase production to 95,000 barrels a day as opposed to the current 65,000. The works are set to be completed in 2017.

The measure has faced opposition from certain parties, with some warning it could worsen energy security and potentially even decrease petrol production. General Secretary of the Administrative Workers’ Union, Lino Cerna Manrique, slated the plan was “a clear attack on national interests”, continuing, “the only ones responsible for the reduction in production of crude oil in our country are the private firms, whose action affects the energy security of our country.”

Peruvian Minister of Energy and Mines, Jorge Merino, attempted to allay fears, saying: “The state is not loosing control of the firm, it will maintain 51%… we want to be a firm that competes on an international level.”

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Brazil: Set to Vote on Breaking Global Moratorium on Terminator Seeds

A group protests against Monsanto, one of the seed companies involved (Photo courtesy of GRR)

A group protests against Monsanto, one of the seed companies involved (Photo courtesy of GRR)

Brazil’s congress is set to break a 13-year global de facto moratorium on the use of certain genetically modified seeds, with a vote likely to take place before the end of the year. If passed, the bill would see the production and commercialisation of the seeds begin in the agricultural giant.

The so-called ‘suicide’ or ‘terminator’ seeds in question use ‘Genetic Use Restriction Technology’, or GURT, which restrict the seeds to one life cycle, meaning the seeds produced by the plants grown using the GURT seeds are essentially sterile.

Farmers would therefore have to buy new seeds each year, benefitting the large seed corporations, such as Monsanto. The use of such seeds are seen as a threat to biodiversity, farmers, and food sovereignty.

This move comes as a turnaround from the Brazilian Judicial Commission, who promised on World Food Day on 16th October this year not to move forward with the project.

Centro Ecológico’s Maria José stated: “If the Commission passes the bill this week, Congress could make it law after it reconvenes in February.”

Brazil is one of the largest agricultural producers worldwide, and critics believe that, if passed, it could create a domino effect globally. José continues: “Whilst most of Brazil is celebrating a Christmas birth, the seed multinationals will be celebrating the death of the 10,000-year right of farmers to save seeds.”

In 2000, the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity approved a de facto moratorium to ban the technology, signed by 193 countries. It was discussed again in 2006, during the 8th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity and the de facto moratorium was confirmed once again.

Over 35,000 people globally have already signed a petition to not allow the commercialisation of ‘suicide’ seeds, and for the Commission to honour the promise made at the Convention in 2000.

This comes in the same week that Brazil is looking to create a single commission to assess the impact of new agrochemicals, leading critics to say the commission will deregulate sector. The new commission will bypassing the previous strict, three-agency approach to regulation, which assesses the quality of the product, as well as any potential health and environmental impacts.

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Ecuador: National Court Ratifies Verdict against Chevron

Chevron's toxic legacy in Ecuador (photo: Rainforest Action Network)

Chevron’s toxic legacy in Ecuador (photo: Rainforest Action Network)

The Ecuadorian National Court of Justice (CNJ) has ratified a verdict against oil giant Chevron for grave environmental pollution.

The verdict, given by Sucumbíos Court and ratified by the CNJ, sentences the corporation to pay US$9.5bn in damages.

The Ecuadorian tribunal previously sentenced Chevron in January 2012 to pay the fine of US$19bn yet they failed to pay this.

The resolution is presented in a 222-page document, and noted that the original fine of US$9.5bn was doubled in 2012, as the company did not publicly apologise for the environmental damage, raising the fine to US$19bn.

According to prosecution lawyer, Pablo Fajardo, the verdict decided that the public apology did not form a part of “national jurisdictional order” in Ecuador and therefore the “punitive damages” do not need to be paid.

The compensation that must be paid by Chevron is US$8.6bn, with an additional 10% that the law states must be paid in reparation to the Frente de Defensa de la Amazonía, a body that assembles those living in the area affected, including indigenous people and settlers, which sued Chevron.

Fajardo noted that the verdict of the CNJ is the “last resort” and was grateful that the court has ratified the sentence against Chevron. He noted that the elimination of the clause of “punitive damages” is unfortunate as it allows “the irresponsible conduct of Chevron to remain unsanctioned”.

“We are pleased with the sentence that we have, it’s a large step, it a sign of justice if it functions and shows that the poor also have a right to justice,” he said.

Chevron, who has yet to release a statement on the CNJ’s verdict, is currently engaged in a related legal battle in New York, where it is suing the prosecutors for corruption for having committed “fraud” against them. They have also tried to take indigenous community lawyers to court for conspiracy and extortion.

The oil company was sentenced for grave environmental damage for the damage caused whilst functioning as Texaco (acquired by Chevron in 2001) in the Amazon region of the country, where they extracted crude oil between 1964 and 1992.

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ACUMAR Disputes Matanza-Riachuelo’s ‘Most Polluted’ Title

A water fork lift cleans out garbage in the Riachuelo. (Photo: Patricia Di Filippo)

A water fork lift cleans out garbage in the Riachuelo. (Photo: Patricia Di Filippo)

A list naming Matanza-Riachuelo River Basin as one of the top ten worst polluted places in the world was based on outdated data, according to Authority of Matanza-Riachulo Basin (ACUMAR), the autonomous group responsible for the clean up of the area.

The list, compiled by environmental organisations Blacksmith Institute and the Swiss Green Cross, ranked the river alongside Chernobyl as one of the most polluted places on Earth earlier this week. According to their findings 15,000 industries dump waste in the river, and chemical plants are responsible for more than one third of the pollution.

Andrés Carsen, the Environmental Quality Coordinator of ACUMAR challenged this analysis. “Comparing the Riachuelo Basin with a zone like Chernobyl, where one of the biggest environmental disasters of the twentieth century took place is, at best, ill-intentioned, especially considering that the impacts were observed at the global level,” he said.

The official also stressed that the information used was relatively old, citing research from 2008 and 2010. “It is striking that there is a Green Cross Argentina office, but the report did not make any mention of studies ACUMAR has generated to date since 2010,” ACUMAR said in a statement.

According to ACUMUR the Sustainable Development in the Matanza-Riachuelo Basin project is one of the World Banks’ “most important” water and sanitation initiatives and it has provided “billions of dollars” to finance programs to reduce pollution.

“In addition to the significant assistance of the World Bank, the government has invested over $14bn in works and measures to begin to change 200 years of abuse and neglect,” ACUMAR said.

The Secretary of Environment and Sustainable Development of Argentina, Juan José Mussi hase also disputed the list, saying that there was “no way” the river should be in the ranking.

“It’s old news, an analysis done long ago, [it] did not take into account the current state of Riachuelo, which is better of course. It is not solved or resolved but has changed a lot with respect to what the information says,” Mussi said.

The report argues that there are 12,000 people living in “unfit territories”, but the Mussi said that figure is old and, “did not take into account families already moved.”

“We no longer have people at the edge of the Riachuelo in Avellaneda, La Matanza, and Lomas de Zamora and very soon we will finish moving families left in Lanús,” he said.

Mussi confirmed that while there are about 15,000 industries near the Riachuelo, the which approximately 1,200 were polluters. He said 441 of those have been “reconverted” and the rest have accepted to participate in an “Industrial Restructuring Programme” to reduce pollution.

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Brazil: Belo Monte Dam Operations Cease and Restart in the Same Week

Protestors against the Belo Monte Dam (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Protestors against the Belo Monte Dam (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Monday saw Brazilian judge Antonio Souza temporarily terminate construction at Belo Monte dam, as environmental conditions were not met.

In a complete turnaround however, the Brazilian tribunal ruled yesterday that work could start again at the controversial project. They ruled that the company developing the dam had in fact complied with all of the necessary environmental conditions detailed in the licence and could continue with the construction.

Norte Energia, the company in charge of the construction stated yesterday that the works are “in full operation”.

The dam is located in northern Brazil in the locality of Altamira (Pará state) and when finished, it will be the third largest dam in the world after China’s Three Gorges and Itaipú, a Brazil-Paraguay joint venture.

Last Friday Souza received a petition from the Ministry of Public Health detailing the environmental state of play at the Belo Monte construction site. Upon receiving this, he called for the immediate halt of construction works on the Xingu River.

Ever since its conception in 2011, the dam has met huge resistance from indigenous peoples, environmentalists, agriculturalists, fisherman and ecologists who claim that the dam will have an extensive negative impact on the Amazon forest. Indigenous groups also managed to stop works earlier this year.

Critic and environmental photographer Daniel Veltrá claims that if the dam is to be finished in 2019 as projected, it will “include a significant lost of rainforest and biodiversity as well as the displacement of between 20,000 and 40,000 indigenous from the area”.

The funding body for the dam, the National Bank of Economic and Social Development (BNDES), were also stopped from giving any type of investment to the dam during the period of temporary suspension.

Construction at the dam was interrupted once before in 2012 by the same tribunal however the Supreme Federal Tribunal of Brazil (STF) authorised works to begin again just a few months later.

On average the dam will be able to produce 4571 megawatts of energy per hour and according to the government will altogether require investments of US$10.6bn of investment.

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Yasuní-ITT: A Failed Initiative to Change History

The Yasuní-ITT project was a proposal by the government of Ecuador, launched in 2007 by president Rafael Correa, to refrain indefinitely from exploiting the oil reserves of the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini block, three oil fields within the Yasuní National Park in eastern Ecuador, in exchange for 50% of the value of the income it would be forgoing from the world community.

In the spirit of co-responsibility, the plan was to raise US$3.6bn over a period of 13 years. Six years later, however, on 15th August 2013, Correa announced its death in a televised speech due to a severe lack of funds raised. “With great sadness, but also with the absolute responsibility for our people and history, I had to make one of the hardest decisions of my administration,” he said.

Yasuní National Park (photo: Joshua Bousel on Flickr)

Yasuní National Park (photo: Joshua Bousel on Flickr)

There is an estimated 846 million barrels of oil within the ITT block, approximately 20% of the country’s proven oil reserve, and equivalent to US$7.2bn. With the Yasuní-ITT project now defunct, this area is open to exploration.

An Unprecedented Proposal

Seen as a stepping stone by environmentalists and a model for other sensitive areas, the Yasuní-ITT initiative seemed like the perfect way to integrate ecosystem protection, climate change mitigation, development aid, and support for the rights of indigenous peoples. The 10,000 km2 park represents nature in all its glory and is one of the most biodiverse reserves in the world, designated a UNESCO Biosphere reserve in 1989.

It is also home to a number of indigenous groups. The Amazonian Quichua or Napurunas people, the Waorani people, and two groups in voluntary isolation, the Tagaeri and Taromenane, all reside within the Yasuní National Park.

The project was the first of its kind to implement the concept of ‘net avoided emissions’, presented to the world by President Correa in 2010. This mechanism seeks to achieve a net reduction of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at the national and global level by not exploiting known oil reserves in developing countries. The effort must be compensated by developed countries, which in turn obtain carbon credits for their investment.

More than 50 countries, governments, private enterprises, and individuals joined the project and started collaborating after the Yasuní-ITT Trust Fund was officially launched on 3rd August 2010.

However, after receiving pledges totalling US$116m but raising just US$13m in actual donations, Correa announced that he had an obligation to his people, particularly the poor, to move ahead with the oil exploration. “It was not charity that we sought from the international community, but co-responsibility in the face of climate change,” said the president.

As he announced the scrapping of the plan, Correa emphasised the oil exploration will not exceed 1% of the total area of the Yasuní National park and that offshore techniques will be used.

However, polls show that that a staggering 78%-90% of the Ecuadorian population are against oil drilling in the Yasuní National Park.

The main issue at play is: who will assume the environmental costs of the exploitation of Yasuní? Leaving the oil underground would avoid the emission of 410 million metric tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Economist Bard Harstad, professor at the Kellogg School of Management says his research has shown that leaving fossil fuel in the ground is the most effective climate policy “There exists no better climate policy than not drilling-not least when one considers jungle-preservation as a bonus. Preserving the Yasuní would be a great public good for the world, and it should be in the world’s interest to pay for it.”


Other countries, however, seemed less interested is making this novel concept work. “The world has failed us,” said Correa. “The key factor in this failure is that the world is highly hypocritical and the prevailing logic is not that of justice, but of power. The polluting countries are also the richest and most powerful.”

President Correa announces the end of the Yasuní-ITT initiative (photo: Presidencia Ecuador/Télam/lz)

President Correa announces the end of the Yasuní-ITT initiative (photo: Presidencia Ecuador/Télam/lz)

Karen Orenstein, international policy analyst with Friends of the Earth US says that “the fact that developed countries haven’t fulfilled their end of the bargain is not at all a surprise… one needs to look no further than the virtually empty coffers of the world’s newest multilateral climate fund -the UN’s Green Climate Fund- to see that rich countries don’t put their money where their mouths are when it comes to providing funds for developing countries to confront the climate crisis caused by developed countries.”

“Another concern,” says Harstad, “has been that if we suddenly pay countries to not extract fossil fuel, then this will set precedence for the future. But what is the consequence of such precedence? It is actually a beneficial one: the precedence could give countries an incentive to conserve now, hoping for a similar scheme later. This hope (and thus the precedence) is therefore working for us – not against us!”


Local and international environmentalists have expressed thorough disappointment with President Correa’s decision, and hundreds of protesters gathered outside the presidential palace in Quito on the days following his decision. More recently, on 27th August, there were severe clashes between protesters and the police, four people were arrested and the police was accused of using tear gas and rubber bullets.

Critics have argued that Correa himself never really liked the proposal, including environmental groups like Acción Ecológica, Alberto Acosta, who was minister of energy and mines in 2007, and Roque Sevilla, ex-president of the Yasuní-ITT Initiative, who said that a lack of transparency and effective strategies by the government in their marketing scheme for the project – as well as bad timing – could be to blame for its failure. Acosta wrote a piece on 17th August on the failure of Yasuní noting that “what was serious was that the President of the republic never got tired of insisting (…) like in Cancun in 2010, in one of the big international summits, that if the money couldn’t be found by international support that ITT oil would be exploited. This repetitive position didn’t send off secure signals to potential contributors.”

Correa was also accused of having already drawn up a blueprint for getting at the oil whilst lobbying for the scheme at the same time. Most controversial is that the park is no stranger to oil explorations. Journalist and documentary maker on the Taromenane tribe, Carlos Andrés Vera, says 40% of Yasuní is already being exploited by oil companies and the ITT area is being prepared for the same treatment. A licence to state-run oil company Petroamazonas to drill in Block 31, which borders ITT, was only just recently given and the company operates in many other sectors of the park.

On 22nd August, The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (CONAIE), the Confederation of Peoples of Kichwa Nationality (ECUARUNARI), the Confederation of University Students, and Acción Ecológica presented a proposal for a referendum to the Constitutional Court, which would aim at banning oil exploitation at Yasuní. They will need to collect over half a million signatures, a total of 5% of all registered voters in the country, in support of the petition to save the ITT block.

Yasuní National Park (photo: Joshua Bousel on Flickr)

Yasuní National Park (photo: Joshua Bousel on Flickr)

High Cost for a Poor Country

Ecuador is a member of the OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) that depends on oil for a third of its national budget. It is a still a developing country with high levels of poverty and inequality and a need to finance public projects. Correa assured that part of the oil revenues would go towards development projects such as schools, conservation efforts, and hospitals.

Petroamazonas will lead the drilling, which Correa assured would be conducted in only 1% of the park, and is estimated to bring in around US$18bn. We are facing “the biggest economic global crisis of the last 80 years,” he said, and reminded the people that 50% of the population are currently without basic public services.

Yasuní-ITT was “the most serious and concrete proposal against climate change, but we have to look after our own people. This decision is a disappointment for all. History will judge us,” said the president.

Faced with criticism over the consequences of oil drilling on indigenous people, the government claims that the isolated native communities will not be impacted, since the fields to be exploited are far from the “intangible zone”, where they live. Justice minister, Lenín Lara, has also reiterated this.

Yet environmental experts and academics refute this claim. “The Taromenane are hemmed in on every side. And even if the work is done with the best technology, pressure is going to be put on these peoples,” said Vera.

Development in various parts of the national park has already diminished areas where uncontacted groups can maintain their lifestyles “They are forced to move around seeking refuge in the last few areas that don’t have any wells or roads. This means they inevitably end up encountering outsiders and violence ensues. Their numbers will probably continue to dwindle in light of processes that are already out of control,” says Kelly Swing, founder of the Tiputini Biodiversity Research Centre in Yasuní.

Offshore Techniques

The other main concern expressed by the public has been the environmental impact that oil exploitation will have on the national park.

José Lema, the president of the association of geological engineers of Ecuador, has cited the work Petroamazonas is doing in the Pañacocha field, located in another nature reserve in the north of the country, which has received international recognition for environmental best practices when facing critics.

Waorani women from Yasuní (photo: Yasuni Waorani Camp on Flickr)

Waorani women from Yasuní (photo: Yasuni Waorani Camp on Flickr)

The Pañacocha field produces 18,000 barrels per day and the crude is not processed in any way within the protected area. “Every project creates disturbances; the aim is to reduce them as much as possible by using the best technology,” he said.

Wilson Pástor, a former minister of non-renewable resources, says the most polluting activity is the treatment and separation of water, gas, and oil, which means “in practice setting up a refinery, and the refinery will not be built in the ITT… so the entire intervention will only affect 190 hectares.”

Nevertheless, Kelly Swing says that “We do have our doubts about how well this will be done or if adjustments will be made that drastically change the amount of forest that eventually gets eliminated. If roads are opened, people move in and the impact expands exponentially.”

Who Is To Blame?

No one can argue that we are all to blame on some level for climate change, for being materialistic consumers of all kinds of products, “especially plastics and fuel,” says Kelly Swing. But, most importantly, she says, “we are all to blame for not noticing that a few billion dollars is a pretty fantastic bargain when we’re talking about the possibility to save as much as 10% of all the species on the planet.”

The Amazon rainforest is, after all, the ‘lungs of the world’.

Posted in Environment, News From Latin America, Social Issues, TOP STORYComments (1)

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