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Latin America & Caribbean

People, plots and pixels

Chris Meyer's picture

Photo credit: Max Nepstad

 

If you are in a forest in Ecuador and see indigenous communities standing with an android phone, a measuring tape and a good pair of boots, don’t be surprised. These ‘indigenous forest carbon monitors’ have been trained to collect field data by measuring a 40m x 40m sample plot. They align the center of the square plot with a GPS coordinate associated with the center of a satellite footprint, and measure the diameter of the trees in the plot. Once the measurements of the trees are determined, they are sent via phone to scientists who use satellite images – and now even images available on Google Earth – to estimate the amount of carbon stored in forests.

 

These communities can efficiently traverse terrain that is typically inaccessible to foreign technicians. The result is better forest carbon density maps that can determine changes in the amount of forest carbon present over time.

 

With the cutting and burning of trees contributing to about 15% of global carbon dioxide emissions, any realistic plan to reduce global warming pollution sufficiently – and in time to avoid dangerous consequences – must rely in part on preserving tropical forests.

 

A critical part of ensuring that the rate of deforestation is decreasing - and the part where skeptics are most vocal - is monitoring, reporting, and verifying (MRV) the area and density of forests. The MRV process measures the amount of carbon stored in a forest, and also helps make sure that further deforestation and degradation do not occur. It also requires both modern technology and old fashioned boots on the ground.

Small islands show the way on clean energy

Angus Friday's picture

Today was an exciting day in Cancun. For me, it marked a break from the rhetoric of negotiations to focus on the reality of action on the ground to combat climate change. This morning’s weather was picture perfect as the World Bank’s President, Bob Zoellick arrived at the Press Conference Centre in the Moon Palace to voice the Bank’s support for the concrete actions of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).

 

AOSIS consists of 43 island and low-lying countries that encircle the tropical belt around the globe. Given the very real threat posed by climate change, they have been attending international meetings on climate change for the last 20 years and are frustrated at the pace of progress and the lack of ambition. They are here in Cancun to fight for their survival and to call upon their partners and the international community to be ambitious. In the negotiating text, they want to see reference to 1.5 degrees, “loss and damage” and a legal form to the agreement. After 20 years of talks, AOSIS is going beyond negotiations and embarking upon concrete actions to lead by example: They are intent on entering an era of renewable energy and energy efficiency—hence today’s press conference. 

 

Amidst a blaze of flashing cameras, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed by the Prime Minister of Grenada in his capacity as chair of AOSIS, Dr. Lykke Friis, the Danish Minister of Climate, Energy and Gender Equality, Helen Clark, Administrator of UNDP and the World Bank President Robert Zoellick. Simon Billett of UNDP who had been stellar in his efforts joined me on stage as we facilitated the signing. This MOU calls for the introduction of renewables and energy efficiency into these island states with an initial injection of US$14.5 million from the Danish Government as part of their Fast Start financing pledge.

Billions without power can now think low-carbon

Daniel Kammen's picture

I have some good news to share on the energy front from the experience of two tiny communities of 1,100 people on Nicaragua’s Atlantic coast. Results of a study published November 26 in Science Magazine demonstrate that low-carbon rural energy services can be delivered at cost savings in cases where communities utilize isolated, diesel-powered, electricity grids.

 

The rural Nicaraguan communities of Orinoco and Marshall Point were dependent on the diesel micro-grid for their electricity. In 2009, they partnered with the national government and an NGO to implement energy efficiency measures including metering, prompting residents to reduce wasteful use of electricity. Compact fluorescent light bulbs were also introduced, as well as more efficient outdoor lighting, and replacement of part of the diesel power with biogas from dung.

 

After the government installed meters, energy use dropped by 28%, and people’s electric bills dropped proportionately. The NGO, blueEnergy, based in San Francisco, which offered the compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL), was able to cut household energy use by another 17%. The net result was reduced burning of diesel, even though the community’s reduced energy needs allowed the local energy supplier to run its generators two extra hours each day, providing longer service to customers. In the month after the conservation campaign, energy costs per household had dropped by 37 %.

 

These conclusions emerged from calculations based on a marginal abatement cost curve, or MAC, an analytical tool developed in 2008 by McKinsey & Company. The same tool was used by a team of experts headed by the World Bank, studying Mexico’s climate challenges.

Hope for Honduras energy sector

Elsia Paz's picture

Photo: WindmillsI come from a country that generates 70% of its electricity by burning imported diesel─creating a serious imbalance in Honduras’ economy. There is no reason why we cannot emulate our neighbor Costa Rica that generates 90% of its energy needs using hydroelectricity. As President of Honduran Renewable Energy Association for Small Scale Projects (AHPPER), representing 66 Honduran companies dedicated to the development of small scale renewable projects, I believe that barriers which local entrepreneurs must overcome are the lack of funds for pre-investment activities, equity consolidation and institutional delays.

 

Notes from Guyana: People, forests and vuvuzelas

Carolina Hoyos's picture

Photo: Forested hillsThis week we are in Guyana, talking about people, forests and carbon finance. The 6th meeting of the Participants Committee of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) is taking place in Georgetown, Guyana, bringing government representatives, international organizations, indigenous peoples representatives and private sector to the northern coast of South America. The Facility is a partnership of countries with tropical and sub-tropical forests with the World Bank as a trustee for the Readiness Fund and the Carbon Fund. The meeting is discussing innovative ways to prepare countries for programs that will provide them with payments for emission reductions through, for example, avoided deforestation.

 

Do we still need REDD if deforestation is decreasing in the Amazon?

Carlos A. Nobre's picture
Amazon birds -- iStockphoto
Two macaws in the Amazon.
Photo © istockphoto.com

Although the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen badly failed to achieve legally binding agreements, including on the specific mechanism of REDD (Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), there was nevertheless a general sense that this mechanism is something worth pursuing. Meetings and discussions continued to take place after the conference was over, and a fund of US$ 10 billion is being set up to promote initial steps for tropical developing countries to prepare for REDD.

What lessons can be learned from the Brazilian Amazon, where deforestation rates have been steadily declining for 5 years?

Compared to estimates of land-cover change emissions from elsewhere in the tropics, estimates in the Brazilian Amazon tend to be relatively more certain because they are calculated from annual, satellite-based monitoring of land cover change for over two decades for the Brazilian portion of the Amazon. That is the work of the PRODES Project carried out by the National Institute of Space Research (INPE) of Brazil. 

Deforestation in the Amazon changes a lot from year to year. The proximate causes are not totally known. They have to do with economic drivers such as prices of commodities (beef, soy, etc.), the opening of roads, but they are also influenced by the effectiveness of law enforcement to curb illegal deforestation.

The latter may have played a key role in reducing deforestation in the last 5 years. During that period, annual deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon plummeted from over 27 thousand km2 (August 2003-July 2004) to around 7 thousand km2 (August 2008-July 2009), an amazing 74% reduction over 5 years!

“The Route of Smoke” from Brazil wins EJA’s Global Public Award in Copenhagen

Kavita Watsa's picture

Winners of the Global Public Award given on December 14th 2009 in Copenhagen: Andreia Fanzeres and Cristiane Prizibisczki for “The Route of Smoke”. Photo courtesy: Earth Journalism Awards web site.
For anyone who’s been following the Earth Journalism Awards, the much-awaited Global Public Award was announced yesterday in Copenhagen. Thousands of people from across the world voted online for this award, helping to pick the best story.

And the winner of the Global Public Award is…"The Route of Smoke," a multimedia report put together by two Brazilian journalists, Andreia Fanzeres and Cristiane Prizibisczki. They tell the story of how customary farming practices—such as setting fire to land before planting—that contribute to the country's emissions are clashing with new methods for responsible agriculture. This entry also won the Latin America regional award. 

Climate Change and indigenous people: Local actions, global benefits

Guillermo Recio Guajardo's picture

The author, Guillermo Recio Guajardo, won second place in an international youth essay competition sponsored by the World Bank and other partners. He answered the question “How can you tackle climate change through youth-led solutions?” The awards were announced in Seoul in June, 2009.

The Sierra Tarahumara in Chihuahua, Mexico
   Photo by Guillermo Recio Guajardo

Over the years, several multinational companies and global groups have entered the ancestral territories of indigenous communities in Mexico, and the process of modernization has often damaged the environment.

For example, both legal and illegal logging are now common in the Sierra Tarahumara in Mexico’s Chihuahua state. This territory is home to about 84,000 Rarámuris or Tarahumara Indians who depend on forest conservation for their livelihood and preservation of their culture. But deforestation and loss of biodiversity are a severe threat—with almost 90 percent of the wood for the forest industry in Chihuahua coming from the Sierra Tarahumara—and are increasing an irreversible ecological imbalance.

Illegal logging has also been causing upheaval in Mexico’s climate system. Without enough trees in our tropical and temperate forests, it is impossible to capture carbon dioxide. According to recent research, "Mexico has deforested more than one-third of its forests and jungles, thereby reducing its original woodland area of 52 percent of the country to 33 percent in the year 2000."1

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