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Betting on Green Hydrogen in Chile, a Road Fraught with Obstacles

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The Cerro Corredor solar complex in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile became the largest photovoltaic plant in operation in Latin America when it was inaugurated on Jun. 8. CREDIT: Cerro Corredor

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Jun 15 2021 (IPS)

Chile is in a privileged position in the world to produce green hydrogen and boost the development of the new fuel thanks to the country’s optimal conditions for generating solar and wind energy, but the large investment required and the scarcity of water are two of the biggest obstacles to overcome.

This South American nation’s National Green Hydrogen Strategy aims for Chile to produce the world’s cheapest green hydrogen by 2030, to become a major exporter by 2040 and to reach an electrolysis capacity of five gigawatts (GW) by 2025.

“Our main goal is to become one of the top three exporters of green hydrogen worldwide by 2030, producing approximately 2.5 billion dollars worth each year at the lowest global cost,” said Minister of Energy and Mining Juan Carlos Jobet.

“We are extraordinarily blessed with some of the best solar and wind resources in the world,” he said on Jun. 2, alluding to the heavy solar radiation in the northern Atacama Desert and the strong winds in Patagonia, in the southern Magallanes region.

Chile increased the goal for clean electricity generation to 40 percent by 2030, coinciding with the Jun. 8 inauguration in the northern region of Antofagasta of the Cerro Dominador Complex, which became the largest solar plant in Latin America. A goal in which green hydrogen is beginning to enter the equation.

According to Jobet’s calculations, by 2030 Chile will produce hydrogen at 1.50 dollars per kilo, a price competitive with fossil fuels. The minister forecasts a potential market of 25 billion dollars that same year.

Hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, was already used for refining oil, methanol or steel, for example, but was generated from fossil sources, thus contributing to the emission of polluting gases.

Green or renewable hydrogen, on the other hand, is a fuel obtained by electrolysis of water, a process that separates hydrogen from the oxygen contained in water, using electricity from clean sources, such as solar and wind power, so as not to contribute to global warming.

Energy represents 70 percent of the cost of this process, so it is crucial to boost the steady decline of prices of these sources in the country.

Marcelo Mena, a professor at the Catholic University of Valparaíso, former environment minister and member of the government’s Green Hydrogen Advisory Committee, told IPS that the Strategy “is possible, but it requires a change in the way industrial policy is made in Chile.”

“Unlike in history, where ideologies have led governments to say that the market has to choose the winners and not States, I believe that here we have to choose, stake our bets on and seek comparative advantages. Betting on what Chile is in terms of its production,” he said.

Mena argued that “a high level of financing is required in the transition” and gave as an example the subsidies in Germany, equivalent to some 700 million dollars a year, while “what we have put in so far is 50 million.”

“A more robust subsidy is needed, a greater amount of funds because they are emerging technologies that require reducing the risk for investors,” he said.

By way of example, Mena said “a large green hydrogen project, from one to two gigawatts, requires an investment of close to one billion dollars.”

According to Mena, a leading expert in energy transition, green taxes can provide part of these resources.

A mock-up of the Haru Oni plant, which is about to begin construction in the southern Chilean region of Magallanes, where it will take advantage of the abundant wind energy provided by the area’s strong winds. With an investment of 45 million dollars, it will produce ecological methanol based on green hydrogen and the resulting gasoline will be used in conventional vehicles. CREDIT: Siemens Energía

No lack of doubts

Consultant María Isabel González, manager of the company Energética and former executive secretary of the state-owned National Energy Commission, has doubts about the country’s bet on the so-called fuel of the future.

“Producing green hydrogen in Chile is an overly ambitious goal, which is not in line with the circumstances here. Just compare the investments being made in countries like Australia, with projects for more than 27 gigawatts and an investment of 36 billion dollars,” she remarked to IPS."What is needed is a strategic look at what is going to be done with water, waste, citizen participation, transmission, space demands. Everything has to be transparent and discussed with the community. Otherwise, those who could be our promoters may become detractors." -- Marcelo Mena

She also argued that the idea of green hydrogen stood in marked contrast to the energy poverty suffered by half of the population in this country of 17.5 million people, who still have no access to hot water, while thousands of households use firewood for heating.

“Obviously a developing country like Chile should first solve the basic needs of its population and in particular of those most in need,” González argued.

That is why she suggests delaying green hydrogen plans.

Mena agrees that energy poverty is a problem, but believes that the situation can be addressed simultaneously with the production of hydrogen.

“We can promote an industry that generates revenues of around 20 or 30 billion dollars a year and with these higher revenues we can electrify the energy mix by replacing polluting firewood, which is expensive and causes high levels of deforestation,” he said.

Another issue is that generating green hydrogen requires a lot of water. According to González, nine tons to produce one ton of hydrogen. But Chile is facing a major drought that has lasted for more than a decade.

She said “this could be solved with seawater desalination,” but added that “this is not our only disadvantage” and cited the “significant” problem of Chile’s distance from the main markets.

This long and narrow country nestled between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean can export its products through its Pacific coast ports, ship them up through the Panama Canal or transport them across several South American countries to reach the Atlantic.

Mena believes that “the amount of water required is much less and there are ways to find this water without causing conflict. One is desalination and another is the use of sewage that today is discharged raw into the sea in northern cities.”

The Canela Wind Farm, with wind turbines 112 meters high and an installed capacity of 18.15 megawatts, generates electricity with wind from offshore in the Coquimbo region of northern Chile. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Darío Morales, director of studies for the Chilean Renewable Energy Association (Acera), which represents companies and professionals in the sector, admitted to IPS that water is a challenge that should not be minimised.

But he also mentioned the desalination option and pointed out that “one of the objectives of developing the domestic hydrogen market is to use it to replace fossil fuels, the refining of which also uses significant amounts of water.”

The investment challenge

Morales also noted that the Strategy calls for five billion dollars to be invested in hydrogen development by 2025, “which is an enormous challenge, especially if we consider that this must be accompanied by a major boost for renewable energies.”

He said these clean energies should at least double their current generation capacity.

According to Minister Jobet, Chile has the capacity to generate 70 times more renewable electricity than what it produces today.

Mena said the Strategy includes “investments of over 300 Giga of solar energy. In terms of panels per person, this would be 15 KW of power, equivalent to 40 solar panels for each Chilean.”

He said it was important to submit the plans to a strategic environmental assessment that would allow for consultation on this policy and look at environmental aspects.

“What is needed is a strategic look at what is going to be done with water, waste, citizen participation, transmission, space requirements. Everything has to be transparent and discussed with the community. Otherwise, those who could be our promoters may become detractors,” he said.

He also warned that “today green hydrogen is not competitive.”

“Costs have to come down, like they did with solar energy, whose costs were reduced by 90 percent in a couple of decades,” Mena said.

González noted that “according to the International Energy Agency, one kilo of green hydrogen, which contains about 33.3 kWh, costs between 3.50 and 5.0 euros (each euro is equivalent to 1.22 dollars), which means between 100 euros/MWh and 150 euros/MWh.”

A glimpse of dawn amidst the steam from the geysers of El Tatio, in northern Chile. Geothermal energy is another clean, non-conventional energy, in this case also infinite, which Chile is beginning to harness with the Cerro Pabellón Geothermal Power Plant in the municipality of Ollagüe. CREDIT: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

“To be competitive it should reach around 60 euros/MWh, or around two euros per kilo,” she said.

The Strategy aims for a cost of 1.30 dollars/kg H2 by 2030 and 0.80 cents/kg H2 by 2050. One cost reduction would come from lower electricity prices. Another would come from economies of scale, for which it is essential to develop domestic demand.

To reach this goal, “policies for the development of specialised suppliers and local technological development should be promoted. If any of these pillars fail, it will be difficult to achieve the expected cost reductions,” said Mena.

Eduardo Bitran, designated as one of 20 ambassadors of green hydrogen by the government of Sebastián Piñera, said the domestic market is led by the mining industry. “Moving towards green mining is a starting point,” he said. This would be followed by use in long-distance heavy-duty transport and passenger transport.

He said the coronavirus pandemic “has made us realise the extent of global interdependence.”

“The great post-pandemic threat is climate change. This is the last decade to prevent the planet’s temperature from rising more than two degrees Celsius,” he said at a meeting of the Innovation Club, which he chairs.

Countries with productive potential and other consumers agreed to join forces to turn hydrogen into an alternative to fossil fuels, during an international meeting organised in Santiago in preparation for the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) on climate change, to be held in Glasgow, Scotland in November.

Australia, Chile, the United Kingdom and the European Union will seek to make green hydrogen affordable and competitive, they agreed at a virtual meeting on Jun. 3.

Minister Jobet stated that “what we have to do as a planet to use this hydrogen at an accelerated rate is to reduce its cost, because it is still more expensive to produce, transport and store than its oil or gas alternatives.”

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Damage to Coral Reefs Hurts Fishing Communities in Central America

qua, 09/06/2021 - 11:59

Punta Remedios is a beach of singular beauty that also provides shelter for the boats of the fishing community of Los Cóbanos, on the Pacific coast of El Salvador. It is home to the only rocky reef with coral growth in the country, which is being damaged by climate phenomena and human activities. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
LOS CÓBANOS, El Salvador , Jun 9 2021 (IPS)

As fisherman Luis Morán walked towards his small boat, which was floating in the water a few meters from the Salvadoran coast, he asked “How can the coral reefs not be damaged with such a warm sea?”

Morán lives on the edge of Punta Remedios beach, just outside the 22-hectare Complejo Los Cóbanos Natural Protected Area, a marine reserve located in the western department of Sonsonate, El Salvador.

The site is known as the habitat of the only rocky reef with coral growth in this Central American country that has coastline only on the Pacific Ocean.

Los Cóbanos is a hamlet in the canton of Punta Remedios, Acajutla municipality, whose capital has the same name. It is located about 90 kilometres west of San Salvador. The village is in a coastal area of poor communities that mainly depend on fishing.

From talking about coral reefs with marine biologists who work in the area and with whom he collaborates, Morán has learned that they are hurt by warm water temperatures.

“This water is so hot that it already looks like soup,” the 56-year-old fisherman told IPS, aware that the impact on the coral is also affecting the livelihoods of people in the fishing communities.

Many of the fish species that are of commercial value to the community, such as red snapper, breed and find shelter in the reefs.

Other fishermen from Los Cóbanos with whom IPS spoke confirmed that fish are increasingly scarce in the area.

Fisherman Luis Morán, a resident of Punta Remedios beach in the hamlet of Los Cóbanos in western El Salvador, says human activities such as overfishing and unsustainable tourism are damaging the health of the coral reef located in that area of the Pacific coast, the only one of its kind in the country. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Melvin Orellana, 41, said he went to sea a few days ago, but caught less than 2.5 kilos of fish.

“I didn’t even cover the cost of the gas,” said the father of two.

Orellana uses nine 18-gallon (68-litre) drums of gasoline to run his 75-horsepower engine. A gallon (almost four litres) costs about four dollars.

He and the other fishermen make forays up to 70 nautical miles (130 kilometres) offshore to fish for shark, dorado and snapper.

Coral reefs at risk of perishing

The warming of sea temperatures produced by climate change and expressed, for example, in the El Niño phenomenon, is one of the factors that is damaging coral reefs around the world, and Los Cóbanos is no exception, said biologists interviewed by IPS.

Marine biologist Johanna Segovia (L) and her team carry out research in the waters of the Los Cóbanos National Protected Area in the Salvadoran Pacific. The expert says that as the coral reef ecosystem in the area is damaged, the livelihoods of local fishing communities are also affected. CREDIT: Courtesy of Johanna Segovia

This warming causes the “bleaching” of corals, colonial organisms that live in association with microalgae, which provide food through photosynthesis, but which the corals end up expelling when they are stressed by the increase in water temperature. When they lose the microalgae, they bleach.

That is a sign that they are being impacted; they are not yet dead, but they could die if the temperatures stay warm too long, marine biologist Johanna Segovia told IPS.

“If the coral stays at that temperature for three months, it starts to die… but if the temperature returns to normal, it can recover again,” added Segovia, a researcher at the Francisco Gavidia University in El Salvador.

The impact is already evident, and has been confirmed by biologists.

“We have gone from three percent coral cover to only one percent” in the Los Cóbanos nature reserve, Segovia said after diving among the reefs off the coast, which she does regularly as part of her research on the local ecosystem.

Currently, the live coral cover observed in the area belongs to the Porites lobata species.

In the vicinity of Punta Remedios beach, on the coast of El Salvador, many families have set up small, precarious food businesses, mainly offering seafood, to sell to tourists who visit and often have no regard for the environment, leaving garbage behind and trying to capture prohibited species, such as crabs. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

A report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) warned in 2019 that by 2050, 70 to 90 percent of the world’s coral reefs would be lost, even if actions were promoted at the international level that managed to stabilise global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

It is this warming of the water that drives fish away from the shore to compensate for the difference in temperature, as they are not able to regulate it themselves.

In addition to the phenomena associated with climate change, these organisms are being hit by the actions of industrial fishing and local communities.

For example, poor management of river basins upstream leads to pollution and sediment reaching the reef ecosystem.

The extensive use of pesticides in agriculture and deforestation affect the upstream river basins, whose waters carry pollution and sediments to the coral reef zone.

“Coral reefs are fragile ecosystems, and some environmental variables in the ocean, such as temperature and sedimentation, are factors that play a major role in their deterioration,” Francisco Chicas, a professor at the University of El Salvador‘s School of Biology, told IPS.

Unsustainable tourism is another cause of this deterioration, with visitors often disrespecting local regulations that prohibit affecting the coral ecosystem in any way.

José Cruz Miranda, a resident of Los Cóbanos, a village on the Salvadoran coast, was a fisherman for more than 30 years, but had to stop fishing due to health problems. Now he gathers empty cans, which he sells to a recycling company – environmental work that helps reduce pollution in an area with rich coral communities. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Tourists can approach species that are near the surface, but they are not allowed to touch them, let alone try to catch them.

It is even forbidden to take biogenic sand, which is yellow in color and is actually the remains of decomposed shells and corals.

In Punta Remedios people have organised to make sure nothing like that happens.

“On Sundays, my son-in-law confiscates bottles with sand and small crabs,” said Morán, who has four grown children and who, together with his wife, María Ángela Cortés, runs a mini seafood restaurant located on a wooden platform overlooking the sea.

He complained that tourists leave garbage strewn everywhere.

José Cruz Miranda, another local resident, collects empty soft drink and beer cans. He has a total of 30 kilos stored in his house. He sells them for 0.80 cents per kilo to a recycling company in Ajacutla.

Miranda, who has diabetes, uses the money from the cans to buy the medicine he needs.

“That helps me cope with my diabetes,” he told IPS.

María Ángela (“Angelita”) Cortés, 52, prepares a dish in her mini-restaurant on the beach of Punta Remedios, in the hamlet of Los Cóbanos on El Salvador’s Pacific coast. She takes advantage of the return of tourists to boost her business in an area with few job opportunities besides fishing, which is increasingly scarce due to the damage suffered by the local coral reef. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Central American similarities

The factors that are impacting the reefs in Los Cóbanos also affect the rest of Central America.

In Costa Rica, coral reefs “are losing their health due to all the anthropogenic and natural factors, and of course all of this is aggravated by climate change,” Tatiana Villalobos, co-founder of the non-governmental Raising Coral Costa Rica, told IPS.

That country has some 970 square kilometres of coral cover on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, although Villalobos noted that the figure is from 10 years ago.

There are areas, she said, where reefs recover better than others.

One example off the Costa Rican Pacific coast is Cocos Island, located about 535 kilometres to the southeast. The situation there has been controlled and the reefs can be said to be in good health.

It is on the coast, Villalobos said, where there has been a significant loss of coral cover, due to sedimentation, pollution and generally poor environmental practices.

Overfishing is also a problem, as it is in the rest of Central America and the world.

This happens when herbivorous species are fished, which causes changes in the ecosystem that end up impacting the reef.

Overfishing in Los Cóbanos, for example, is a serious problem, especially because although people from the local fishing communities use hand lines, those who come from other areas fish with nets, even though they are banned.

In Honduras, the situation is quite similar.

Gisselle Brady, programme coordinator for the non-governmental Bay Islands Conservation Ecological Association (BICA), told IPS that although the ecosystems and culture in this area of the Honduran Caribbean are different from those of the Pacific coast, the problems are basically the same.

Among them, she mentioned overfishing, climate change, unsustainable tourism, and the lack of regulation by the State to keep these ecosystems healthy.

On the contrary, Brady added that the Honduran government is promoting, with a law passed in 2018, further growth of the tourism sector, as well as the controversial industrial parks called Employment and Economic Development Zones (Zedes), which do not abide by national laws.

This is even impacting nature reserves with coral reefs, such as the Nombre de Dios park in La Ceiba, in northern Honduras, she said.

“It is sad that national laws are driving such unsustainable development,” said the expert from the island of Roatan, the largest in the Bay Islands department.

She pointed out that a measurement used in the so-called Mesoamerican Reef, which covers the Caribbean coasts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, gives a score of five when the reef is healthy.

Honduras has gone from three, considered fair, to 2.5, which is poor. Danger stalks its reefs. And it is not alone.

Infrastructure Expands in Brazil Despite Crises

sex, 04/06/2021 - 16:11

Brazil's infrastructure minister, Tarcísio de Freitas, speaks during a videoconference with foreign correspondents, co-organised by IPS, during which he detailed plans to improve roads, ports and airports, build new railways and interconnect them, using private investors in the face of domestic fiscal constraints. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RÍO DE JANEIRO, Jun 4 2021 (IPS)

Health, fiscal, environmental and political crises have not prevented Brazil from attracting private capital to expand infrastructure, according to the sector’s minister, Tarcísio de Freitas.

Concessions for airports, highways, railways and port terminals, auctioned in the last two years, total 14 billion dollars in investments, the infrastructure minister announced at a press conference with some twenty foreign correspondents, in which other leaders from the areas of trade and transport also took part.

Accelerating this process from July will allow the country to raise the total investment to 200 billion dollars over the next five years, if resources and services under the management of other ministries, such as power plants and sanitation, are included, he projected.

“It is the largest infrastructure concession programme in our history,” Freitas said in a Jun. 2 video conference with foreign correspondents.

The COVID-19 pandemic contributed to Brazil’s success in drawing international capital, contrary to what might have been expected.

“We forged ahead when many countries pulled back and stopped offering their assets due to the uncertainties of the economic situation,” said Freitas. “We decided to bet on investors’ long-term vision and seek out the excess capital available in the world, as unique sellers.”

The operation of 22 airports was privatised on Apr. 7 for a sum equivalent to 17 times the minimum price set, despite the air transport crisis caused by the pandemic. A French company acquired the 30-year concession for a block of seven airports in northern Brazil. The others are now in the hands of a Brazilian consortium.

The success was due to “Brazil’s tradition of respecting contracts,” the large portfolio of projects and their excellent profitability, said the minister at the virtual press conference, promoted by IPS in partnership with the Association of Foreign Media Correspondents, the National Confederation of Commerce and the Federation of Chambers of Foreign Trade.

Attracting national and international private capital is the way to cover the infrastructure deficit in Brazil, given the “delicate fiscal situation” that limits public investment, the infrastructure minister said.

A passenger train meets a freight train on the Carajás Railway, built for the export of iron ore in northern Brazil. Railways in Brazil are mainly used to transport grains and minerals, accentuating the weight of commodities in the economy. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

“The Ministry of Transport had 20 billion reais (about 7.5 billion dollars at the time) for investments in 2014 when it was only in charge of land transport; today the Ministry of Infrastructure has six billion reais (1.2 billion dollars) and oversees ports, airports, roads and railways,” he pointed out, to underscore the need for private capital.

Brazil invested 2.2 percent of its GDP in infrastructure from 2001 to 2014 and “should invest four to five percent to overcome its historical deficiencies,” said José Tadros, president of the National Confederation of Commerce.

That is much less than neighbouring countries such as Chile and Peru invest in infrastructure, and the consequence is high costs, “bad roads and ports, and lack of railways and intermodal connections,” he lamented.

But “it’s a virtuous moment” in the railway sector, with a strong rise in investments expected after the renewal of existing concessions and the future construction of two new major lines, said Fernando Paes, executive director of the National Railway Transport Agency.

The Ministry of Infrastructure’s National Logistics Plan sets a target for railways to carry 36 percent of national freight by 2035, an increase of 70 percent from the current share.

Ferrogrão (part of the plan) is the “most important project in Brazil,” according to Freitas. The 933-kilometre route will mainly serve the export of soy and maize from the mid-north of the state of Mato Grosso, the country’s largest producer of these exports, accounting for 27 percent of the total. The northern Amazonian route will be used instead of the more distant southern ports.

A view of the Brazilian BR-163 highway before its final northern section was paved in 2020. It is mainly used to export soy from the state of Mato Grosso. Now the plan is to build a railway next to it in order to make grain transport cheaper. CREDIT: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Exports are currently transported via the BR-163 highway, the paving of which was only completed in February 2020, after decades of soybean-laden trucks getting stuck in the mud while crossing more than 900 kilometres of Amazon rainforest to reach the port of Miritituba on the Tapajós River, before the soy is carried over 1,100 kilometres down the river to the Atlantic ports.

The railway serves the interests of the multinational corporations that dominate these Brazilian exports and the global agricultural trade, such as the U.S. companies ADM, Bunge Limited and Cargill.

But Ferrogrão will make transporting these exports cheaper and will help reduce freight costs across the country, by expanding the scale of agricultural exports throughout northern Brazil and establishing a logistical hub between the heart of the Amazon and central Brazil, the infrastructure minister hopes.

Products from the Manaus Free Trade Zone, an industrial park in the capital of the state of Amazonas, will reach major national markets via waterways and the railway, he predicted.

He also said its construction will have beneficial environmental effects by cutting greenhouse gas emissions by trucks and curbing the more intense deforestation provoked by roads.

But environmentalists and indigenous rights advocates disagree.

“It will stimulate the expansion of the agricultural frontier in the Amazon rainforest, where there is a lack of governance, which results in deforestation,” said Sergio Guimarães, executive secretary of the Infrastructure Working Group, in an interview with IPS by telephone from Brasilia after the press conference.

The environmental assessment does not include the indirect impacts of the project over an area wider than the railway route and its margins, he said. Cheaper, largescale transport tends to expand the area of production in a region already affected by huge monocultures on the edges of the Amazon rainforest.

A road in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, with an endless line of trucks transporting soy beans and maize for export. The plan is that by 2035 at least 36 percent of freight transport in this continental-sized country will be by rail. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

In addition, more supply and demand studies and comparative analyses of alternatives are needed, the activist said.

Three railway projects have been presented to transport exports of soy and maize from the mid-north of Mato Grosso, which currently stand at 70 million tons per year and will increase to 120 million tons in the near future, according to Freitas.

In addition to Ferrogrão, an isolated line to the north, the Central-West Integration Railway (Fico) will run from the east, connecting to the North-South Railway which is already in operation and has access to ports in the Northeast and Southeast of Brazil.

The third alternative is a proposal by the Rumo company to extend its Northern Network, which now reaches the south of Mato Grosso, to the centre of the soy-producing region. This network has the advantage of connecting to railways with access to Santos, Brazil’s main export port, and crossing the state of São Paulo, the most economically productive and populous state.

But “there is not enough freight to make the three railways viable,” said Guimarães, who is calling for comparative studies on the Ministry of Infrastructure’s Logistics Plan’s other projects and concessions.

Other risks identified by Guimarães regarding the Ferrogrão are the possibility of overloading and accidents on the Tapajós-Amazonas waterway, if most of Mato Grosso’s production is exported via this route, and variations in river flows due to climate change.

Another railway, the West-East Integration line (Fiol), which crosses the northeastern state of Bahia and had a 537-kilometre stretch granted to a mining company controlled by Kazakhstan’s Eurasian Resources Group, also faces environmental opposition for threatening local biodiversity, especially in the area where a port is to be built.

Ports, which were a “bottleneck” for exports, are also undergoing improvements and extensive privatisation, the minister announced.

And waterways, an undervalued resource in Brazil, are also included in the transformations his ministry intends to make. But this is where the effects of climate change are being felt most even now with a severe drought in midwestern and southeastern Brazil. Navigation on the Tietê river, which crosses the state of São Paulo in southeastern Brazil, is expected to be suspended.

Life Below Water – the UN Calls for Action on Ocean Protection

qua, 02/06/2021 - 04:38

Beachfront hotels and yachts at Pigeon Point, Saint Lucia. The ocean supports a myriad of livelihoods on the small island states of the OECS – amounting to 30% of the labour force in some countries. Credit: Alison Kentish/IPS

By Alison Kentish
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 2 2021 (IPS)

President of the United Nations General Assembly Volkan Bozkir has told a high-level debate on oceans that the world cannot afford to delay action on ocean protection. “There is simply no scenario wherein we live on a planet without an ocean,” he said.

The debate, which focused on the ocean and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14: Life Below Water, took place on Jun. 1 at the UN Headquarters in New York.

It comes ahead of the Jun. 8 observance of World Oceans Day and against the backdrop of the pandemic-related postponement of the 2nd UN Ocean Conference – a major international gathering which seeks science-based solutions to sustainable ocean use.

The high-level debate was billed as a ‘drumbeat’ to maintain momentum ahead of the conference, now expected to take place in Lisbon next year.

The General Assembly President said the pandemic has revealed an “appetite for change” among people who do not want to live in a world of “one crisis after the next”. He said this change is possible.

“As our understanding of the true benefit of a healthy planet grows, policymakers are increasingly aware of how central a healthy ocean is to a healthy economy,” he said.

“We have seen this in countries and cities that prioritised coastal and marine areas over-tourism, we have seen this in protected wetlands, we have seen this in efforts to address illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and regulate shipping and resource extraction. Why then can we not combine and scale up our efforts?”

The UN has been at the forefront of efforts to mobilise financial, scientific, volunteer and community support for oceans, through initiatives such as the 2021-2030 Decade of Ocean Science.

The high-level debate builds on those ocean conservation and sustainable use measures.

Pigeon Point, Saint Lucia. With 97 percent of the water on the earth’s surface, the ocean is vast. It serves as a source of food and energy, while facilitating commerce, transportation and communication. Sustainable Development Goal 14 lists specific targets to reduce pollution, protect marine ecosystems, tackle illegal and over-fishing and oversee sustainable resource use. Credit: Alison Kentish/IPS

Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Oceans Peter Thomson told the forum that while there have been improvements on this front, including increased marine protected area coverage and a better understanding of the issues that impact the ocean, progress has not been adequate to address the ocean crisis.

“How can we claim success when a third of assessed global fish stocks are being overfished? When with no tangible end in sight, we have dumped around 150 million metric tons of accumulating plastic waste, microplastics and discarded fishing gear into the ocean? And while the rates of ocean acidification, deoxygenation and warmth are all continuing to head in the wrong direction?”

With 97 percent of the water on the earth’s surface, the ocean is vast. It serves as a source of food and energy, while facilitating commerce, transportation and communication. Sustainable Development Goal 14 lists specific targets to reduce pollution, protect marine ecosystems, tackle illegal and over-fishing and oversee sustainable resource use.

One region taking action to address ocean issues and achieve SDG 14 is the Eastern Caribbean.

In 2012, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) established an Oceans Governance Team, a regional body that oversees work on oceans governance. The team helped to develop the Eastern Caribbean Regional Ocean Policy (ECROP) which articulates the countries’ vision for the ocean and principles of ocean governance.

One of the major ECROP initiatives is the Caribbean Regional Oceanscape Project, known as CROP. Through a partnership with the World Bank, CROP, with its tagline ‘championing resilient oceans for prosperity,’ is helping the Caribbean transition to a blue economy.

“We focus on economic growth, but we also ensure that we are conserving the resources, so that we are not damaging them and impairing our future benefits. It’s really the same sustainable development agenda, focusing on the economics, the environment and the social aspects relating to the oceans,” Susanna Debeauville-Scott, Project Manager in the Ocean Governance and Fisheries Unit at the OECS Secretariat, based in Saint Lucia, told IPS.

For the Caribbean, the goal is to propel discussion on ocean issues and action for the protection and sustainable use of its resources. The Unit is overseeing initiatives like Building Resilience in the Eastern Caribbean through a Reduction in Marine Pollution (ReMLit) to tackle marine waste.

A ‘tag an artiste’ drive based on the theme ‘more than just islands’ hopes to get entertainers in the region singing about oceans and promoting the islands’ blue space as ideal for a thriving blue economy.

The unit is hoping to highlight the critical importance of oceans and get journalists onboard through a special journalism challenge.

Debeauville-Scott told IPS that the Unit is gearing up for a virtual event on Jun. 8th – World Oceans Day. That activity will focus on mapping ocean wealth and marine spatial planning data and tools for improved decision-making in the Caribbean.

 


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Excerpt:

Ahead of World Oceans Day 2021 and the second UN Ocean Conference next year, UN officials stressed the need for ‘clear, transformative and actionable’ solutions to the ocean crisis.

Sowing Water by Restoring Ancient Ditches in the Peruvian Highlands

ter, 01/06/2021 - 09:30

Alberto Pérez stands in one of the catchment areas to bring water to the amuna, the Quechua name for an ancient network of infiltration ditches, whose restoration has improved access to water in his village, San Pedro de Casta, while increasing the flow to the watersheds that supply the Peruvian capital. CREDIT: Courtesy of Alberto Pérez

By Mariela Jara
LIMA, Jun 1 2021 (IPS)

In the highlands near the capital of Peru, more than 3,000 metres above sea level, ageold water recovery techniques are being used to improve access to water for 1,400 families, for household consumption and for crops and livestock.

This natural infrastructure project is located in the upper area of the town of San Pedro de Casta, some 90 km from Lima. With community participation, a network of ancient stone ditches called amunas in the native Quechua language is being restored there.

“We want to help the people who take care of the water sources to have greater water availability themselves,” Mariela Sánchez, executive director of Aquafondo, an initiative that promotes water security projects with nature-based solutions, told IPS in a video interview.

The non-governmental Aquafondo or Water Fund for Lima and El Callao (two neighbouring provinces) is part of the Latin American Water Funds Partnership, created in 2011 by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and international environmental protection organisations.

Aquafondo’s public and private partners promote the recovery, conservation and protection of the water sources that supply Lima, home to 9.5 million people, where there is a latent risk of water stress due to the arid conditions, climate change and rising demand.

Sánchez, an economist by profession, explained that the amuna ditches will directly benefit the families of this Andes highlands area because they will have water during the dry season to irrigate their crops of potatoes, beans, avocados and other products that are part of their daily diet and to water the pasture used by their livestock.

“Now we are capturing more water in the rainy season, the infiltration is seeding water in the rocky areas and will feed our farms,” Alberto Pérez, a farmer and former community leader of San Pedro de Casta, told IPS by telephone from his village.

The 58-year-old communal farmer gets up every day before six in the morning to get ready for the hour and a half walk to the Chinchaycocha area at 3,500 metres above sea level.

Women from San Pedro de Casta participate in the restoration of water infiltration channels, removing clay used in the process to recover water sources in the Andean highlands, some 90 kilometres from Lima, Peru. CREDIT: Courtesy of Alberto Pérez

The community takes care of the amuna ditches

He is one of the 100 villagers who, in four groups of 25, make the trek from Monday to Saturday to carry out the communal work of restoring the amuna channels – paid work that contributes to their household economy, while their families take over their share of the work caring for the crops and livestock.

“The amuna ditches date back to ancient times, they were used by the Incas for agriculture and now thanks to Aquafondo we are working to improve and widen them,” he said. “This year’s work will be finished in July and the channel will be activated with the next rains in October or November, to the joy of the entire community.”

Greater water availability has motivated them to expand their cultivation areas in order to increase production and have surpluses to take to market, as people are already thinking of doing in other towns and communities surrounding San Pedro de Casta, which includes the 1,400 families benefiting from the project, in the municipality of Huarochirí, department of Lima.

“Without water for irrigation, we could not think of planting more. Now we are planning to incorporate fruit trees such as apples and cherimoyas (Annona cherimola),” said Pérez enthusiastically.

In addition, the number of hours that piped water is available in the community’s homes has increased, which in the current times of the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed local residents to maintain hygiene habits to prevent infection, such as frequent hand washing.

Mariela Sánchez, executive director of Aquafondo, takes part in a Zoom interview with IPS. The Fund develops water security projects with nature-based solutions, and is part of the Latin American Water Funds Partnership. CREDIT: Mariela Jara /IPS

The city also benefits

The restoration of infiltration channels such as the amunas, reforestation or construction of cochas (small reservoirs) are some of the natural infrastructure works also known as water planting and harvesting.

They were used in pre-Hispanic times and their usefulness is being reappraised in different regions of the country. In the case of Lima, this process began with the Aquafondo projects.

Demand in the capital is partly met by water from the basins of the Rímac, Chillón and Lurín rivers. Of these, the first is the largest source and the one that also shows the greatest environmental deterioration.

The technique of infiltration through the amuna ditches is presented as a sustainable alternative with minimal environmental impact.

The already operational Aquafondo projects have so far restored 17.7 km of channels that contribute more than four million cubic metres of water per year to the Rimac and Lurin river basins.

“All residents of Lima are indirect beneficiaries of this work; according to World Bank studies, 80 percent of the water that infiltrates is for the benefit of the community and 20 percent for the city, but these percentages vary over time,” explained Sánchez.

A villager in San Pedro de Casta, in the central highlands of Lima, more than 3,000 metres above sea level, is seen here in the area of the infiltration channels or amunas in the Quechua language, which they have been restoring to capture rainwater and provide water in the dry season. CREDIT: Aquafondo

This means that with more natural infrastructure projects in the basins, the percentage of water needed locally will decrease, so that in the next 10 years, 20 percent of the water would be expected to be used in the community and 80 percent in the city, as the smaller population in the highlands means they would benefit more quickly.

In the case of San Pedro de Casta, Sánchez emphasises that the relationship of trust built with the local population is key to sustaining the joint work.

“We execute the projects that they identify as necessary and participate in their implementation. Once the work is finished, they are in charge of monitoring the projects to ensure that they continue to function and to replace parts if anything deteriorates or breaks down,” she said, specifying that each project must involve 25 per cent women.

The gender quota means that in each of the four groups of 25 people who carry out the daily communal work on the amunas, there are eight women. Pérez highlighted this fact, saying it helped empower women and strengthen the role that they play, although he pointed out that they are not given the most physically demanding tasks.

“They look for the clay, remove the soil, clean the ditches and thus take part in the chain of work, but we don’t ask them to carry the stones, that work is too heavy, and that’s not discriminating,” he said.

Ivan Lucich (left), executive president of the National Superintendency of Sanitation Services, participates in the signing of an agreement between the company EP Emusap and the rural communities of Micaela Bastidas and Atunpata, in the southern Andean municipality of Abancay, to implement the Mechanism of Remuneration for Ecosystem Services in the micro-watershed of Mariño, in Peru. CREDIT: Sunass

Water: governance is the key

In an initiative that began in 2007, the autonomous governmental National Superintendency of Sanitation Services (Sunass) has contributed to the conservation of water sources. Based on its role as a regulatory agency, in 2015 it created a tool for the implementation of the Law on Mechanisms of Remuneration for Ecosystem Services (Merse) to ensure a sustainable secure water supply.

The regulation establishes that water utilities must earmark one percent of the tariff to pay for ecosystem services in watersheds, thus generating a change in investment plans and promoting natural infrastructure projects.

The principle is that water users pay back, as part of their water bills, the people in the highland areas who help maintain water sources.

Iván Lucich, executive president of Sunass, explained to IPS in a video interview that while there has been progress in implementing the Merse in several regions of the country, the situation is different in the capital.

Sedapal, the public company in charge of the water supply in Lima, has not used the funds put aside for conservation since 2015 because it was looking for ways to organise itself internally to do so and because “they saw green infrastructure as unrelated to the work of a water company,” he said.

“The problem is that we didn’t understand that water is more of a governance problem than a resource problem, and that’s serious,” he asserted. But he believes that visits by Sedapal officials to the headwaters of the basins to learn about the experiences of local residents in the maintenance and conservation of water sources will help them understand the value of these initiatives.

Lucich is convinced that good community relations with the population contribute to the protection of ecosystems. He added that the prospect of being able to solve problems together in relation to drinking water and sanitation also strengthens relations.

Sedapal has 26.3 million dollars in its ecosystem services compensation reserve, and with the support of Aquafondo has already identified 15 projects that should be implemented in the coming months, following the required evaluation.

These projects must incorporate a gender perspective in their design and implementation. “Otherwise, from Sunass’ perspective, they could not be approved,” Lucich said.

He said the social dynamics in the different communities where they have worked generated very particular processes of grassroots involvement by women and their social organisations.

He gave the example of the question that was raised of who takes care of the children when women are working on the ditches, and said that in the face of this need it is up to the organised community to provide a solution and to make sure it becomes a shared responsibility.

Illegal Clearing by Agribusiness ‘Driving Rainforest Destruction’

sex, 28/05/2021 - 08:59

In Brazil, the main agricultural products responsible for deforestation are beef and soybeans. Copyright: Marcelo Camargo/Agência Brasil, under Creative Commons 3.0

By Washington Castilhos
RIO DE JANEIRO, May 28 2021 (IPS)

Deforestation in Latin America and the Caribbean accounts for 44 per cent of the global loss of tropical forests, with most of the conversion to agricultural land being carried out illegally, concludes a study by the non-profit organisation Forest Trends.

According to the report, the planet lost 77 million hectares of tropical forests between 2013 and 2019 in Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa, of which 60 per cent — 46.1 million hectares — was driven by commercial agriculture. At least 69 per cent of this “agro-conversion — forest clearing for agricultural purposes — was carried out in violation of national laws and regulations, it says.

Unlawful clearing for the production of commodities such as beef, soybeans and palm oil accounted for the destruction of at least 31.7 million hectares of the world’s rainforests during the last seven years, the report says.

Ecologist Arthur Blundell, lead co-author of the report, said: “We don’t need to clear more forests in order to grow food. People need to understand the role of commercial agriculture in driving illegal deforestation, and how important tropical forests are.”

“We don’t need to clear more forests in order to grow food. People need to understand the role of commercial agriculture in driving illegal deforestation, and how important tropical forests are”
Arthur Blundell
Based on data from 23 countries, the study estimates that deforestation in Latin America and the Caribbean represents 44 per cent of all forest loss across the tropics, with 77 per cent of this loss resulting from commercial agriculture.

In Asia, forest losses represented 31 per cent of the total, 76 per cent of which was caused by agribusiness.

Africa’s tropical forest loss represented 25 per cent of the global total, but commercial agriculture only accounted for 10 per cent of illegal deforestation, with subsistence agriculture being the main driver.

Many countries, however, fail to report data about illegal deforestation, and reliable country data is scarce, researchers noted.

 

Economic drivers

Geographer Eraldo Matricardi, associate professor at the University of Brasilia (UnB), who did not take part in the study, said: “Unfortunately, the forest is not yet considered as something viable, hence the interest in deforesting to make it productive. Agribusiness, in turn, has economic viability and high incentives from a financial point of view.”

Researchers accept that some deforestation for both commercial and subsistence agriculture is necessary for social and economic reasons.

However, Matricardi, an expert in land use changes, explains that while legal deforestation follows set limits and technical criteria, “for illegal deforestation there is a lack of criteria”.

The degree of unlawful deforestation varied widely between regions. In Latin America, 88 per cent of agro-conversion was conducted in violation of national laws and regulations, while in Africa the figure was 66 per cent, and in Asia, 41 per cent.

According to the report, 81 per cent of clearing for Indonesia’s palm oil — the country’s main export commodity — is estimated to be illegal.

In Brazil, where the major agricultural commodities responsible for deforestation are beef and soy, pasture for cattle grazing drove 74 per cent of forest loss while soy drove 20 per cent, the report says.

Besides soy, palm oil, and cattle products (beef and leather), other commodities, such as cocoa, rubber, coffee, and maize, are also cited as leading causes of illegal deforestation.

Researchers highlight the responsibility of consumers in the United States, China and EU, the main importers of these commodities.

“Producers of agricultural commodities need to reinforce their laws and stop illegal deforestation, but consumers internationally also have a role,” said Blundell. “They need to make sure that what they buy is not linked to forest loss. If you’re buying something from Brazil, for example, there is so much evidence it may be coming from deforestation.”

 

Climate change and corruption

The authors point out, however, that illegality goes hand in hand with corrupt government systems, especially in Brazil and Indonesia.

In Brazil, illegality includes “impunity for deforestation in legal reserves and areas of permanent preservation, amnesty for land seizures, and the accelerated dismantling of environmental protections, since Jair Bolsonaro came to power”, the report states.

Looking at the role forest clearing had in climate change, the report shows that emissions from illegal agro-conversion account for more than 2.7 gigatons of CO2 per year — more than India’s emissions from fossil fuels in 2018.

“We cannot address climate change unless we address illegal deforestation, and we cannot address illegal deforestation without addressing commercial food,” concluded Blundell.

This story was originally published by SciDev.Net

Why Latin America is the Middle East of Biofuel

seg, 24/05/2021 - 09:01

Soybean field near Eldorado in Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil. Credit: Gerson Sobreira

By External Source
QUITO, May 24 2021 (IPS)

Latin America has lots of natural advantages for the coming energy transition. It already has the greenest power matrix in the world. While having the planet’s largest reserves of copper make it a key provider for international electrification programmes.

Yet transport is its Achilles heel. Just 1% of Latin American transport is fuelled by clean energy. So, while more than half of its electricity comes for renewable sources, once you factor in the heavy dependence on oil and gas for moving people and goods around the region, then the renewable share of its primary energy is just 5%.

Latin America will only make significant progress in its energy transition when it manages to fuel more transport with renewable energy. One solution will be electric vehicles (EVs). However, as mining experts reveal elsewhere in this report, copper supply will be unable to replace every existing internal combustion engine with an EV by 2050.

The energy transition is such an ambitious target that countries will have to use all of the tools at their disposal. Latin America’s natural endowment mean that it can increase its biofuel production exponentially, without harming the environment or food supplies

That’s even more true for aviation, where electric planes are nowhere near ready for commercial passenger flights. That means biofuels will also play an important role. Latin America is already the world’s largest biofuel producer and, more importantly, it has ample room to increase production. A UN report found that thanks to abundant freshwater and vast stretches of unused farmland, Latin America’s has 42% of the world’s potential increase in agricultural production.

 

2nd Generation

When Brazil’s largest biofuel producer, ECB Group, starts operations in Paraguay it will cement Latin America’s leading position in the industry. That’s because the Paraguayan project, Omega Green, is Latin America’s first ever second-generation biorefinery.

Omega Green, which opens in 2024, will produce HVO, a type of biodiesel, and SPK, a bio aviation fuel. European oil majors, Shell and BP, have already signed offtake contracts for 90% of production, underscoring the demand for low carbon solutions to the transport problem.

BP has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2050 and recognises that biofuels can help it get there. Countries with ambitious environmental targets, such as the UK, will eventually make the same decision. And it’s the technological advantages of second-generation biofuel – from its feedstock to its uses – that will help convince them.

By using an energy-intensive process of applying hydrogen to organic matter, second-generation biofuels can produce a wider range of fuels. For example, aviation fuel that allows biofuels cut emissions that electrification simply can’t reach.

Second-generation biodiesel also has more uses than its predecessor, as it is a ‘drop in’ fuel that can be placed in existing internal combustion engines and work without any modifications. Indeed, you could power your car will 100% HVO or mix any percentage with your usual diesel.

That flexibility – in both feedstock and use – makes biofuel an essential part of the fight against climate change, says Erasmo Battistella, CEO of ECB Group. “Biofuel has many advantages over electric vehicles. Take London for example, with HVO you could replace the dirty diesel fuel, with its polluting emissions, overnight. You don’t need to build new infrastructure, or buy costly new busses, you just put our fuel straight in.”

You would expect a biofuel producer to talk up the benefits of his product, but his assessment is confirmed by the experiences of one of Latin America’s leading proponents of electrification, Irene Cañas, President of the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity.

Cañas, who oversees the most renewable electricity system in the world, plans to replace Costa Rica’s existing fleet of diesel buses with electric buses. “It will begin with a pilot scheme, using three electric buses donated by Germany. That will begin this year, as we test the buses on different routes to evaluate their performance.

The scheme has been delayed by the pandemic because the health restrictions mean that buses can only carry half the passengers, which has cut the revenues for bus companies and made them less willing to invest in electric vehicles.” With proven biodiesel there is no need for performance tests. But more importantly, it doesn’t require costly equipment swaps.

Second-generation biofuel’s feedstock flexibility is another big plus. One of the biggest biofuel criticisms is that it reduces farming for food production. Yet with these new biofuels it’s not true, says Battistella. “The beauty of second-generation biofuels is that they can use such a wide range of feedstocks.

We are keen to develop a diverse supply of different crops. And that’s why biofuels will be a success around the world. Whether it is palm in Indonesia or canola in Canada – biofuels can always be made with local plants.

And by planting more crops we actually increase the food supply. Because the best parts can be used for food and whatever is left as feedstock for biofuel […] it can also come from animal waste, rubbish or agricultural by-products.”

 

Environmental impact

Another supposed flaw with Latin American biofuel is that it will deforest parts of the Amazon. Yet Alfredo Mordezki, manager of the Santander Latin America Investment Grade ESG Bond Fund, says the Amazon is so sensitive that firms who damage it will have restricted access to international capital markets.

“Some may think of Brazil as this terrible polluter that is deforesting the Amazon, but within the country there are many companies with great environmental practises. Take Brazil’s pulp and paper companies. People assume that they are linked to deforestation but actually they are keen to distance themselves from the Amazon because they know how damaging that can be to their reputation.

As a result, most of these companies are making efforts to be more transparent, disclose more information and have ambitious plans to become greener. A lot of the worst environmental damage is committed by illegal groups in Latin America, for example with informal mining. But if we can funnel money to the best listed companies then it should drive change.

A Brazilian soy producer that recently issued bonds has independently certified that all of its land, and that of any suppliers, is not coming from a deforested part of the Amazon. That has raised the bar for any further soy companies looking for investment.”

That assessment is backed up by Battistella. “For us to sign the agreements with BP and Shell we had to certify the environmental impact of everything from planting the raw material to how the final product would be consumed.” That’s why “our pongamia is being produced in the vast, barren Chaco region of Paraguay. This is not land that has been deforested for our production, but farming land that we are reforesting for our project.”

Indeed, Omega Green has already announced that one-third of its feedstock will be coming from Pongamia, a tree that doesn’t require fertilizer, lives for 100 years and has a low carbon density. “The fuel you produce actually has a negative carbon density score. Imagine that – you are supplying airlines with a fuel that actually sequesters more CO2 than it produces.”

Indeed, Battistella feels that biofuel is subject to far more environmental scrutiny than EVs. “The supply chains for a lot of the metals used in electric cars are not very clean, with child labour involved in mining some of the metals. The process for making batteries can also have a harmful environmental impact.”

 

Market niche

The final criticism of biofuel is that it doesn’t produce enough output to make a significant impact on climate change. Battistella says the numbers from Omega Green prove otherwise. “Pongamia is so productive that just 120,000 hectares will produce enough feedstock for 1/3rd of our needs.

With 400,000 hectares it could cover our entire production. That might sound like a lot of land to someone in London but the Chaco region has 24 million hectares.” Again, his words are backed up by the fact that BP and Shell are using biofuel to reach their ambitious carbon neutral targets. Moreover, the success of Omega Green can be replicated throughout the region, says Battistella.

“Even though Brazil is the leader in Latin American biofuels, we also see widespread consumption and production elsewhere in the region. Colombia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina and Peru are all using and making biodiesel and ethanol. Latin America could increase biofuel production tenfold just by applying new technology and planting more feedstock.”

However, it is true that biofuel won’t be able to replace oil on its own. Current global oil demand is around 100 million barrels per day, while Omega Green’s total production will be 20,000 bpd. Even if you build 1,000 Omega Greens, you would only cover a fifth of oil demand. So, the transition will require a combination of EVs and biofuel. Many investors think of them as mutually exclusive, when in fact they are complementary.

“Look back around 150 years to the last energy transition, when oil began to replace coal. Even though oil became dominant coal is still being used today. We will see something similar with this energy transition – oil will still be used for the next 70 or 100 years. And that’s OK because to limit the impact of climate change, we don’t need to replace 100% of oil, we just need to reduce CO2 to historical levels.

Oil is built-in to a lot of the technology we use so it’s impossible for us to ignore it completely. Moreover, rising energy demand means that we will need it. For example, cargo volumes are expected to triple between now and 2050.

But we need to be intelligent and use biofuels to the best effect. One example is aviation, where electric planes are not viable at the moment and hydrogen is too dangerous to carry people. Another is the city centres where people are forced to breathe in poor quality air, that is like smoking a cigarette each day.”

Biofuel’s advantages in cities make it a perfect solution for Latin America, which is the most urbanised region in the planet. Moreover, biofuel doesn’t just replace oil in the petrol stations. By-products, such as bio naphtha, can be used as feedstocks to make green plastic.

Ultimately the energy transition is such an ambitious target that countries will have to use all of the tools at their disposal. Latin America’s natural endowment mean that it can increase its biofuel production exponentially, without harming the environment or food supplies.

Meanwhile, biofuel’s competitive advantages are well-suited to the region’s needs. Omega Green may be the first second-generation biofuels plant in Latin America but it won’t be the last. It is paving the way for a biofuel boom that will help clean the region’s transport sector.

This story was originally published by LatAm INVESTOR

China’s Firms Gain a Foothold in South America as Energy Providers

qua, 19/05/2021 - 13:30

Chinese companies have been gaining increasing access to the electricity grids of South American countries. Credit: Bigstock.

By Cecilia Joy-Pérez
WASHINGTON, May 19 2021 (IPS)

Over the past decade, state-owned enterprises (SOEs) from China have carved out a niche as owners and operators of electric utilities in South American countries through acquisitions of energy grids. As SOEs shift from their previous role as mostly builders to investors in large energy assets, policymakers in South America and in Washington should consider the implications of having these companies at the helm of such services.

Countries should assess the risk of Beijing directing its SOEs to use their positions as leverage in the event of a diplomatic conflict. Under these circumstances, SOEs could increase the cost of energy, and go as far as to disrupt services.

Although such measures might constitute an extreme response, China has been willing to exert commercial power in disputes with other countries, as a recent episode with Australia has shown.

Furthermore, energy grids are increasingly interwoven with the digital infrastructure of cities – providing an opening for China to introduce backdoors into critical infrastructure. As a result, South American leaders may be less willing to reject Beijing’s claims in international bodies on myriad issues, ranging from the origins of covid-19 to human rights, if basic services hang in the balance.

From Washington’s standpoint, China’s growing role as a service provider could improve perceptions of its economic engagement in the region, paving the way for stronger relationships with South American countries and edging out the US

From Washington’s standpoint, China’s growing role as a service provider could improve perceptions of its economic engagement in the region, paving the way for stronger relationships with South American countries and edging out the US.

This could generate more support for Beijing’s broader policy objectives. US policymakers should engage South American countries to safeguard their energy grids by communicating these potential risks and taking on more leadership in infrastructure development in the region.

 

China’s firms enter South America through non-competitive means

Despite occasional hype, the Communist Party of China (CPC) has largely refused to cut excess capacity in SOEs. One alternative has been to encourage them to pursue international contracting – first through the ‘Going Out’ policy and later with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Supported by cheap state financing, SOEs can participate in projects that for-profit firms cannot compete with. Beijing also supports SOEs efforts to capture market share, often irrespective of commercial gains, in sectors that it deems strategically important.

Firms such as State Grid have an impressive track record of building energy grids in developing countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and in West Asia, outcompeting other firms through Beijing’s subsidies.

Through this work, SOEs have amassed a wealth of experience working in tough environments, making them attractive partners for Latin American countries that may have unreliable energy grids. Today, SOEs own nearly US$24.4 billion in energy grids in South America, with US$8.9 billion in deals closing or reaching a sale agreement in 2020 alone.

SOE energy grid investments in South America do not yet include any greenfield projects. They are all acquisitions. For example, in June 2020 State Grid announced its acquisition of a 100% stake in Chilquinta Energía S.A., the Chilean arm of San Diego-based Sempra Energy, as well as two additional companies that provide electric construction and maintenance services for Chilquinta.

The acquisition strategy enables China’s firms to enter the market more easily, relying on existing systems and know-how. It also may provide State Grid – and by extension the state – insight into the operations of US energy companies such as Sempra.

 

China’s evolving interests in the region

China is taking on a new role in the region as a service provider through its recent investments in energy grids. Historically, economic engagement in South America fits with the China’s long-standing pursuit of commodities and export markets globally.

Beijing’s international engagement is shaped by its partner regions. Rich areas like the US and the EU generally draw larger amounts of investment, while developing regions like Sub-Saharan Africa and Western Asia draw greater construction activity.

Since 2005, however, South America has hosted US$54 billion in construction contracts and received US$129 billion in investment. The lion’s share of the investment has focused on the extraction of commodities, such as oil in Venezuela and copper in Peru. Yet, with the investment in energy grids a new trend is emerging.

China’s approach in the region to date has relied on carrots rather than sticks. However, the pandemic is shifting dynamics worldwide.

China’s trade retaliation for Australia’s endorsement of an investigation into the origins of Covid-19 demonstrates that Beijing is willing to leverage commercial tools in diplomatic conflicts. Australia is home to over US$100 billion in investment from China and, like South America, is a major supplier of commodities.

As Beijing’s global ambitions grow, cultivating allies in South America could prove beneficial. Already, the CPC has dangled economic engagement and used infrastructure cooperation to entice Latin American countries into severing ties with Taiwan.

 

Responding to China’s new presence in South America

Policymakers in Washington are grappling with how to respond to the BRI and China’s broader economic engagement in developing countries. An immediate step should be informing other countries of the risks of doing business with entities from China through diplomatic exchanges and open-source intelligence sharing.

Furthermore, the US, which has long viewed foreign involvement in strategic sectors in Latin America as a potential threat to its own national security, should determine which sectors and countries are of high priority to narrow the China’s gains in those markets.

Most countries treat electrical grids as key assets, limiting foreign investment in the sector. South American countries may welcome the investment from China now, but they would do well to better understand the specific risks that come with it. Subsequently, the US should lead in developing the region’s critical infrastructure, ultimately safeguarding stability in the Western Hemisphere.

 

Cecilia Joy-Pérez is an associate at Pointe Bello, specialising in business intelligence with a particular focus on China’s outward foreign investment

This article was originally published by ChinaDialogue

International Cooperation Gives Biogas a Boost in Rural Cuba

qua, 19/05/2021 - 04:40

Yunia Cancio and her husband and son stand next to the biodigester installed on their El Renacer farm, in the municipality of Cabaiguán, Sancti Spíritus province, thanks to the Biomass Cuba project financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. CREDIT: Courtesy of Biomass Cuba

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, May 19 2021 (IPS)

Yunia Cancio cooked with firewood until a few years ago, when a biodigester was built on her family’s El Renacer farm in Cabaiguán, a municipality in the central Cuban province of Sancti Spíritus, under the Biomass Cuba project. That change meant a lot for her family’s quality of life, but it was not the only one.

“Life has improved a lot thanks to the biodigester, especially for me, because as the woman of the house I’m the one who cooks,” the 48-year-old farmer told IPS by phone from her family farm. “It’s a very clean fuel, more comfortable and safer, everything is more hygienic. Before I used to cook everything with firewood and my day-to-day workload was harder.”

She explained that using the biogas she normally cooks for 10 people a day and for 20 during the planting and harvest seasons, when the tobacco farm employs more workers.

Cancio and her family are among the residents of agricultural localities involved in Biomass Cuba, a project initiated in 2009 with funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), which is currently in its third stage and is to be completed in 2022.

According to Leidy Casimiro, a professor at the University of Sancti Spíritus and an expert with Biomass Cuba, in its different facets of renewable energy, training and agroecology, the initiative directly benefits more than 15,000 people, including 5,417 with biogas technologies.

The initiative is coordinated by the Indio Hatuey Experimental Station, a research centre attached to the University of Matanzas in western Cuba, and also involves related institutions in the eastern provinces of Guantánamo, Santiago de Cuba, Granma and Holguín, and the central provinces of Las Tunas and Sancti Spíritus.

The biodigester at the El Renacer farm began operating on Jul. 15, 2014. “It was built by my father-in-law and brother-in-law, with the help of my husband and children, who carried bricks and made the mixture. With a capacity of nine cubic metres, it was built under the supervision of Alexander López, an expert in biodigesters,” Cancio said.

She also explained that electricity savings have been significant on the 28-hectare farm where her family has long-term “usufruct rights” and where they raise pigs and a few head of cattle and grow tobacco, vegetables and fruit.

“Something really important was when we received a rice cooker that was powered by biogas, a wonderful thing that we hadn’t seen before; we enjoyed it very much,” she recalled when commenting on the changes brought by the biofuel.

The plant also created new routines. Since it is fed mainly by manure from the farm’s pigs, the biodigester is connected to the pigsties. From time to time, cow manure is added to make the biogas more potent, from the stables, which are farther away.

According to Giraldo Martín, national director of Biomass Cuba, “The results are very valuable because today we have farms that consume only 30-40 percent of the conventional energy they used before.”


Engineer Alexander López Savrán stands next to one of the standard fixed-dome biodigesters he has developed, installed on a farm in La Macuca, a village in the municipality of Cabaiguán, in the central province of Santi Spíritus, Cuba. CREDIT: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

In a telephone interview with IPS from the municipality of Perico, in the province of Matanzas, Martín explained that in all its stages, Biomass Cuba has provided technologies and created capacities so local residents could move towards the concept of agroenergy in rural areas.

He also mentioned the covered lagoon model, an industrial technology that treats large quantities of biological waste to provide high volumes of biogas on a daily basis, which may be used in the future to generate electricity for the national power grid.

“In social terms, Biomass has had a great impact in the communities where it has intervened, generating employment, producing food, and in Cabaiguán, receiving domestic fuel through the supply networks that conduct biogas from pig farming areas to homes, with social and environmental benefits,” Martín said.

“We have farms that use the solid and liquid waste from the biodigesters as an excellent fertiliser with abundant nutrients that also contributes to the recovery of degraded soils, which are widespread today in agricultural areas in Cuba,” he explained.

Cancio said these techniques are used on her family’s farm, where the effluent from the biodigester “is used to fertilise the farm’s organoponic crops, including varieties of vegetables, herbs and medicinal plants, and fruit trees.”

“We are diversifying and…we now have infrastructure to extract oils, add value to various products, obtain flour from our root vegetables (a staple of the Cuban diet), motivate us to improve consumption habits and create new recipes with things that we did not use before,” she said proudly.

However, the Biomass project has also had its setbacks.

Martín said that one of the barriers that Biomass has had to break down was the lack of understanding about the concept of treating animal waste and producing energy, something that has taken a great deal of explaining and “is still not completely worked out.”

Chavely Casimiro feeds a biodigester located at the Finca del Medio, a farm in the municipality of Taguasco, Sancti Spíritus province, central Cuba. CREDIT: Courtesy of Biomass Cuba

He also considered it a challenge to align the priorities in the bidding and purchasing system with the plans of companies and productive and service organisations, so that the equipment acquisition processes are efficient and allow the technologies and knowledge generated by the projects to be applied expeditiously.

The project director said the main impact of the initiative was the way it influenced public policies.

Biomass contributes to “understanding the importance of renewable energy sources in rural areas, the role of the contributions that farms can make with biodigesters, waste treatment systems on pig farms, the use of rice husks to produce electricity and steam to dry rice, as well as the use of residual wood from sawmills to generate energy,” Martín said.

Meanwhile, José Antonio Guardado, national coordinator of the Movement of Biogas Users (MUB), told IPS that there are between 4,500 and 5,000 biodigesters around the country. “A count is currently being carried out in order to have a more precise figure,” he said by e-mail from Santa Clara, capital of the province of Villa Clara.

The MUB, which brings together producers who use the technology of anaerobic digestion by the action of microorganisms, emerged in Cuba in 1983 and has 3,000 members throughout this Caribbean island nation.

Guardado said the most urgent task of this movement was the promotion of the closed cycle system.

“In our assessment, in less than five percent of the installed biodigesters, closed-loop criteria and concepts are used, which means that the surplus end products are used in the processes that are generated in the chain on the farm, such as fish farming, irrigation or fertilisation,” he said.

Guardado said the MUB and all other actors working on the issue at the local level should defend this technology until all existing biodigesters in the country are closed-loop, including the distribution of surpluses among neighbouring producers.

According to the Ministry of Energy and Mines, 95 percent of the national energy mix is made up of fossil fuels, while this year the generation of energy from renewable sources is expected to grow to 6.3 percent of the total energy produced in the country.

Cuba’s goal is for 24 percent of energy to come from renewable sources by 2030.

Related Articles

– Jamaica Failing to Cope with Plastic Waste –

ter, 18/05/2021 - 05:16

By Kate Chappell
KINGSTON, Jamaica, May 18 2021 (IPS)



On the occasion of World Environment Day, 5 June 2021, drawing from IPS’s bank of features and opinion editorials published this year, we are re-publishing one article a day, for the next two weeks.

The original article was published on January 20 2021

A man walks by a storm drain piled high with plastic bottles and other garbage in Kingston, Jamaica. Credit: Kate Chappell

KINGSTON, Jamaica, Jan 20 2021 (IPS) – For decades, every time it rains heavily in Jamaica, a daunting deluge of plastic bottles and bags, styrofoam and other garbage trundles its way down a network of countless gullies and streams. If they don’t get snagged somewhere, they end up in the Kingston Harbour or close to the beaches ringing the tourist-heavy North coast.

This phenomenon is not restricted to Jamaica, occurring regularly across the Caribbean and Latin America. It represents the burden of how the world is failing to cope with so much plastic waste. Its effect on the region, however, is relatively unique and compounded by several realities: budget and infrastructure challenges, geography and the lack an effective waste management strategy. In the past several years, more than a third of Caribbean countries have banned single use plastics, which may have reduced some waste, but the plague remains.

One study found that beaches and coastal areas across the region could contain triple the amount of plastic waste compared to the rest of the world.

According to a paper summarizing waste management in the region, only 54% of single use plastic waste ends up in a sanitary landfill, with much of the remainder landing in storm drains and the ocean.

The disposal of single use plastic in this region and around the world is increasingly coming under the spotlight as countries attempt to tackle global heating and adhere to the Paris Agreement. If countries do not reduce their consumption of single use plastics, emissions from plastics are due to increase threefold by 2050, which would thwart the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, according to the global think tank ODI.

Andrea Clayton is one of four authors of a study on the Latin American and Caribbean region, and she says there are many problems surrounding the use of plastic and its disposal.

“Plastics have been deemed as carcinogenic. There are health implications. And we are an island state with very finite resources, so it’s very important that we put in place sustainable environmental practices,” she says. “We are privileged to experienced sandy beaches and water, but we want that to carry on to the younger generations. We must be preserving island from a sustainable position,” she says. Clayton is a lecturer for sustainable development and Caribbean Maritime University in Kingston, Jamaica.

On a daily basis in the Latin American and Caribbean region, 145,000 tons of waste are disposed of in open dumpsites, including 17,000 tons of plastic. In total, roughly 300,000 tons of plastic is not processed or collected, so it ends up in illegal dumps or waterways.

Part of the root of the problem can be traced to the region’s lack of manufacturing and agricultural capacity, which leads to heavy dependence on the importation of goods, which, of course, means more plastic waste.

In the region, plastic accounts for 35% of marine waste, according to Clayton’s paper, which is called “Policy responses to reduce single-use plastic in the Caribbean”. For one of the most tourism dependent regions in the world, this represents not just a threat to the environment, but to the livelihoods of its residents as well.

“Marine pollution is therefore a particular problem for the Caribbean These states are major contributors to marine pollution but are also more dependent on the environmental quality of the Caribbean Sea, which is the base for the regions ‘sand, sun, and sea’ tourism package. Tourism directly contributes 15.5% of the regions gross domestic product and employs 14% of the labour force,” according to Clayton’s paper.

Credit: Kate Chappell

In Jamaica, there is a lack of a sense of urgency amongst legislators, as well as the existence of alternative ways of disposing of garbage, says Diana McCaulay, director of the Jamaica Environment Trust. “People just don’t have alternatives. We have inculcated certain habits and attitudes that garbage is a state responsibility. If I don’t see a garbage bin within three feet of me, I can throw it on the road,” she says. Unless there is a holistic approach to overhauling the entire system that is accompanied by public education, nothing will change, she adds. “We need proper garbage collection, recycling programs, unless all of those other things go along with education, nothing will change.”

For its part, governments across the region have adopted several tactics, through legislation, policies, public education and incentive programs, to mixed results. “Across the region, we tend to have the legislative approach, and what has happened in most jurisdictions is a top down government policy with very little lead time,” says Clayton. In Jamaica, the bans on plastic bags, straws and Styrofoam were all rolled out to the surprise of a lot of citizens.

McCaulay says some of these policies have had success. Jamaica announced a series of new legislation in Sept. 2018, with a plastic bag ban implemented on Jan. 1, 2019. This has gone relatively well, with most people now toting reusable bags to do their shopping. The ban on the distribution and manufacture of Styrofoam and plastic straws, enacted a year later, however, has been less successful. For food containers, merchants have simply switched to plastic containers that claim to be recyclable, but in actuality are not, McCaulay says. Most business owners, however, have adhered to the plastic straw ban.

One of the main sources of pollution is single use plastic bottles, which account for an average 21% of the trash collected during beach and coastal clean ups in the Caribbean. This problem demands a deposit return scheme, McCaulay says.

In Jamaica, this is being spearheaded by the private sector, but has yet to translate to a widespread effort.

Ollyvia Anderson, director of public relations and corporate communications for the National Environment and Planning Agency in Jamaica, says that overall, citizens were slow to adopt the new regulations due to a lack of knowledge. “We were a little slow out of the blocks in terms of the uptakes,” she says. “For a lot of Jamaicans, they were concerned about the alternatives, and a lot of persons were not aware of alternatives, so we used public educations to bring them up to speed.

We are now seeing conversions where that has occurred with bags and straws. In terms of the foam food containers, we are seeing less and less of those on the market. People are adjusting but hasn’t been without challenges.”

With this in mind, enforcement has been by the government as a tool to encourage behavior change. To date, 41 businesses and individuals have been charged under the National Resources Conservation Act, with 27 of those convicted. The maximum fine is JMD$2 million, which is almost US$14,000.

It’s not enough, says McCaulay. If she were to assign a grade to the government’s efforts, she would give them a ‘D+.’ “It’s the usual lots of rhetoric with a very wide implementation gap.”

 


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Q&A: On the Frontline, Islands Aim to Seize Climate Initiatives

seg, 17/05/2021 - 15:56

Extreme weather associated to climate change has resulted in million of dollars in loss and damage in St. Vincent and the Grenadines over the past few years. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By SWAN / A.D. McKenzie
KINGSTON / PARIS, May 17 2021 (IPS)

The “all-virtual” Latin America and the Caribbean Climate Week (LACCW) that took place May 11-14 highlighted islands’ particular vulnerabilities in the face of both climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic. But the event – hosted by the Dominican Republic – also provided “important momentum for a successful UN Climate Change Conference” (COP 26) in November in Glasgow, according to the United Nations.

When that conference takes place, island states will no doubt be among the most vocal in calling for urgent climate action, again – just as they did at COP 21, joining the “1.5-to-stay-alive” stance in the runup to the Paris Agreement. Yet, island governments and their supporters aren’t just waiting around for the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases to listen to them (or to commit fully to limiting the rise in global warming to 1.5C). Instead, many are banding together to exchange ideas and to come up with sustainable measures, confronted by ever-present disaster.

James Ellsmoor

Besides LACCW, initiatives that have been bringing islands together include Island Innovation, a group founded and directed by James Ellsmoor, who organized a high-level “Island Finance Forum” in April. This four-day virtual event featured a line-up of entrepreneurs, non-governmental organizations, academics and other experts.

Also participating were officials like Gaston Browne, the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda (which suffered a devastating hurricane in 2017), and Pearnel Charles Jr., a senator and government minister in Jamaica – which has warned about the severe economic problems linked to climate change.

Ellsmoor told IPS that Island Innovation began with a newsletter and a series of virtual events, and has evolved into a community of more than 100,000 members. In addition, Ellsmoor is the co-founder of the NGO Solar Head of State (SHOS), which “works with governments to push action on renewable energy”.

The NGO has focused on small island developing states, with solar installations on the Office of the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Government House in Saint Lucia and the Presidential Palace of the Maldives. Ellsmoor said that SHOS is now working with the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States and the Pacific Island Development Forum to install solar on the official residences “across these organizations’ combined 24 member states”.

Besides working in the Caribbean, Ellsmoor (who grew up on a farm in Shropshire, England) has worked in the United States and Colombia and is now based in Lisbon, Portugal.

The next global event that he and Island Innovation are organizing will be the Virtual Island Summit, Sept. 6 – 12. He spoke with IPS reporter A.D. McKenzie via email about these and other ventures. An edited version of the interview follows.

IPS: Islands are on the frontline of the battle against climate change. Over the past years, you have been highlighting this through a series of initiatives and conferences. Can you tell us how this work began?

JAMES ELLSMOOR: Island Innovation initially started as a network, sharing sustainable development stories from rural, remote and island communities across the globe. I saw that these island communities were facing many similar issues, and there was an opportunity for them to connect on a bigger scale and collaborate. Islands as different as Greenland, Barbados, Okinawa and Saint Helena share certain commonalities and we created opportunities to build “digital bridges” to connect them. The community now include over 100,000 participants from across the globe.

Although islands are so diverse, they share many common issues, of course the effects of climate change being among the most pressing. By creating this virtual space, remote islands from opposite corners of the globe can come together to highlight challenges they face, share solutions and promote solutions for sustainable development.

IPS: At the recent Leaders Summit on Climate, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said: “Mother Nature is not waiting. The past decade was the hottest on record. Dangerous greenhouse gases are at levels not seen in 3 million years. Global temperature has already risen 1.2 degrees Celsius – racing toward the threshold of catastrophe. Meanwhile, we see ever rising sea-levels, scorching temperatures, devastating tropical cyclones and epic wildfires.” What can islands do amidst this crisis?

J.E.: I think it’s important to note that although islands, and particularly Small Island Developing States (SIDS), are very much on at the frontline of climate change, they have been a clear voice in pushing climate change to the forefront of the agenda, as well as proving their resilience. Promotion of innovative finance models and economic diversification is key to support island communities and SIDS, and this was one of the main focal points in our recent Island Finance Forum. At the United Nations, the leaders calling for climate action are often from islands, but these efforts to call for change affect everyone.

IPS: Your most recent conference, organized by your group Island Innovation and held virtually, focused on finance. It attracted some 6,000 registrants, with 70 speakers that included prime ministers, climate finance experts, activists and others. What was the motivation for organizing this conference?

J.E.: Our annual event, the Virtual Island Summit covers a wide range of topics. Listening to attendee feedback is important to me and I found that a common question that came out of the Virtual Island Summit was how island communities can get access to the sustainable finance solutions and projects on offer. We launched the Island Finance Forum as a way to connect our island stakeholders with the financial experts, with a focus on sustainable and inclusive finance structures for island communities. So often there is enthusiasm for change but there need to be channels for financing action.

IPS: What did you look for in the potential speakers?

J.E.: The Island Finance Forum was a high-level event and we wanted to have the senior financiers and experts who are responsible for projects that are making sustainable and economic changes in island communities. It’s also very important for us to have island speakers at our events who can give that first-hand insight and experience. We included high-level island politicians such as the Prime Ministers of Fiji, Vanuatu and Antigua & Barbuda. Speakers also hailed from multinational finance institutions such as BNP Paribas and local island banks such as NCB Capital Markets in the Caribbean.

IPS: What do you think participants gained from the information provided and the discussions that took place?

J.E.: I believe we achieved what we had set out to do, which is connect island stakeholders with “decision-makers” and financial experts. As with all our events, we created a space to share and exchange knowledge and I hope that our stakeholders can take away these updates on successful and sustainable projects that can be implemented on their own islands. Our events include hundreds of islands and this diversity of participation is really exciting.

IPS: Your next conference will be the Virtual Island Summit, Sept. 6 – 12. What will be the major themes of this gathering?

J.E.: The Virtual Island Summit is much broader in scope and will cover all of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. There will of course be a strong focus on solutions to mitigating climate change, as well as discussion on the blue economy, agriculture, tourism and post-Covid recovery. The Virtual Island Summit will also feed into our involvement at the COP26, where we are planning to create an “Island Space” to share insights into island communities. A big part of this work is breaking down silos and we always ensure we include representatives from government, NGOs, academia and the private sector.

IPS: How do you expect this conference to help islands in their fight against climate change and in addressing other issues that affect them, including the Covid-19 pandemic?

J.E.: Through facilitating these important global conversations and collaborations. Not just during the week of the event but beyond, through our online community where conversations flourish, and we continue to learn from each other. Our events highlight that island communities experience similar problems, but if we can continue to make connections between them to exchange knowledge on how to respond and act on issues, this can only be a good thing.

South America’s Gas Dreams

sex, 14/05/2021 - 20:01

Gas development in South America, during pandemic and post pandemic times, was the issue of a new round of debates this Friday 14 at the XXX La Jolla Energy Conference, which takes place virtually from May 7 to 28, and brings together officials , Latin American businessmen and analysts. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS.

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, May 14 2021 (IPS)

The gas producing countries of South America are debating on how to make better use of the resource and how to integrate the sector, amid geographical and infrastructural barriers.

The issue was the center of discussions this Friday 14 during the weekly debate at the XXX La Jolla Energy Conference, which began May 7th and will conclude on May 28th and is being held virtually, due to the limitations imposed by the covid-19 pandemic.

The Conference will be held on Wednesdays and Fridays of every week in May and is organized by the Institute of the Americas (IA), which has its headquarters in the coastal city of La Jolla, in the state of California, in the United States. Dedicated to promoting public policies and public-private cooperation in the hemisphere, the IA has energy as one of its main focuses of action.

In the case of Argentina, Juan Bulgheroni, Pan American Energy’s vice president of Upstream Strategy and Planning for that country, highlighted the characteristics of the Vaca Muerta unconventional gas field in southwestern Argentina.

“It has sufficient resources to meet a growing demand. Productivity has increased and costs continue to fall. We have to develop new facilities to control polluting gases and to transport more gas,” he explained.

Bulgheroni assured during the discussions that “Argentina is on the road to recovery, as prices and consumption have returned.”

In 2020, Argentina produced 123.21 million cubic meters (m3) of gas, almost nine percent less than the previous year, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In the January-February period of this year, gas production totaled 115.31 million m3 per day, a drop of 10.6 percent in relation to the same period of the previous year, in a two-month period in which the pandemic, declared a month later, had not yet broken out.

In late January, Vaca Muerta delivered 26.85 million m³ per day of the fuel, but this productive basin reported a 10 percent drop between March 2020 and the same month of 2021.

That same month the government applied the Plan Gas.Ar, which seeks to encourage investment and domestic gas production to replace imports, and through which the government pays producers for the fluid injected into the national system.

In Brazil, the Gas Law also came into force in April and puts an end to the monopoly of the state-owned Petrobras group in the access and transportation of gas and regulates the transportation, treatment, processing, storage, liquefaction, regasification and commercialization of the molecule.

The South American giant extracted 127 million m3 per day in 2020 and aims for a target of 276 million in 2030.

“We don’t have 20 years to develop our gas resources. We have to do it fast, as there is a lot of unsatisfied demand. Demand is concentrated near production centers, which is an advantage. And we have to see which fuel gas has to compete against,” said Sylvie D’Apote, Brazilian Petroleum Institute’s executive director for natural gas.

The Conference, attended by higher officials, executives and analysts from the region, will also address topics such as the future of transportation, including its electrification; the outlook for hydrogen; energy cooperation between the United States and Mexico; as well as the future of hydrocarbons and the financing of the post-covid economic recovery.

Countries such as Colombia and Peru are also analysing how to extract more gas to increase their domestic market.

Armando Zamora, Colombia’s governmental National Hydrocarbons Association president, the sector’s national regulator and administrator, predicted that investment and production “will go up when companies are authorised to return to work”.

“The expectation is to return to pre-pandemic levels of investment and exploration. This year investment is returning,” he said.

Colombian gas production is already at pre-pandemic levels, at around 1 billion cubic feet per day.

Carlos Sarmiento, Schlumberger’s managing director for Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, said the new Ecuadorian government, which will take office on 24 May, is keen to increase investment in the sector.

“Much of the effort has been made to maintain production. Therefore, a lot has to happen to the legal framework and production strategy, there must be changes to attract investment in exploration, there is the potential and the infrastructure,” he said.

Ecuador extracts some 1.08 million m3 of gas a day, which is insufficient to meet the growing demand.

 

Vaporous illusions

The common dream of South American gas-producing countries is to consolidate the domestic market and build an exploration platform. But this goal faces several barriers.

Argentina’s Bulgheroni highlighted opportunities in petrochemical production, for plastics, and urea, for fertilisers. “The best domestic product is to export. Many of the internal barriers will be overcome, but there is a need to invest in pipelines. There is a bottleneck to extract and transport more gas,” he said.

For Brazil’s D’Apote, there are opportunities for gas in the fertiliser industry, but there are “infrastructure and price barriers”.

One strategy is to build regasification plants for liquefied gas (LNG), imported mainly from the United States, and connected to South American gas pipeline networks.

Decio Oddone, CEO of Brazil’s Enauta, concluded that gas integration is not possible because a country’s internal problems impact the supply of the entire network.

“What I see now is that since LNG is available, it defines prices. If Bolivia or others want to be competitive in Brazil, they have to compete with LNG. I don’t see the need for pipelines,” he said.

For Oddone, “Brazil can become a gas exporter, but first it has to develop the domestic market, which can be more attractive than the foreign market”.

Sarmiento questioned that there has been little exploration in Ecuador. “We have many opportunities for integration. For example, using Ecuadorian oil in a Peruvian refinery or developing fields in southern Colombia, using Ecuadorian infrastructure,” he said.

Saverio Minervini, FitchRatings’ director of Latin American corporationst, predicted that regional integration will incorporate LNG, but “there are political risks and geographical and engineering challenges”.

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Biogas in Argentina: Turning an Environmental Problem into a Solution

ter, 11/05/2021 - 12:23

The biodigester of the Monje Agricultural and Livestock Cooperative, which brings together 550 small farmers in this town in northeastern Argentina on the banks of the Paraná River, produces biogas that feeds electricity to its oil plant and biofertilisers used on the crops. CREDIT: Courtesy of CopMonje

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, May 11 2021 (IPS)

“Until five years ago, we didn’t know about the circular economy, but today our waste generates environmentally neutral products that also offer a return,” says José Luis Barrinat, manager of a cooperative that brings together some 550 small farmers in Monje, Argentina.

Their story reflects a reality that has begun to spread in recent years in the rural areas of this South American country, a traditional powerhouse in food production. Today both small farmers and large agribusiness companies generate energy and other products from what was once considered waste and was solely an environmental problem.

The Monje Agricultural and Livestock Cooperative is located 370 km north of Buenos Aires, in the northeastern province of Santa Fe, and has a pig farm of some 200 sows which sells some 90 animals each week, Barrinat told IPS by telephone from his home town.“Farmers are beginning to realise that livestock production effluent is not a waste product but a raw material that can generate value, and that an environmental problem can become a profitable solution." -- Diego Barreiro

Until recently, the manure was collected in large open ponds, which were a major emitter of methane, one of the main greenhouse gases (GHG) contributing to global warming, into the atmosphere.

Everything changed, however, with the 2018 inauguration of a biodigester, where effluent from the pig farm are now treated together with other organic waste, such as decomposing grains.

The biodigester replicates nature by converting organic matter into energy using bacteria that carry out an anaerobic degradation process.

The biodigester in Monje is made up of a large tank with waterproofed walls covered by a canvas reinforced with rubber that seals it hermetically, into which the effluent from agricultural activities runs through channels.

Barrinat explained that the resulting biogas has two uses: “We use it as fuel for an electric generator, which covers part of the consumption of our oil plant, and also for a grain dryer that we use when the harvest is wet. We also extract biofertilisers, which we use on our 35-hectare field.”

Building the biodigester cost nearly 100,000 dollars and was made possible thanks to a grant from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and advice from Argentina’s governmental National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA).

“The use of biogas has grown enormously since 2015 in this country, alongside research and the creation of knowledge,” said Jorge Hilbert, an international advisor at INTA. “Unfortunately, this came to a halt in the last two years, due to the financing difficulties that Argentina is experiencing,” he added, speaking to IPS in the capital.

In Cristophersen, a town in northeastern Argentina, biodigesters were built by Adecoagro, an agroindustrial company that invested six million dollars to produce biogas from the manure of 12,000 cows. Adecoagro has been selling renewable energy to the national electricity grid for more than three years. CREDIT: Courtesy of Adecoagro

Hilbert coordinates the Global Digital Biogas Cooperation project in the country, which last year investigated market conditions in Argentina, Ethiopia, Ghana, Indonesia and South Africa. The initiative was financed by the European Union, which is interested in exporting its biogas technology to emerging countries.

In the case of Argentina, the study noted that there are 100 biogas plants in operation and that the main potential for this renewable energy lies in the effluent from pork and beef production and the dairy industry.

Biogas generation received a boost in 2015, when the Law for the Promotion of Renewable Energies was passed. The following year the government launched the RenovAr Programme, by which the State guarantees the purchase of electricity generated with non-fossil fuel sources.

Environmental engineer Mariano Butti, an INTA researcher in the city of Pergamino, told IPS that thanks to RenovAr, 36 large-scale biogas plants have been built or are under construction, which inject energy into the national power grid.

However, Butti said by telephone from that city, located some 220 km from the capital, that there is still a long way to go, especially for medium and small farmers.

“The benefit of biodigesters is twofold, because they generate biofertilisers that replace chemical, fossil-based fertilisers, and because they cut GHG emissions from untreated effluent,” he said.

“Today in Argentina we are wasting a resource,” added Butti, who cited concrete examples, such as Navarro, an agricultural municipality located 120 km from Buenos Aires.

The expert explained that “Navarro has 20,000 inhabitants and 180 cattle farms, with a total of 38,000 cows. Today, they generate local electricity with two diesel engines and dump the effluent from livestock into a river, instead of making use of it.”

However, developing the potential of agricultural waste in Argentina is not an easy task.

In 2018, INTA developed a project for Chañar Ladeado, a town of 6,000 people, also in the northeastern province of Santa Fe, where the main activity is pig farming. Thanks to the effluent, biogas would have been supplied to the whole community, which currently uses bottled gas, but the plan collapsed because the financing fell through.

Faced with the failure of the initiative, a local pig farmer, Gabriel Nicolino, installed a biodigester on his own farm, which has 200 sows. “I did it with the help of INTA, a bit by trial and error, because in this country it is very difficult to get credit,” Nicolino told IPS by telephone from that town.

“I am starting to use the biogas as a fuel to generate electricity for the breeding barn, which includes heating the pigs in their first few weeks of life. I hope to recoup the investment in the long term,” he added.

José Luis Barrinat, manager of the Monje Agricultural and Livestock Cooperative, stands by the biodigester, next to the gas filter and the facilities where the gas is cooled before being sent to the electricity generator. The biodigester works with effluent from the pig farm and other organic waste. CREDIT: Courtesy of CopMonje

Who pays the environmental costs?

Ignacio Huerga, an INTA specialist from the city of Venado Tuerto, notes that the outlook for the generation of biogas from agricultural waste is very different depending on the scale of the farms.

“Large farmers have to think about investments of millions of dollars with technology imported from countries like Germany and Italy. Smaller producers are left with developments from universities or national companies that provide technology,” he told IPS from that city.

He added that “the problem of economic viability has to do with the fact that in Argentina nobody pays the cost of the environmental impact of their activity. If they had to pay it, things would be different. In any case, biogas is sure to grow over the next few years in this country.”

One of the large Argentine agribusiness companies that chose biogas is Adecoagro, which produces milk, grains, rice, sugar and ethanol in Argentina and also does businesses in Brazil and Uruguay. Adecoagro describes itself as a “producer of food and renewable energy under a sustainable model.”

The company has four dairy farms in the town of Cristophersen, Santa Fe, with 12,000 dairy cows.

“In 2004 we began to investigate how we could take advantage of cow manure. Back then we applied it on our fields as fertiliser, because our first natural biodigester is the cows’ stomachs, but we saw that there was more potential,” Lisandro Ferrer, head of Industrial Projects at Adecoagro, told IPS.

Thanks to the RenovAr plan, and using Italian technology, Adecoagro invested six million dollars in a biodigester and has been injecting electricity into the national grid since November 2017. “We have 1.4 MW in installed power. We could cover the energy needs of a town of between 500 and 1,000 residents,” Ferrer said by phone from Cristophersen.

“The biodigester is fed with 200 tons of cow manure per day, which is sent to three 5,000-cubic-metre concrete tanks. The way we see it is the cows transform the corn they eat into milk, and what is left over we transform into biogas to generate electricity,” he explained.

However, promoters of biogas still have to work to spark the interest of agricultural producers. Fourteen years ago Diego Barreiro founded the Argentine company Biomax, dedicated to the manufacture and commercialisation of biodigesters, and since then he has been touring the country explaining the benefits of the system.

“We are working hard to lower costs. Today we have 54 biodigesters installed and interest is growing. We have a farmer who, thanks to the biofertiliser made from pig manure, managed to increase the yield of his soybean field so much that in one year he recovered the investment,” Barreiro told IPS in Buenos Aires.

He said “Farmers are beginning to realise that livestock production effluent is not a waste product but a raw material that can generate value, and that an environmental problem can become a profitable solution.”

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Brazil Relies on Rainfall that Depends on the Forests

ter, 04/05/2021 - 19:04
“Rainfall is fundamental; the streams and rivers we have would not suffice for irrigation, even if they were the Amazon River,” said Dirceu Dezem, referring to the amount of water required for the extensive crops in Brazil’s midwest. This country of continental dimensions boasts 12 percent of the world’s fresh water, but the droughts that […]

The Complex Energy Transition of Chile’s “Sacrifice Zones”

ter, 27/04/2021 - 08:28

A clean-up crew called in by AES Gener, owner of the coal-fired power plants operating in Quintero and Puchuncaví, regularly cleans the coal from the beach (Image: Saul Mansilla)

By Francisco Parra Galaz
SANTIAGO, Apr 27 2021 (IPS)

Standing on Punta Ventanilla, Carlos Vegas, 65, looks across at the industrial park which has been there most of his life. He looks at the impact of the 15 industries spread around the bay that connects the towns of Quintero and Puchuncaví, in central Chile.

Although he comes from a family of fishers, 20 years ago, the Chilean health authority prohibited him and his union from selling and cultivating mussels because they had high levels of cadmium, arsenic and copper. If people got sick, it would be his fault, he was told.

Carlos knows these waters of the Pacific like the back of his hand. He knows there will be deposits of coal on the beach tomorrow. He takes his mobile phone, looks at the data on the height of the waves in Puchuncaví, and said: “The tide is low, listen to me, tomorrow at eight in the morning, the beach will be full of coal.”

The next morning, a representative of the Navy — the maritime authority in Chile — walks along the coast and gives a warning. Coal is landing in Ventanas, the beach next to the industrial park. Immediately afterwards, a group of four artisanal fishermen, loaded with shovels and sacks, arrive to collect the coal left by the tide.

Hundreds of people in Quintero and Puchuncaví have suffered illnesses related to industrial pollution, now the Chilean towns are seeing a shift to renewables

When the sea is calm, and the waves are low, the coal is left in the sand. “This is like when you have the cup of milk. If you leave it still, the cream comes out on top. If you move it, it sticks,” explained José Carvajal, 58, a lifelong artisanal fisherman. He is the coordinator of the cleaning group convened by AES Gener, owner of the three coal-fired thermoelectric plants that operate in the area.

During January 2021, Ventanas artisanal fishermen collected four tonnes of charcoal on the beach. Over the years it has become normal to see the sand turn black at sunrise. The Terram Foundation estimated the amount of coal at 832 tonnes between 2009 and 2020.

How does a popular tourism destination end up saturated with coal year after year? In 2017, the Navy’s Maritime Prosecutor’s Office carried out an investigation and concluded that the deposits were due to “the lack of control by AES Gener in the management of waste from its production processes”. The company appealed and an investigation was reopened. It has not yet concluded.

In 2020, AES Gener burned more than 1.4 million tonnes of bituminous coal, mainly from the US and Colombia. It arrived in the bay on ships. Mechanical shovels and cranes extracted it and dumped it on a conveyor belt that extends 1.4 kilometers out to sea from the coast, taking it to an outdoor storage field. This process has operated for decades in the port of Ventanas.

Coal-fired power accounted for 39% of electricity generation in Chile in 2019, the year in which President Sebastián Piñera made an unprecedented announcement. He pledged to close all 28 coal plants in this small South American country – that contributes scarcely 0.26% of global CO2 emissions – by 2040. The decarbonisation of the energy mix became Chile’s main climate commitment, and underpinned its plan to achieve carbon neutrality.

Puchuncaví has ​​already started its transition, with the closure, in December 2020, of the “Ventanas 1” plant, which had been operating since 1964. But the challenge is not simple for an area that has lived for more than half a century with multiple environmental consequences.

 

Half a century of sacrifice

Between August and October 2018, 1,553 children and adolescents were treated for symptoms of poisoning, including dizziness, fainting spells, nosebleeds, and panic attacks in eight medical centers in the Valparaíso region, according to a report by the Children’s Ombudsman.

The Supreme Court, in an unprecedented ruling, affirmed that the state had failed to protect the inhabitants of Quintero and Puchuncaví. But, at the same time, the ruling could not determine who was responsible.

The industrial park includes, among others, an oil refinery; a copper concentrate smelter; a coal-fired thermoelectric complex; a chemical storage and discharge terminal; a cement production plant; a natural gas thermoelectric plant; a terminal that stores gas; another fuel discharge terminal; and a lubricant plant.

In 2011, boys and girls from the rural school in La Greda were poisoned in March, August and November. The court proved Codelco’s responsibility for the mismanagement of its copper smelter. The school was relocated, to less than two kilometers away. In 2019, Chilean and US researchers published a study showing that children between the ages of one and five are at risk of cancer due to levels of exposure to arsenic in soils.

This industrial presence has not translated into positive development for the town. Puchuncaví records 27% of its population at poverty level, 7% higher than the national average, and 32% of its inhabitants lack access to basic services, 20% above the Chilean average.

 

Decarbonising the energy mix

Sebastián Piñera issued the order to close down the Ventanas 1 plant from the La Moneda, the presidential palace in Santiago on 29 December 2020. It was the oldest coal-fired thermoelectric plant in the country.

“It is a milestone in the energy history of our country,” said Fernanda Pinochet, regional ministerial secretary of energy for the Valparaíso region, who was present.

Three other coal-fired thermoelectric plants still operate in the Puchuncaví bay: Ventanas 2, Nueva Ventanas and Campiche. All owned by AES Gener.

“The closing of Ventanas 1 was the product of a tripartite effort between the company, the government and the union. We sat at the table to see what they needed and we were able to cover their needs completely,” said Pinochet. A total of 35 workers were part of the plant. Of these, 16 took early retirement and 17 were relocated to other plants in the same complex.

 

Residents of Quintero and Puchuncaví exercise on the beach, with the industrial park in the background (image: Saul Mancilla).

 

Hernán Ramírez, a researcher at the Terram Foundation, describes the closure as window dressing from the government: “Ventanas 1 was the oldest and smallest, with very high operating costs. Last year, according to data from the Electrical Coordinator, it burned 3% of all the coal that was discharged into the bay and ran for 140 hours throughout the year. The closure has no effect.”

The NGO Chile Sustentable carried out a study in which they showed the different theories on what a fair transition would be. Its author, Claudia Fuentes, says that the Chilean government’s proposal “is more than anything a timetable. Decarbonising was associated with shutting down plants, but later challenges were not seen, such as reconversion, environmental remediation and everything that has to do with a just transition”.

Chile said that it will develop a “Just Transition Strategy” as part of is climate change pledge (NDC), the formal commitment to the Paris Agreement, which will be one of its pillars for the decarbonisation process. In the coming months, the ministry of energy will present the draft of the strategy.

The process, however, still does not generate much trust in the local community. “They are not responsible for any environmental liability or negative externalities or people’s health. Because when you are diagnosed with cancer, you are left alone,” said Katta Alonso, representative of the organisation Women in the Sacrifice Zone in Resistencia.

It would propose that any transition begins with the closure of the three remaining coal-fired plants, and of Codelco’s copper smelter. The next step would be the reduction of the industrial park so that no more companies are installed and that the community decides what will happen in the territory.

 

Chile’s renewable future

Since the Decarbonisation Plan announced in 2019, six thermoelectric plants have already closed in Chile. Another five will do so by the end of 2024 and the remaining 17 will shutter before 2040. The government signed a voluntary agreement with the four companies that own the plants for the winddown: AES Gener, Italy’s Enel, France’s Engie and the Chilean Colbún.

Although coal continues to be the main source of energy in Chile today, the rapid growth of renewables also accelerated its demise. In the last 6 years, Chile quintupled the capacity generated with solar, wind and hydraulic energy. The projections of the current government indicate that these energies cover 70% of the mix by the end of this decade.

According to the ministry of energy, as of January 2021, there are 6,335MW of power plants under construction, of which 94% will generate renewable energy. The vast majority are solar and wind, which according to projections, will be able to cover all the fossil generation that Chile has today in 2040.

Investments in renewables come mainly from the same companies involved in decarbonisation: Enel, Engie and Colbún, which have been joined by other small players, in the country, such as Acciona.

However, the most important company in the whole process is AES Gener. It owns 14 of the 22 coal-fired plants operating today. Only Ventanas 2 will close before 2024. The rest are subject to new negotiations every five years. For Claudia Fuentes, AES Gener “has been the company most reluctant to change. They are the ones with the least commitment to shut down plants ”.

AES Gener controls 26% of the electricity generation market in Chile, with 3,541mw of installed capacity, of which 77% are today coal-fired thermoelectric plants. Although the company has expressed its interest in diversifying its parent company, its big bet in Chile is the Alto Maipo hydroelectric plant, which will add 531mw to its portfolio by the end of this year. This has been seen years of resistance from the local community who claim it would threaten the supply of drinking water in Santiago.

The company has announced the possible conversion of the infrastructure of its plants in Puchuncaví to seawater desalination plants or green hydrogen plants. In addition, a few weeks ago it announced the sale of its five coal-fired plants in Huasco to the WEG group as a step forward in its decarbonisation. However, WEG has not signed any closure commitments with the government.

*AES Gener was contacted to be part of this report but did not respond to interview requests.

 

This article was originally published by ChinaDialogue

Colombia Gives Nearly 1 Million Venezuelan Migrants Legal Status and Right to Work

sex, 16/04/2021 - 19:06

Colombia hosts the highest number of migrants and refugees from Venezuela. Credit: Tomer Urwicz.

By External Source
Apr 16 2021 (IPS)

Colombia will grant legal status to all Venezuelan migrants who fled there since 2016 to escape their country’s economic collapse and political crisis.

The bold new policy – which will give nearly 1 million undocumented migrants rights to legal employment, health care, education and Colombian banking services for 10 years – is driven by both empathy and pragmatism, says Colombian president Ivan Duque.

“They’ll likely stay for more than a decade,” Duque told NPR on March 3, 2021. “So it’s better to…open them the opportunity to contribute also to the Colombian economy.”

Documenting and absorbing so many migrants – who often arrive on foot, with only a handful of personal belongings and no valid ID – has been a challenge. Even rich countries like the U.S. struggle to handle mass migration

Venezuelan arrivals to Colombia are not confined to refugee camps, so they live scattered across the country. Documenting and absorbing so many migrants – who often arrive on foot, with only a handful of personal belongings and no valid ID – has been a challenge. Even rich countries like the U.S. struggle to handle mass migration.

But in some ways Colombia – itself no stranger to political strife and displacement – is uniquely prepared for this migration crisis.

 

History of conflict

Colombia has received the brunt of the exodus from neighboring Venezuela since 2015.

When many other South American countries closed their borders with Venezuela, Colombia offered a series of two-year permits giving about 700,000 Venezuelans the right to work and access to health care between 2017 and 2020.

Together with the new legalization plan covering 1 million additional migrants, nearly all the roughly 1.7 million Venezuelans who have come to Colombia since 2015 will have some form of legal status. New arrivals who are legally processed in the next two years will also be covered.

Colombia is not wealthy. But Colombians understand better than many what it means to be driven from your home.

Over 8 million of Colombia’s 50 million people have been displaced by ongoing civil conflict since the 1990s. At least 1 million moved into neighboring Venezuela, seeking safety and opportunity. A government peace agreement with the FARC guerrilla group in 2016 quelled but did not end violence in Colombia.

Because of this history, international organizations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and World Food Program have worked in Colombia for decades. Today, the U.N.‘s refugee agency and International Organization for Migration are leading a group of 73 international organizations and agencies to align their work with Colombia’s national humanitarian efforts. The group works in 14 states across Colombia, providing assistance that ranges from distributing COVID-19 hygiene kits to enrolling migrant children in school.

 

Humanitarian networks adapt

The Colombian government also has some 50 agencies dedicated to helping Colombians displaced by armed conflict. Now many are adapting that experience to help Venezuelan migrants.

Since 2019 we have interviewed over a dozen government officials, lawyers and civil society representatives in two Colombian “departments,” or states, that have received high numbers of Venezuelan migrants: Atlántico and Norte de Santander. This work was part of a broader study on how countries manage mass migration.

At the religious charity Secretariado de Pastoral Social-Cáritas, part of the Catholic Archdiocese of the city of Barranquilla, in Atlántico, the longtime director said the migrant situation today looks a lot like it did decades ago when Colombia’s civil conflict peaked in the Atlántico region, with people wandering around, not knowing anyone and not sure what to do or where to go. Then as now, they slept in the parks and on the streets.

“We already lived it in the ’90s,” said the director of Pastoral Social.

Back then, the group helped the Colombians displaced by fighting to find food and shelter. Now many of its clients are Venezuelan.

The nonprofit Opción Legal – an umbrella organization that manages refugee programs for the U.N. – has a similar origin story.

At its start 21 years ago, staffers worked in some of the most difficult conflict regions in Colombia, training the nonprofits that help displaced Colombians in accounting and legal processes, among other technical functions.

Now Opción Legal offers Venezuelan migrants free legal advice about getting Colombian health care and education, among other services. Using a nationwide network of 22 Colombian universities developed over many years, it trains students and professors to extend the reach of its legal support programs to Venezuelan migrants.

 

Troubles ahead

In 2019, nearly 80 million people across the globe – mostly Syrians, Venezuelans, Afghans and South Sudanese – were driven from their homes by crime, climate change, chronic poverty, war, political instability and disaster, according to the U.N. – an all-time high. Many will spend years or decades waiting for a permanent solution, whether that be settling locally, returning home or finding a new country to make a life.

Colombia’s new legalization plan reflects an assessment that Venezuela’s collapse is a long-term challenge and that integrating migrants is a better solution, economically and socially, than trying to keep out or expel them.

Colombia is being internationally applauded for its humanitarianism. But equipping hospitals and schools to handle the needs of this rapidly growing and often very needy population will require a lot of money. And most of it will have to come from the international community, because Colombia does not have the money to do it single-handedly. Yet the Venezuelan migrant crisis is a chronically underfunded area of humanitarian work.

The legalization plan also risks inflaming anti-migrant sentiments in Colombia. Particularly in border areas, some blame rising violence on migration – though evidence shows Venezuelan migrants are more likely to be crime victims than perpetrators.

And Colombia still has domestic migration problems of its own. Dissident FARC members, other guerrilla groups, drug cartels and insurgencies continue to battle over territory and resources, displacing 70,865 more Colombians last year alone.

The Colombian government is betting that the U.N. and international agencies will help it fulfill its ambitious goal of welcoming 1.7 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants.

If it works, that money would improve government services for all Colombians, too.

Lia Castillo, Liss Romero and Lydia Sa conducted research, documentation and analysis for this story.

Erika Frydenlund, Research Assistant Professor, Old Dominion University; Jose J. Padilla, Research Associate Professor, Old Dominion University, and Katherine Palacio, Assistant professor and data analyst, Universidad del Norte

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Ecological Cookstoves Help Preserve El Salvador’s Coastal Mangroves

qua, 14/04/2021 - 11:11

María Luz Rodríguez stands next to her solar oven where she cooked lasagna in the village of El Salamar in San Luis La Herradura municipality. In this region in southern El Salvador, an effort is being made to implement environmental actions to ensure the sustainable use of natural resources. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/ IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN LUIS LA HERRADURA, El Salvador, Apr 14 2021 (IPS)

A score of coastal communities in El Salvador are staking their bets on sustainable development as a form of life that does not overexploit natural resources diminished by years of government neglect and a lack of environmental awareness, using instruments ranging from ecological cookstoves to mangrove reforestation.

“We learned to coexist better with the environment, to use it but without degrading it, especially the mangroves; without the mangroves there would be no fish in the wetlands,” Daniel Mercado, president of the San Luis La Herradura Local Development Committee, told IPS.

The coastal villages of this and other surrounding municipalities are located in the Estero de Jaltepeque, a complex ecosystem where a variety of animal and plant species live in the mangroves, bodies of water and wetlands.

El Estero is a nature reserve whose watershed covers 934 square kilometres in the coastal region of the central department of La Paz, in this Central American country of 6.8 million people.

Some 600 families in these communities received support to promote a sustainable development model that has yielded good results. The investment of more than 400,000 dollars came from the Small Grants Programme of the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

Many of these people now use environmentally friendly stoves, such as rocket stoves: circular stoves that require very little wood and produce little smoke.

In addition, the firewood comes from living fences made of gliricidia (Gliricidia sepium) trees, which provide firewood, thus protecting the mangroves from people looking for fuel.

The complement to the rocket stove is the so-called magic stove, a circular box made of polystyrene, a material that retains heat.

Once the soup or stew has boiled on the stove, the pot is placed in a magic stove and covered, and the cooking is completed. This saves on both wood and time, as people can do other chores in the meantime.

Solar ovens have also been introduced, made up of a box with a lid which functions as a mirror that directs sunlight into the interior, covered with metal sheets.

Other components of the project, which ended in 2018, include the implementation of sustainable agriculture and fisheries.

The beneficiaries had to work planting mangroves in order to receive support from the programme. As a result, 500 hectares of mangroves have been preserved or restored and sustainable practices have been implemented on 300 hectares of marine and terrestrial ecosystems.

However, preserving the mangroves is still a challenge because people from other communities come to cut down the trees, and government authorities do little to prevent it, Mercado said.

In any case, sustainable development can be tasted in food cooked on ecological stoves and in other initiatives carried out along the Pacific coast of this small Central American nation, where awareness of the need for sustainable development is growing among local inhabitants.

For more information, you can read this story: Recipes with a Taste of Sustainable Development on the Coast of El Salvador.

Farmers in Brazil Benefit as Biogas Replaces Firewood

seg, 12/04/2021 - 04:53

Claudete Volkswey and her husband smile together on their poultry farm in the municipality of Toledo, in the southwest Brazilian state of Paraná. The poultry shed is now heated using biogas instead of the wood-burning stove that used to keep her up at night, stoking it every two hours to keep the chicks warm in their first few weeks of life, as she explained at the South Brazilian Biogas and Methane Forum seminar, in her participation via videoconference. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RÍO DE JANEIRO, Apr 12 2021 (IPS)

“Biogas is worth gold to us, we can no longer live without it,” Claudete Volkswey, a poultry farmer in the municipality of Toledo, in the southwestern state of Paraná, Brazil, said enthusiastically about the new source of energy that has allowed her to get a good night’s sleep again, because she no longer has to get up to stoke the fire every two hours.

Ademar Luiz and his wife, Zenilde Nunes Luiz, also celebrate the alternative energy source that has freed them from the complications of firewood and has made it possible to have hot water round the clock, a blessing in the cold winters of Laurentino, a municipality in the southern state of Santa Catarina.

In the Northeast, Brazil’s poorest region, biogas forms part of the movement that is helping to overcome rural poverty in that semiarid ecoregion by disseminating so-called social technologies, the best known of which is rainwater harvesting tanks for human consumption and irrigation in family agriculture.

Spreading the use of biodigesters, the same way the rainwater tanks have been widely adopted, totaling more than 1.3 million today, is the dream of Ita Porto, coordinator of Diaconia in the Sertão do Pajeú, an area comprised of 20 municipalities in the interior of the northeastern state of Pernambuco.

“For this to happen, they have to become a public policy, as the rainwater tanks are. This would add energy security to the water and food security that are already taken into account by the government,” Porto told IPS by telephone from Afogados da Ingazeira, where one of Diaconia´s main offices is located.

Her ecumenical Christian-inspired social organisation is an active participant in the Articulação Semiárido do Brasil (ASA), a network of 3,000 diverse associations aimed at development in the semiarid Northeast based on coexistence with the ecosystem, in contrast to earlier failed official strategies to “combat drought”.

There are about 800 units of the Sertanejo Biodigester, a model designed by Diaconia, built in Brazil, most of them in the semiarid Northeast. The initiative won a mention in the third edition of the Biodigester Network for Latin America and the Caribbean’s RedBioLAC magazine, in 2019.

Biogas is becoming an important energy source in this South American country of 212 million inhabitants, both for electricity and heat generation and for the production of biomethane to replace fossil fuels.

The enormous amount of agricultural, industrial and urban waste represents a potential of which only two percent is currently used, according to Alessandro Gardemann, president of the Brazilian Biogas Association, which groups companies and producers in the sector.

The advance of commercial production is made in sanitary landfills, in large agricultural and industrial units. In the south of Brazil, the expansion of pig and poultry farming is driving the biodigestion of their excrement, to boost profits, reduce costs and meet growing environmental demands.

They can play an important role in the energy system, providing power and balance, in the face of the major growth of intermittent sources, wind and solar, in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But it is the family biodigesters, noted for their proliferation rather than their size, that generate the most visible social and environmental benefits.

For Claudete Volkswey and her family, biogas meant keeping the poultry shed housing about 19,000 chickens and chicks on their farm warm without having to wake up “two or three times” in the middle of the night, sometimes in sub-zero temperatures, to stoke the wood-fired oven that was the previous source of heat.

This biodigester is on a small farm in the semi-arid region of the state of Pernambuco in Northeast Brazil. In general, local families now use biogas for cooking, replacing cooking gas cylinders, which are expensive in comparison to the income levels in this part of the country. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

“Our health is at stake,” Volkswey said in her presentation via videoconference at the South Brazilian Biogas and Biomethane Forum, which took place from Mar. 29 to Apr. 1, virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The manure, which is like gold for biogas production, comes from the 9,000 “nursery” piglets that Volkswey’s son is raising on the family farm in Toledo, a municipality that concentrates the largest number of pigs in Brazil: around 1.2 million.

The cost of firewood used to be as high as 2,800 reals (about 500 dollars) a month. The biodigester that has heated the poultry shed for the past nine years was costly, as it was one of the first in the western part of the state of Paraná, “but it was worth it,” said Volkswey.

Not having to forage for or buy firewood is another advantage cited by Ademar Luiz, also a pioneer in biogas in his municipality, Laurentino, 120 kilometres from the coast of Santa Catarina.

He built a small biodigester in 2008, to try it out. Six years later he built a larger one that allowed him to fuel the stove and heat water for the household round the clock. He no longer uses firewood or the electric shower heater, which saves the family 90 dollars a month.

Farmers Ademar Luiz and Zenilde Nunes Luiz decided to produce biogas to cook and heat water in their house in Laurentino, a municipality where winters are cold in the southern state of Santa Catarina, saving on firewood and electricity. This screenshot was taken from their presentation at the South Brazilian Biogas and Biomethane Forum, held in late March in Brazil. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

Luiz only uses the manure from his four dairy cows. He used to have 30 and produced 600 litres of milk a day, in addition to raising other cattle, but he sold almost all of them two years ago, when he was 56. It became difficult for him to care for so many animals because of his back trouble.

Producing milk is hard work and a dairy farm is like “a prison” as you have to be there every single day. “But I like it,” he told IPS by phone from his farm, where he also grows corn and soybeans. “With a tractor and harvesting machine, I can do it,” he added.

Luiz confessed that before he had the biodigester he used to dump the manure into the river, “for the bad luck of those who live downstream.”

There are many environmental benefits, because the biodigesters protect water, forests and the climate, as well as eliminating odors and mosquitoes.


A screenshot from Claudete Volkswey’s videoconference presentation at the South Brazilian Biogas and Biomethane Forum shows the poultry shed where she raises some 19,000 chickens. She decided to produce biogas on the family farm, using a biodigester fueled by the manure from the pigs that are also raised on her farm, and abandoned the use of the wood-burning stove, which would keep her or another family member up at night as it needed to be stoked every two hours to keep the newly hatched chicks alive on nights when temperatures sometimes drop below freezing. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

In addition, biodigestion converts the waste into fertiliser and as a result, he said, his corn harvest grew.

“That’s why I don’t understand why other farmers don’t join the move to biogas, the manure is free. I am the only one using a biodigester in this municipality,” he lamented. The necessary investments are paid off with what is saved in just a few years and are easily financed in the banks, he said.

His wife was also reluctant at first. She only approved of the novel system after discovering that the beans and chicken stew cooked on the biogas stove didn’t smell like manure, he joked.

Ita Porto emphasises that women benefit the most. In general, they are the ones in charge of fetching firewood and, because they do the cooking, their health is affected by constantly breathing smoke from burning wood or charcoal.

This biological digester was built by a regional university to supply biogas to a bakery run by a women’s cooperative in Pombal, a municipality in the semi-arid ecoregion in the Northeast Brazilian state of Paraiba. This waste-to-energy generator provides half of the electricity used by the bakery, which sells a large part of its products to the lunch programme in local schools. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

A World Bank study released in 2020 estimated that 2.75 billion people still use wood or charcoal for cooking. Many die of lung cancer, respiratory damage and heart disease as a result.

Widespread replacement of traditional stoves with safer and healthier cookstoves would have dramatic health, environmental and social effects, experts say.

Incipient and scattered actions are promoting the use of biogas in Brazil.

In the state of Ceará in Northeast Brazil, the non-governmental Centre for Labour Studies and Worker Advisory Services (CETRA) has been running a project since 2017 that envisages the construction of 1,800 biodigesters with support from several national and international institutions, Porto explained.

The route to massive dissemination of the technology could open up if one or more Brazilian states adopted this alternative as public policy, the activist asserted.

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Mexico Looks to the Heavens for a Solution to Its Water Crisis

seg, 05/04/2021 - 11:39

Gabino Martínez cleans the "Tláloc", the tank that filters dust from the rainwater collection system in his home in the Tehuixtitla neighborhood in the Xochimilco district in southern Mexico City. During the May to November rainy season local residents collect the water they use for washing, bathing and cooking, due to the lack of access to piped water. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Apr 5 2021 (IPS)

In neighbourhoods like Tehuixtitla in southern Mexico City, rain brings joy, because it provides water for showering, washing dishes and clothes, and cooking, by means of rainwater harvesting systems (RHS).

“When it starts to rain, we feel so happy. We clean and sweep so that there is no dust on the roof and gutters, and so the water doesn’t get dirty or clogged,” said Gabino Martínez, a resident of Tehuixtitla, part of the touristy municipality of Xochimilco, one of the 16 districts that make up Mexico City.

This is what the 63-year-old man told IPS, pointing to the roof of his house to show the infrastructure that makes it possible to collect rainwater to meet the family’s basic needs for part of the year.

Martínez, a married father of three who works as a handyman, still has a little water left from last November’s rains, and is counting the weeks until May brings the first drops, provided the climate crisis doesn’t modify the normal seasonal rainfall."A market and promotion policies have been developed. Rainwater harvesting relieves some of the demand in an autonomous fashion, reducing pressure on the government to provide the service. "Sometimes water is abundant in this country, but it is seasonal. That is why it is becoming increasingly important to harvest rain, because we cannot afford to waste what falls from the sky.” -- Enrique Lomnitz

“We don’t waste water here. Everything we store, we use,” said Martínez, who installed his system in 2008 at a cost of about 270 dollars and whose neighbourhood was the first in Xochimilco to have RHS, since the public water supply system does not reach this area nestled between hills.

Before rainwater began to be harvested, the people of Tehuixtitla, who today number some 2,500 spread over 11 streets, collected rainwater with makeshift systems and filtered it through cotton cloths. They also bought water from tanker trucks, known locally as pipas, which they then carried in jerry cans to their homes.

“Utilities” was just an abstract term in the dictionary. But through community organising, they have obtained electricity, telephone and internet services, essential for working and studying during the COVID pandemic.

The RHS consists of a receptacle, called “Tlaloc” because of its physical resemblance to the Aztec rain god, which filters dust out of the water before it runs into a 5,000 litre tank, to be distributed to the local supply network. The collectors allow two or three downpours to pass through first so the harvested water is cleaner.

Rain is the salvation

Rainwater can help this Latin American country of 126 million people face the water crisis which experts project will start in 2030, while it currently causes floods and landslides and generally ends up in the drainage system.

Rainwater harvesting reduces the need to obtain or import water from conventional sources, allows the creation of supply at specific points and does not depend on the traditional system.

At the same time, it can help Mexico achieve the goal of clean water and sanitation for the entire population, the sixth of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set for 2030.

The situation in greater Mexico City, home to more than 21 million people, is particularly delicate, as the metropolis is heading towards the so-called “Day Zero”, when it will no longer have enough water to meet its needs.

The city is the third most water-stressed of Mexico’s 33 administrative divisions, after the states of Baja California Sur, an arid territory in the extreme northwest of the country, and Guanajuato, located in the center-north and strained by agricultural activities.

Purchasing jerry cans of water transported by donkey is the alternative left to the inhabitants of Tehuixtitla and other neighbourhoods in the hills of the Xoxhimilco district, in the south of Mexico City, when the rainwater collected during the rainy season runs out and the supply of water from tanker trucks, locally known as “pipas”, is delayed. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Drought is raging this year in Mexico, especially in the capital, whose main source of water – the Lerma-Cutzamala dam and reservoir system in the neighbouring state of Mexico – is below half its capacity.

As a result, the local government has had to ration water in a city already under pressure from shortages.

In Mexico City, the largest metropolis in Latin America, some 15,000 people suffer from poor access to water and marginalisation, in eight municipalities in the south and southeast of the city, according to the 2019 study “Captación de lluvia en la CDMX: Un análisis de las desigualdades espaciales” (Rain catchment in Mexico City: An analysis of spatial inequalities), the latest edition published.

In addition, approximately 70 percent of the city’s residents have water available for less than 12 hours a day.

Government programmes have been operating in Mexico City since 2016 to provide RHS to neighbourhoods affected by a lack of water.

The “Rainwater Harvesting Systems in Mexico City Homes” programme, which in 2020 gave families about 900 dollars in subsidies, has installed more than 20,000 devices since 2018 in five municipalities on the outskirts of the city to the south and southeast.

By 2021, it will reach 529 neighbourhoods in eight municipalities in the capital. However, the programme only includes homes in urban areas. Households in shantytowns outside the city are considered to be located on land earmarked for conservation, and the classification of these neighbourhoods as occupying public land means they are denied services.

Mexico City’s constitution, in force since 2017, stipulates that the city will “guarantee universal water coverage and daily, continuous, equitable and sustainable access” and that it will incentivise rainwater harvesting.

But on the hills of the southern municipality of Tlalpan, for example, that constitutional article has not been enforced. That is why, for residents like Silvia Ávila, RHS systems have been the salvation.

“The situation was very difficult, we had no water. It was a big problem. The authorities at the time sent a tanker truck once a month, but we had to walk about a kilometre and pipe the water to our homes using hoses,” she told IPS during a visit to her house.

“It wasn’t enough water even for our basic needs. There were people who didn’t even have a water tank to store water. This was a desert because of the lack of water and services,” she said, explaining the transformation that RHS has meant for families in the neighbourhood.

With the installation of a 10,000-litre system in 2011, for which she paid about 230 dollars, much more than her access to water changed.

“When it rains, we can meet our basic needs,” said Ávila, a widowed homemaker and mother of four. “Every house has a system. It has allowed many to live off their own crops. We have become sustainable, little by little. After arriving here, the programme was expanded to several nearby towns.”

Water storage containers are part of the landscape in the streets of Tehuixtitla. Residents of this neighbourhood in southern Mexico City keep them next to their homes to supplement their water supply by buying water from tanker trucks, which they store in jerry cans, some faded by the sun and others new, and then pump it into their homes. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Paraje Quiltepec resembles an ecovillage. Its 30 families use biodigesters, make vermicompost, recycle water, raise chickens and grow fruits and vegetables.

In the dry season, neighbourhoods like Tehuixtitla and Paraje Quiltepec buy tanker truckloads of between 6,000 and 10,000 litres for 50 dollars per household. In the former, the local government also helps, distributing 800 litres a week.

Not only Mexico City suffers from water shortages

The Mexican capital reflects the water problems in this vast country with an area of 1.96 million square kilometres, 67 percent of which is arid and semi-arid and 33 percent of which is humid.

In 2020, Mexico received more than 722 millimetres of rainfall per day, below the average of 779 in recent years.

Although Mexico had a low degree of pressure in 2017 – 19.5 percent – its risk of water stress is high, according to the Aqueduct platform, developed by the Aqueduct Alliance, made up of governments, companies and foundations.

In fact, it is the second most water-stressed country in the Americas, behind Chile. It may suffer from water stress in 2040 all the way from the center to the north.

Enrique Lomnitz, founder of the civil association Isla Urbana, a pioneer in rainwater harvesting that installed the systems in Tehuixtitla and Paraje Quiltepec, pointed to the progress made in the last decade with regard to the adoption of rainwater harvesting.

“A market and promotion policies have been developed. Rainwater harvesting relieves some of the demand in an autonomous fashion, reducing pressure on the government to provide the service,” the promoter of the initiative explained to IPS.

“Sometimes water is abundant in this country, but it is seasonal. That is why it is becoming increasingly important to harvest rain, because we cannot afford to waste what falls from the sky,” he said.

Lomnitz noted that downpours increase the availability of water and are the only source of water in several areas of the capital.

Since 2009, Isla Urbana, the winner of several international awards, has installed some 21,000 RHS throughout the country.

The National Programme for Rainwater Harvesting and Ecotechnics in Rural Areas (Procaptar) was launched in 2016, benefiting 4,500 people in 114 municipalities between 2018 and 2020. In 2021, it will help 11,500 inhabitants in 63 municipalities.

The 2019 report estimated that the installation of 105,000 RHS would improve conditions for about 41,500 people.

The 2019 “Internal Evaluation of the Rainwater Harvesting Systems in Mexico City Homes Programme” concluded that the programme met its physical goals in the installation of systems, and reported good acceptance and satisfaction among beneficiaries.

In addition, it recommended improving adoption of the system, especially in maintenance, performance indicators and gender perspective. The 2020 review has not yet been published.

In Tehuixtitla people are not waiting. Local residents are designing a pumping system with the state-owned National Water Commission to provide them with drinking water, at a cost of about 1,750 dollars per household.

“It’ll improve living conditions here,” Martinez said enthusiastically.

Lomnitz suggested creating incentives for rainwater harvesting, reviewing service subsidies and encouraging wastewater treatment and reuse.

“In the city the situation is very serious, so measures are needed to take care of water,” he said. “There is a range of possible solutions, such as recycling water or using water-saving devices. Rainwater harvesting is one of several elements that need to be worked on to address the crisis. But it alone will not solve the problem.”

Related Articles

Pandemic Accentuates Need for Caribbean Countries to Improve Food and Nutrition Security

sex, 02/04/2021 - 05:26

Jaxine Scott displays some vegetables in her backyard garden at her Kingston, Jamaica home. Credit: Kate Chappell

By Kate Chappell
KINGSTON, Jamaica, Apr 2 2021 (IPS)

Last year, Jaxine Scott was off work as a caregiver at a primary school as a result of the pandemic. One day, she noticed a green shoot emerging from some garlic in her fridge. She decided to plant it, and to her surprise, it thrived. “I thought ‘It looks like I have a green thumb, let me plant something else,’” Scott says. She now has a backyard garden, including cucumber, pumpkin, melon, callaloo, cantaloupe, pak choy and tomatoes. “It makes me feel good,” she says. “I can help my family members and neighbours. It has saved me money. I’m not going to stop, I’m going to continue,” she says.

Scott, 45, is just one of thousands of Jamaicans who have found an interest in gardening, both as a way to pass the time and to become more self-sufficient when it comes to food and nutrition.

This is a small yet important step for a country and region in which the trees are laden with an abundance of fruits, yet many people go hungry every day.

An October, 2020 study of eight Caribbean countries found that 40% of people surveyed experienced some form of hunger, with 42% of those saying it was moderate to severe. The survey by the College of Health Sciences at the University of Technology included 2,257 households in eight countries across the region (Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Belize, Barbados, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Antigua and Barbuda.) Another recent study from the Caribbean Research and Policy Institute and Unicef also found that in a survey of 500 Jamaican households, 44% reported that they were experiencing food shortages, while 78% said their savings could last them four weeks or less.

Food security is a technical term referring to the availability of nutritious food, and defined by the United Nations as having “physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life.” The World Bank reports that despite the pandemic, there is adequate supply, however the challenge lies at the national level. The risks to food security include higher prices and reduced incomes, which forces households to rely on smaller portions of less nutritious foods.

“We suspected people were cutting back on their intake, especially households where the breadwinners were losing their jobs. It has shook up some of the households quite a bit. People are cutting back on the number of meals that they were having,” says Dr. Vanessa White Barrow, the Head for the School of Allied Health and Wellness at the University of Technology’s College of Health Sciences.

The effect of this, of course, has many repercussions, including malnutrition, lack of energy, obesity as a result of consuming lower-cost but unhealthy foods and a variety of health issues like diabetes and hypertension.

“What has happened is that the nutrition divide has widened as a result of COVID,” says Prof. T. Alafia Samuels, of at the Caribbean Health Research Institute at the University of the West Indies.

“We also know that before, because of the extent that many household were dependent on processed food, people have cut back (on healthy foods) and are going for cheaper alternatives, and this has long-term health implications,” she says. This especially impacts children, who need nutritious food to grow and learn adequately. In addition, children are confined to their households, doing online learning and missing physical activity they would have had at school.

Food and nutrition insecurity are just one frightening outcome of the pandemic, which has ravaged one of the most tourism-dependent regions in the world. In Jamaica alone, a minimum of 50,000 people have been laid off from the tourism industry, a number that is likely even higher when taking into account indirect employment. An estimated 135,000 people have lost their jobs in total. The country’s real GDP for fiscal 2020/21 is expected to contract by up to 12%, according to the Bank of Jamaica, and the unemployment for Oct. 2020 was 10.7%. According to the World Bank, the percentage of people living below the poverty line was 19.3% in 2017, and while this figure had been improving, it is unlikely to continue this trajectory.

With this hardship in mind, the government has introduced a series of financial stimulus measures to reach the most vulnerable, but these are not sustainable. In addition to financial measures, the government has also focused on increasing food security, an effort that existed prior to the pandemic, but has since been ramped up.

In terms of boosting food security and assisting the farming industry, Jamaica’s Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Floyd Green says that the government is investing JMD$1 billion this year.

Decreased market demand, in large part from the hotel and restaurant industry, has harmed the farming industry. So while at times there is an excess of supply, a lack of demand has impacted farmers and their production systems, which in turn erodes food security.

“The challenge with COVID is clearly the downturn in the market, which discourages the farmers from producing,” says Green, adding that they worry their supply will not be absorbed. With this in mind, the government created a “buy-back” program, which found new clients for farmers, which has helped.

“We saw an initial decline in production with COVID when it came in, but we went back into a growth position overall, and now year-over-year seeing growth.”

Ultimately, Green says COVID has forced people to examine their self-sufficiency. “Covid has brought back into sharp focus in the minds of people the need to be more self-sufficient when it comes to feeding ourselves.”

The need for self-sufficiency exists on a large scale as well, especially on an island that imports over US$1billion of goods annually. And while some of that cannot be avoided as it is inefficient or impossible to produce everything needed by Jamaicans, Green says there are some efforts to increase the nation’s self-sufficiency, as well as to ramp up exports, which can help to balance the import bill.

“A part of what we have been doing is to have to take a critical approach to analyzing our import bill, and what can we do what can we grow efficiently to reduce the import bill. We have a twofold approach, we don’t only focus onthe import bill, but export revenues. We have to look to raise export revenues as a small island state that wont be able to produce efficiently,” Green says.

To this end, the government is looking to encourage production of ginger, turmeric, cocoa, coffee, castor oil, and mangoes, which are all in demand because of their superior quality, he says. “ We are looking to further encourage incentive some of our farmers to go into some of these crops. What you will see now over the next three years is a determined push towards export stimulation.”

In terms of local food supply, Green says it is sufficient. The issue, however, is with a lack of purchasing power, especially of late as a result of the economic downturn. “Our challenges is to restart the economy to make sure people can get back purchasing power.”

Green mentions a backyard gardening program in which 2,500 families across the country, with a majority focus on urban areas, received a kit containing all the necessary tools to start a garden and become more self-sufficient.

This is one measure towards achieving food security, says Jamaica Agricultural Society vice-president Denton Alvaranga.

“A lot of persons are at home with a lot of time on their hands, the elderly, middle age, they are at home, children are at home, and most times, having very little to do.

It would be very useful at this time to re-emphasize the backyard gardening program,” he says. “This is very, very useful and timely when you look at it a lot of things produce can be grown locally in our backyard and a lot of people have a lot of space.”

In addition to backyard gardening, Both Samuels and Barrow-White add that government programs to identify and reach the most vulnerable communities and families will help increase food security. Samuels is currently working with Jamaican churches to develop a database to identify these people. “The plan is interventions, and we are proposing actually support them to roll out that kind of intervention that has worked in one church so they can have a systematic way to find out who are the vulnerable what needs to get them to the point. You need some kind of organization, you can’t go out there and look for people one by one,” Dr. Samuels says.

 


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