On March 25, Chile’s Interior Ministry declared a state of emergency for cities in the country’s northern Atacama and Antofogasta regions after flash flooding from the worst rains in two decades left at least four people dead and 22 missing. Meanwhile, high temperatures and strong winds in southern Chile are making it harder for authorities to fight forest fires that have raged for weeks and have affected over 11,000 acres in three protected areas.
Overflowing rivers in northern Chile forced residents out of their homes and onto roofs, while mudslides cut off road access to several small towns. Approximately 1,500 people had to take refuge into shelters. On Wednesday evening, 48,000 people were without drinking water and 38,500 were without electricity.
In response to the flooding, President Michelle Bachelet traveled to Copiapó in Atacama on Wednesday evening after authorizing the armed forces to assist in rescue operations.
In last night's State of the Union address, U.S. President Barack Obama spoke about climate change (among many other things) and challengd climate change skeptics who "try to dodge the evidence by saying they're not scientists."
"Well, I’m not a scientist, either,” Obama said. “But you know what? I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe."
The comments come after NOAA's National Climatic Data Center released its annual State of the Climate report last week, showing 2014 was the hottest on record.
According to the report: "The December 2014 globally-averaged temperature across land and ocean surfaces was 0.77°C (1.39°F) above the 20th century average of 12.2°C (54.0°F), the highest on record for December since records began in 1880, surpassing the previous record set in 2006 by 0.02°C (0.04°F). This is the 10th consecutive month (since March 2014) with a global monthly temperature ranking among the seven highest for its respective month. December also marks the sixth month of 2014 to set a new monthly high temperature record."
Anyone who has been in southeastern Brazil for the past month can confirm that January will most likely surpass these records.
On assuming the presidency of the 20th Conference of Parties (COP20) annual climate change conference in Lima on Monday, Peruvian Minister of the Environment Manuel Pulgar-Vidal reminded delegates from 194 countries that they should seize the opportunity to reach a global consensus to reduce emissions ahead of next year’s Paris agreement.
“Never has it been so clear that a window of opportunity will soon close,” he said, citing a recent report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC, told COP20 delegates that preventing global temperatures from rising no more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) would require a 40 to 70 percent reduction in global carbon emissions by 2050.
The IPCC’s recent synthesis report shows that human activity has been “extremely likely” to contribute to global warming since the mid-twentieth century.
Last week, IPCC spokesman Michael Wadleigh told Peru’s foreign press association that global temperatures will soon rise by1.5 degrees Celsius unless people stop emissions immediately. Additionally, billions of tons of carbon would need to be removed from the atmosphere to stop the temperature rising by two degrees Celsius.
For Allioaiga Feturi Elisaia, ambassador to the United Nations for Samoa—which is considered, along with other Pacific Islands, to be one of the places most vulnerable to climate change—“the reality for us is that we are not trying to philosophize about something that is going to happen in a few years. People have seen it happen, and it is going to be very difficult.”
Christiana Figueres, secretary general of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said that global emissions should peak in the next few years. Figueres stressed the importance of decreasing emissions, rather than increasing them, to become “climate neutral” by the end of the century. “Achieving that balance, which we had prior to the Industrial revolution, is ultimately our goal,” she said.
This week, New York City hosted the Climate Summit 2014, an event aimed at shaping the world’s future developmental policies. Just one month earlier in Nicaragua, delegates from the Mesoamerican region met to analyze the social, environmental and economic impacts of severe droughts this year.
Proyecto Mesoamérica (Mesoamerican Project), launched in 2008 by heads of state from Mexico, Central America, the Dominican Republic, and Colombia to promote regional integration and economic development, reported last month that 2.5 million people in Central America suffer from the impact of food insecurity and economic losses due to the severe droughts in the region. Guatemala’s agricultural losses this summer were estimated at around $ 57 million. El Salvador lost 90 percent of its bean harvest. Nicaragua reported 88,000 hectares of corn and beans lost and 600,000 livestock affected with malnutrition. Costa Rica reported losses of $19.5 million in the agricultural and livestock sectors, and Colombia reported agricultural losses of $ 28.2 million.
Regionally, water is a scarce, valuable commodity. Nicaragua possesses the largest source of fresh water in Central America, but Lake Nicaragua’s future is now the center of controversy—due to a contract awarded to the Chinese company HKND to build an interoceanic canal that would pass through this reservoir.
Pollution has been a big problem for Nicaragua’s lakes for many years. With technical and financial assistance from the German government, water treatment plants built in Lake Managua have been purifying its waters since 2009. Local farmers are using the abundant dried sewage sludge as an alternative fertilizer to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs). This ultimately improves the lake ecosystems and proves that infrastructure projects can be used to protect the environment—demonstrating that “green infrastructure” is a lot more than just green roofs or walls on urban buildings.
A year from now, Lima, Peru will host the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). For Latin American Indigenous peoples—who make up a large proportion of the populations of Peru and neighboring Bolivia and Ecuador—COP20 is a pivotal chance to coordinate and leverage their influence on the international stage.
2010 was the last time Latin American Indigenous peoples had the opportunity air their concerns about climate and environmental inequities—albeit outside of the official process. In April of that year, the first World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth was held in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The conference brought together over 30,000 activists from over 100 countries, largely as an alternative to the failures of the 2009 UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.
Indigenous peoples fed up with the lack of results from the UN conference articulated their own vision of climate justice at the 2010 Cochabamba Conference. The resulting People’s Agreement aimed to construct a new system based on harmony and balance between humans and Mother Earth. They reconceived a series of rights that were overlooked during the official negotiations, drafting the landmark Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.
What has happened to Indigenous people’s voices since then? Few Latin American Indigenous groups are able to travel to far-flung conference locations like Doha and Warsaw. Indigenous peoples continue to struggle for recognition and fair access to the closed intergovernmental negotiations.
La minería aurífera ilegal nos deja un paisaje lúgubre, producto de operaciones que degradan y transforman los ecosistemas amazónicos. Así mismo, organizan la sociedad alrededor de puestos de trabajo en condiciones deplorables. Parte de este negocio también corrompe los asentamientos aledaños y da lugar a un ambiente de desgobierno. La realidad de los campamentos mineros ilegales es el típico modelo del negocio furtivo que daña al medio ambiente, se preocupa sólo de los beneficios económicos que este genera y se aprovecha de la necesidad laboral de los peones (gente de bajos recursos y de escaso nivel educativo).
Las consecuencias de la actividad minera se reflejan en la organización de los espacios comunes dificultado el ordenamiento territorial, la conservación de la naturaleza y desestructurando modelos de organización comunal. A consecuencia de esto los bienes comunes no se pueden ubicar dentro de la perspectiva de una buena gobernanza social y la posibilidad de gobernabilidad estatal. Queda como desafío impulsar propuestas participativas que hagan del concepto de desarrollo sostenible una herramienta indispensable para planificar el futuro, garantizar la continuidad de los ecosistemas y proteger la autonomía de la organización social propia de las comunidades nativas; así como la participación de todos los grupos sociales que conviven en un mismo medio ambiente. (Fotos y pies de foto cortesía de Daniel Valencia.)
This week the Brazilian Congress was scheduled to vote on a bill to amend the country’s forestry code. It is a bill that has evoked passionate debate.
But yesterday, yet again, that vote was delayed after a congressional shake-up in which President Rousseff replaced her coalition’s leaders in each chamber. Since last November, the vote has been delayed for a variety of reasons including criticisms from the scientific community, environmental experts and a subtle political international pressure. No new date has been scheduled as of the publication of this post.
Dating back to 1965, the current forestry code is credited with saving huge swaths of the Amazon rainforest. The proposed modifications, while originally intended to increase protection of forested areas, was changed in its drafting to allow areas to be farmed even if they were illegally logged before July 2008.
For the ruralistas, the powerful Brazilian agribusiness sector, it is a more realistic code for a key sector that represents 22 percent of Brazilian GDP. For environmentalists, such as former presidential candidate Marina Silva, it will foster deforestation by reducing conservation areas and granting amnesty to those who cut down trees in the past.
Brazil, the world´s leading beef producer and second soya exporter after the U.S., has become a powerful global food supplier. The consequences of the new forest code could be felt not only domestically, but also abroad.
Last week I met Ms. Silva in her new office on the second floor of a shopping mall in the north of Brasilia. She told me why she is fighting the new proposal and the reasons she is campaigning for President Rousseff to veto the new code if it is approved.
Morales: Why do you oppose the new Forest Code?
Silva: Since 1965 we have a law to protect forests in Brazil. The new forest code reverses the logic: it is a law to facilitate farming.
Chilean airline company LAN hit a landmark on Wednesday, flying its first-ever commercial flight using biofuel. An Airbus 320 flew 170 passengers from the capital of Santiago to the southern city of Concepción, powered by a biofuel made from refined vegetable oil.
Ignacio Cueto, general manager of LAN, said the flight “represented a key step toward the future of the industry,” and that there is “high potential” for biofuel production in South America. As LAN expands its operations in Latin America—with the acquisition of Colombia’s Aires and the recent merger with Brazil’s TAM airlines—the company is looking to develop alternate and cleaner sources of fuel. This is consistent with the direction in which the global airline industry is headed; the International Air Transport Association has committed to increasing its use of renewable fuels to 1 percent by 2015 and 5 percent by 2020. At the same time, Cueto and others emphasize that “the strictest technical standards” will continue to be upheld, and that investment to expand the use of biofuels will not be prohibitively high.
Cueto did not specify the cost of a ticket for Wednesday’s Santiago–Concepción flight, saying only that the costs of biofuel-powered flights are not yet competitive. Yet he also affirmed LAN’s future willingness to use biofuel in all its flights, and to work with any supplier that can offer competitive costs. Wednesday’s flight was accomplished as a part of a joint initiative with biofuel and forestry conglomerate Copec, with biofuel imported from the United States. Yet Copec general manager Lorenzo Guzmari expressed confidence that Chile could develop its own renewable fuels.
Biofuels are commonly made from plants with high levels of sugar and some oils. The ones used for LAN’s flight can be made from plants such as algaes, jatropha and halophytes and organic wastes, which can then be processed into high-quality fuels. In its press release LAN clarified that none of the fuels used were destined for consumption as food. The release also noted that the amount of carbon dioxide emitted during combusion of these biofuels is about the same as the amount taken up by plants during their growth cycle, which means that it results in no net addition of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
What does AQ Online expect to be the anticipated headline grabbers for the week of March 5-9, 2012? The top-five stories include: Joe Biden’s Latin America tour; FIFA’s criticism of Brazil; Hugo Chávez’ health recovery; new presidential polls in Mexico; and the UN making further preparations for Rio+20.
1) Biden in Mexico and Honduras: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived yesterday in Mexico, where he holds meetings today in Mexico City with Mexican President Felipe Calderón and the three presidential candidates for the July 2012 election. According to Tony Blinken, national security advisor to the vice president, Biden and Calderón will discuss a wide range of bilateral issues “in the spirit of equal partnership, mutual respect and shared responsibility.” Tomorrow morning, Biden travels to Honduras to meet privately with President Porfirio Lobo, and then will have lunch with the presidents of Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Panama. Much of Biden’s visit will center around the violence surrounding narcotics trafficking through Central America.
Although Blinken said that the meeting in Honduras “provides an opportunity to reaffirm the United States' strong support for the tremendous leadership President Lobo has displayed in advancing national reconciliation and democratic and constitutional order,” AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini posits, “almost three years after the coup, Honduras has deteriorated politically and socially—and the region has largely walked away from it.”
2) Brazil-FIFA Row: After FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke criticized on Friday Brazil’s lack of preparedness for the 2014 World Cup, specifically its lack of infrastructure and delayed construction timetables, Brazilian Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo has refused to communicate directly with Valcke. Rebelo called Valcke’s remarks—specifically that Brazil needs a “kick in the backside”—offensive and unacceptable. Expect this contention to further increase as the June 2014 kickoff date approaches, but more recently as Valcke lands in Brazil in the coming days.
3) Chávez in Recovery: The revelation by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez that the lesion he had surgically removed in Cuba was indeed a malignant tumor has fueled speculation about his long-term health outlook before and after the October 7 presidential contest against Henrique Capriles Radonski. According to Christopher Sabatini, “unfortunately, the president has refused to be transparent about his condition in the past” and that his admission of the malignant tumor “still raises a number of questions including the prognosis for his recovery, his treatment and some alternative plan should his condition take a turn for the worse.”
I came to Durban, South Africa, as a journalist to cover the UN talks on climate change, the main point of which is to figure out how to reduce our carbon footprint. Carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gases are the byproducts of our modern lifestyle and the principal cause of surging temperatures in the planet. So far, there hasn’t been much success.
I was born in Colombia; my tropical country is rich in forests, biodiversity and water sources—making us a key pillar in stopping global warming. Colombia has large tracts of carbon-capturing trees and our emissions are pretty low (0.31 percent of the world total). We are a signatory of the Kyoto Protocol, and here in Durban, we support a second term of commitments.
In Durban I share a room with Jeff Lowenstein, a colleague from the U.S. He comes from the opposite corner of the world when it comes to emissions. The U.S. is the second largest emitter (after China) and the main polluter of CO2 per capita (17.7 tons annually). The rest of the world, excluding China, South Africa and the EU, emit less than 3.4 tons per year. The U.S. never signed the Kyoto Protocol and appears to be pushing for it to die quietly in Durban.