A snapshot of policy trends and successes in the region.
The December 2010 climate change discussions in Cancún, Mexico demonstrated that, despite some progress, establishing a comprehensive international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions remains a distant challenge. But there are other ways to address the problem. Climate finance, although less headline-grabbing than Kyoto Protocol emissions limitations, is a critical component of global climate policy. It was a key area of debate at the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009 and an area of minor success in Cancún.
Climate finance—the public and private financial flows from developed to developing countries—funds projects to curb greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the effects of a changing climate. Under the December 2009 Copenhagen Accord, also affirmed in Cancún, developed countries agreed that such flows would reach $100 billion annually in new and additional finance—a sum almost as large as current Official Development Assistance flows.
But public finance will only be a part of this picture. While international negotiators hope for a 50/50 split, only 7 percent of international climate finance flows were from public sources in 2007; foreign direct investment represented the remainder. On top of that—and what the $100 billion does not include—is finance (both public and private) raised domestically in developing countries. This number is estimated to be 84 percent of total climate finance.
A plan to connect the power grids of six Central American countries (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama) is finally about to become reality. First proposed in 1987, the Sistema de Interconexión Eléctrica de los Países de América Central (SIEPAC) is scheduled to become fully operational in Spring 2011.
For Central America and its 7.9 million electricity consumers, the plan means a great improvement in transmission capacity and an important step toward regional power market integration.
The original impetus for the interconnection initiative came from a consensus among seven partners. The six state-owned Central American power companies and Spain’s formerly state-owned electric utility company, Endesa, agreed that coordinating planning and centralizing management of the regional power system would be both practical and profitable. The result was the laying of SIEPAC, a 1,788 kilometer (1,100 mile), 230 kilovolt (kV) system of new transmission lines, which will allow 300 megawatts (MW)—expandable to 600 MW—of power exchanges between most countries in the region. Total cost: an estimated $494 million.
In 2010 the eyes of the world were drawn to the mining industry. On April 5, an explosion at the Massey Energy Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia resulted in the deaths of 29 miners. Six months later, on October 13, live TV cameras captured the rescue of 33 miners in Chile who were trapped for 69 days in the San José copper-gold mine.
These incidents have again raised the issue of mine safety. In the U.S., the Upper Big Branch Mine tragedy—although still under investigation—has already led to changes in occupational health regulations and safety policy for miners.
Immediately following the West Virginia accident, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Labor, beefed up its enforcement arm. In response to criticism that it failed to close the mine despite an above-average number of citations and that it had never once used its injunctive power to close a mine, MSHA launched an inspection blitz. It targeted 57 underground coal mines and forced six to close until violations could be corrected.