Combatting Vehicle Pollution in Central America

A brief summary compiled by Martin Mowforth

April 2019

In recent months both El Salvador and Costa Rica have begun to take steps towards reducing air pollution from vehicles. As all visitors to the region are well aware, there are many locations and times of day in the region’s cities where and when the air is unbreathable due to excessive vehicle emissions.

Costa Rica’s President Carlos Alvarado has signed decrees to incentivise electric and zero emission vehicles and to promote mobility by other modes of transport. The First Lady, Claudia Dobles, who is leading the initiative, said, “We are incentivising zero-emission technologies with the aim of achieving our goal of decarbonisation whilst at the same time enabling the population to make use of more sustainable and efficient transport.”

The Costa Rican decrees also promote actions such as the provision of shower facilities at work for those who travel to work by bicycle. Bus and train travel are also promoted along with car-sharing, the use of hybrid vehicles and increased recharging locations for electric vehicles.

In El Salvador, the National Council of Environmental Sustainability and Vulnerability (CONASAV by its Spanish initials) has presented a series of reforms to the Land Transport Law. In essence the reforms aim to reduce atmospheric pollution in the country.

After establishing that current levels of air pollution have reached dangerous levels, the CONASAV reforms focus particularly on the reduction of emissions by public transport and allow the police force to confiscate vehicles which exceed specific thresholds of pollutant emissions. The reforms also recommend the replacement of public service vehicles that are over 20 years old and that this new measure should be implemented within three years.

The World Health Organisation has placed El Salvador among the Latin American countries with the highest levels of atmospheric contamination and has associated these levels especially with public transport.

Panamá is also looking for strategies to lower vehicle emissions and the Guatemalan Union of Car Importers is now seeking legislation to lower the age of imported vehicles. In Guatemala more than 2 million vehicles are older than 2008. The Union’s proposals would limit the age of imported cars to 10 years, 15 years for trucks and SUVs and 20 years for commercial vehicles such as tractors. The appropriate legislation, however, is not yet very far up the political agenda in Guatemala, where some of the buses on the streets are over 30 years old. Many of these are imported from the United States and are sometimes referred to as ‘zombie clunkers’ having been modified after import. Often the modifications reduce the effects of safety features.

Far from addressing the dangers of exporting clunkers, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Trump administration hopes to freeze fuel efficiency standards at 2020 levels. The UK also plays a role in the used vehicle market. According to the Centre for Remanufacturing and Reuse, 50% of British heavy vehicles reaching end-of-life are reused or resold in other countries after refurbishment.


  • El Economista, 7 November 2018, ‘Costa Rica emite decretos para incentivar uso de vehículos eléctricos’.
  • La Prensa Gráfica, 8 January 2019, ‘Proponen que PNC pueda remitir vehículos por contaminación de aire’.
  • Sebastián Rodríguez, 25 February 2019, ‘Costa Rica launches ‘unprecedented’ push for zero emissions by 2050’, Thomson Reuters Foundation.
  • Martha Pskowski, 24 January 2019, ‘Zombie clunkers: has your local bus been resurrected in Guatemala?’ The Guardian.
  • Fien Van Den Steen, 6 July 2018, ‘Guatemala, the end of using cars until the end?’ Global Fleet.

Summary of ‘Myths and Truths about the Paris Agreement on Climate Change (COP-21)’

By Dr Paul Oquist, Head of Nicaraguan COP-21 Delegation, January, 2016

Dr Paul Oquist

Dr Paul Oquist

Myth No 1: The Paris Agreement will limit the rise in average global temperature to between 1.5 to 2 degrees this century.

Truth No 1: The Paris Agreement will lead us to a world with a three degree increase in global temperature this century.  This is more than 50% above the target of 2 degrees and 100% more than the 1.5 degree target.  What other programme in the world would be considered a success when it fails to meet its targets by 50 – 100 %?

The majority of developing countries, including Nicaragua, support the goal of limiting the rise in average global temperature to 1.5 degrees this century. The majority of developed countries support the target of two degrees centigrade.

Myth No 2: The Paris COP-21 Meetings and Agreement have been honest and transparent.

In preparation for COP-21, countries agreed to submit documents outlining their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) post-2020 as their commitment to collective action toward a low-carbon, climate-resilient future.

To keep average global temperature rise under 2 degrees centigrade with regard to preindustrial levels, would require a reduction in emissions to 40 gigatonnes of greenhouse gases. However, according to INDCs submitted, emissions of greenhouse gases in 2030 would lead to a projected 55 gigatonnes. This is likely to mean a rise in average temperatures of between 2.7 and 3.5 degrees centigrade.

Because of Nicaragua’s insistence, the fact that the current INDCs will lead to 55 gigatonnes of emissions by 2030 was included in the document. But the document did not show that this means a 3 degree centigrade rise in average temperature this century.

The omission of this fact illustrates the seriousness of the failure to address the magnitude of the challenge.

The use of voluntary mechanisms of the INDCs, in an environment of weak political commitment, has also helped to bring about the enormous failure to meet targets.

Myth No 3: The great achievement of the COP-21 is that the INDCs of more than 147 countries are based on the principle of universal responsibilities.

Truth No 3: The INDCs are based on the principle that “we are all responsible for climate change and we all have to contribute to the solution.” This means there is no apportioning of blame.

COP-21 invented the concept of universal responsibilities to nullify the concepts of “historic responsibilities” and “common but differentiated responsibilities” (CBDR), the hallmark of the UN Convention on Climate Change. In this way COP-21 has destroyed what was left of the Convention.

Logic shows us that the only way to resolve the problem of current and future emissions is to reach targets based on the concept of “historic responsibilities”.

The three largest producers of greenhouse gases are responsible for 48% of global emissions.  The top 10% of countries represent 72% and the top 20% of countries represent 78% of global emissions. The same countries also represent 76% of global GNP.  This indicates that the countries that cause the majority of emissions have the ability to solve this because they also have the necessary economic resources.

The 100 countries with the least emissions represent only 3% of global emissions.

In order to limit global warming to 2 degrees, it is obvious that the biggest reduction must come from those who produce the most greenhouses emissions, especially the 10 largest emitters.

INDCs based on voluntary “universal responsibilities” will be a failure. The only solution is to have a quota system based on historic responsibilities and obligatory common◦ but differentiated responsibilities.

Myth No 4: The COP-21 Summit and the approval of the Paris agreement took place within the framework of a democratic process with open to participation by all parties.

Truth No 4: The Presidency closed COP-21 with an anti-procedural dictate, and with substantial neo-colonial impositions, explained as an alleged “typographical error”; this was an abuse of all developing countries and of multilateralism.

For the most part, the process of preparatory meetings was accompanied by consultations, and updated versions of the document incorporating elements of these consultations. However, in the final session, the COP presidency reverted to the anti-democratic imposition that has been the Modus Operandi of various other such conferences.

It was more important to save the face of the Presidency, keep the support of the second-largest emitter, and give the impression of “the success” of the meeting, than stop climate change and global warming, and save Mother Earth and humanity.

The negotiating groups of developing countries (G-77 + China, “Like Minded countries”, and ALBA), were committed to carrying out the Paris Agreement within the Framework Convention, respecting the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR). The United States, on the other hand, had been clear that it could accept a legally binding document, but with the exception of the sections on emissions and funding; in other words, all except the two most important elements.

At the last minute the COP-21 Presidency made a critical change to the wording of Article 4.4, establishing that “developed countries should (instead of shall) take the lead in reducing emissions”.  The article continues, “developing countries should continue enhancing their mitigation efforts, and are encouraged to move over time towards economy-wide emission reduction or limitation targets in the light of different national circumstances.”

The weakening of the wording crossed the red negotiating line of developing countries: the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.

Some developing countries, after identifying the grave implication of this change in the text, were ready to express their disagreement once the French Presidency opened the floor for interventions. However, he then went on to declare the document adopted without listening to requests from various countries thereby abusing the rights of Nicaragua and other countries.

After this unexpected blow, Nicaragua clarified that it  “never considered blocking the document, but only made concrete suggestions to improve it, and to announce that it would not submit an INDC because it refused to be complicit in the deaths, losses, damage and destruction that a world three degrees warmer will represent”.

Nicaragua could not accept a document that does not include a compensation mechanism from countries that have caused climate change to countries that have suffered the consequences. Therefore, the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage is effectively nullified.

Myth No 5: It was a great victory for the countries most affected by climate change to have the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage included in the document

Truth No 5:  On 1 October 1st  2015, the Vice President of Nicaragua, Omar Halleslevens, read  a message from the President Daniel Ortega Saavedra, at the UN General Assembly.

Nicaragua hoped that, from COP-21, would come a compensation mechanism for the countries that are suffering year on year from the deaths, damages and losses caused by climate change. The countries with the historic responsibilities for having caused the problem must compensate those countries that are suffering the consequences despite having had no role in their creation.

Multiple times, Nicaragua introduced a clause to this effect in the Paris Agreement, whilst the co-facilitators, with equal persistence, removed it due to opposition from developed countries, especially the United States.

On the other hand, the United States played three roles in the negotiation of loss and damage. First, it supported the Small Island States and the Least Developed Countries in the hope of maintaining a monopoly over the status of highly vulnerable countries.

Since the Cancún climate change summit in 2010, the US has opposed considering Central America a highly vulnerable zone, despite the fact that science demonstrates this vulnerability year on year. Central America believes that this cannot be a closed category, and that with the advance of climate change to more and more regions, more and more countries will be included in this group, eventually practically every country in the world. It believes that today Central America, South Asia and South East Asia must be classified as highly vulnerable regions, in addition to those already included.

A world three degrees warmer is prescribed for our grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren, due to developed countries’ low level of ambition for reduction. And to top it all, compensation rights are refused.  Intergenerational solidarity ended in Paris. Has there been a more unilateral and unbalanced multilateral agreement this century?


Truth No 6: We are being led to believe that there will be a massive ratification of the Paris Agreement as a necessary element of its legitimisation. The relevant Article specifies that the Accord will come into force 30 days after ratification by 55 countries, which must also account for 50% of the emissions.

The number of countries required for bringing the Agreement into force is very small (55 out of 194) but the quantity of emissions is very high (50%), which guarantees control of the ratification process by the developed countries.


Truth No 7: The Paris outcome is similar to the rescue by governments of the banks which caused the financial and economic crisis, passing the bill for the crisis on to workers, pensioners and taxpayers. In Paris, the rescue was of the COP-21 governments of the countries which have caused global warming, passing the cost to those least responsible who will die in the largest numbers unable to make good their losses, much less adapt to a change in climate increasing in intensity as the century wears on.

The Paris Agreement is not enough because it does not transform nor even inconvenience the current model of production, consumption, finance and lifestyle, which is unsustainable.  After Paris, the stock markets of the world yawned.

They foresaw no impact on the anti-values which drive limitless, endless and senseless accumulation and consumption. The Paris agreement does not solve problems but simply postpones them. It also reduces the pressure on the model by being voluntary and having mandatory targets that fluctuate according to the results of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) exercise every 5 years.

Note regarding Climate Change

Chapter 6 of ‘the Violence of Development’ relates the issue of deforestation to climate change by briefly covering carbon emissions, carbon sequestration, carbon trading, the United Nation’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and the UN-REDD programme (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation). The same material will not be repeated here, but the issue of climate change is of such breadth and significance that it affects many other aspects of production, distribution and consumption, not simply forestry. For this reason, Chapter 10 also includes the issue of climate change as it affects Central America.

The reader is referred back to Chapter 6 in both the book and the website for much relevant material. This section of Chapter 10 includes items which explain and/or illustrate the significance of climate change to life in Central America. In some cases, these may provide supporting evidence of issues raised earlier in Chapter 6 or elsewhere in the book; in other cases, they stand alone as single examples of the effects of some aspect of climate change.

Nicaragua Signs Paris Climate Agreement

By John Perry

This article was first published in the London Review of Books blog on Oct. 3, 2017 and is reprinted with permission of the author. Nicaragua signed the Paris Agreement on Oct. 23, 2017. (In November 2017, Syria also announced its intention to sign the agreement, leaving only the United States of America as the solitary nation outside the agreement.)

While Donald Trump gives the appearance of wavering over his decision to pull the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement, Nicaragua has decided to sign it. It was one of only two countries not to sign in Paris last year; the other was Syria. Nicaragua abstained out of principle: the agreement didn’t go far enough. The target – to keep the average global temperature no more than 2ºC above pre-industrial levels – was insufficient, and in any case unlikely to be met. An unfair burden was being put on developing nations and not enough money was being promised to help them build low carbon economies. I met Nicaragua’s climate change negotiator, Paul Oquist, in June, a few days after Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. I suggested it would be an excellent moment for Nicaragua to change its mind, though claim no credit for the subsequent decision; I can’t have been the only one to think so.

When Daniel Ortega returned to power in 2007 after 16 years of neoliberal governments, most of Nicaragua’s electricity was produced by burning oil. Shortages led to daily blackouts. Nicaragua was the poorest country in Central America but had the highest electricity prices. Ten years later, blackouts are much less frequent, prices have stabilized and more than half the electricity comes from renewable sources, with a realistic aim of reaching 90 per cent by 2020. Costa Rica has already exceeded that target, but three-quarters is via hydroelectricity, which may be vulnerable as climate change speeds up. Nicaragua’s energy matrix is more balanced, using wind, geothermal, solar and biomass alongside hydro.

Latin America has plentiful renewable sources for electricity generation; the next challenge in reducing emissions will be transport. Even in the bigger cities, public transport is often inadequate and unattractive to the growing numbers who can afford cars. Weaning people off petrol or diesel cars and onto public transport means a major change in mindset for an elite whose point of reference is Miami. In a continent where railways have fallen into disuse and only the poor take buses, infrastructure investment currently means building more roads.

Latin America is a major supplier of ‘ecosystem services’, principally the huge tropical forests that absorb carbon. North of the Amazon, Nicaragua has the biggest area of tropical forest in the hemisphere, but it is under constant threat from settlement, especially for cattle ranching. Ortega has granted a Chinese company the rights to build an inter-oceanic canal, rivalling Panama, on the grounds that it’s the only way to conserve the rainforest. The income from the canal, he argues, combined with the need to guarantee its water sources, will enable Nicaragua to defend the remaining forests and replant the areas now given over to cattle. The canal company, which has yet to start digging, has just announced a big tree-planting scheme.

Nicaragua has suffered several years of limited rainy seasons; the prognosis is for the droughts to get worse. Coffee production and other crops are threatened by rising temperatures. Yet the country generates only 0.03 per cent of global carbon emissions, a paltry 0.8 metric tons per head annually. Costa Rica produces twice that amount per head, the UK eight times and the US twenty times. If developed countries (the US excepted) are serious about the Paris Agreement, they’ll put money into helping poor countries achieve higher living standards without raising emissions. Even the IMF thinks they should do this. But Nicaragua’s skepticism about the likelihood of it happening is more than justified, even if, as an ‘act of solidarity’ with the poorest and most vulnerable nations, it goes ahead and signs.


John Perry lives in Masaya, Nicaragua where he works on UK housing and migration issues and writes about those and other topics covered in his ‘Two Worlds’ blog which can be found at: .

UN Green Climate Fund awards $36 million to El Salvador

From: El Economista, 19 October 2018.

The Green Climate Fund is part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and is designed to assist developing countries in their efforts to adapt to climate change and to mitigate its effects. In October, the Fund awarded $35.8 million (USD) to El Salvador for a project to address climate change.

The project is entitled ‘Upgrading of climatic resilience in agroecosystems of the dry corridor of El Salvador’ – Reclima by its Spanish initials. It is designed to strengthen the climatic resilience of farmers who face the growing risks of increasing temperatures, irregular rains and other events attributable to variations in the climate.

The project will be supported by the Salvadoran Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources and by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).


More on Costa Rica’s carbon neutral efforts, 2017

Key words: fossil fuels; alternative energy sources; Reventazón hydro-electricity dam; car ownership growth; pollution levels.

In early January this year [2017] it was widely reported that in 2016 Costa Rica had produced 98% of its electricity without fossil fuels. This is an achievement that few countries have managed, including those that are much larger and richer than Costa Rica, and it is of course an achievement of which Costa Ricans are rightly proud.

Two factors, however, serve to undermine this achievement. First, the reliance of the renewables sector on hydro-electricity generated from large-scale dams; and second the growing use of cars in the country which means that, despite its renewable electricity generation, its demand for oil continues to increase.

Lindsay Fendt in San José reported for The Guardian on 5th January this year[1] that despite the country’s recent investments in wind and geothermal plants, it still regularly produces more than 70% of its electricity each year from dams. Solar power, Fendt suggests, ”has been pushed aside due to political concerns that home-generated [solar] power would cut into the state electricity company’s profits.”

Moreover, she reports that although the Reventazón hydro-electric dam became fully operational last September and can power over half a million homes, it was heavily criticised by environmental groups for its location in a critical wildlife corridor. Its alteration of the flow regime of the Reventazón River also attracted protests.

Costa Rican transport can certainly not claim any pretensions to sustainability, with a massive recent growth in car ownership to a level of 287 cars per 1,000 population – a level above both the world and the Latin American averages. Furthermore, only 2% of the country’s vehicles are hybrids or electric cars that can use the renewable electricity grid. The resulting pollution levels are giving cause for concern, especially in the capital San José.

So, behind Costa Rica’s reputation for environmental sustainable development – a reputation well-deserved relative to most other countries – there remain issues relating to pollution levels which reflect questions over the decisions made by Costa Rican politicians.



‘Nicaragua will sell carbon credits’

Nicaragua will join other Central American countries in selling carbon credits. In 2012, small hydroelectric projects, those which produce less than 15 megawatts of electricity, will sell carbon credits to the German company Mabanaft. The sales will be registered through the United Nations as part of the Kyoto Agreement to reduce greenhouse gases. In addition to the Central American countries, Chile and Colombia also sell credits.

Carbon credit sales allow countries to sell some of the rights to produce greenhouse gas they are allowed under the Kyoto Agreement to other countries that are producing more than permitted. By producing energy from renewable sources like water, wind and biofuel, Nicaragua is polluting less than it is allowed under Kyoto and thus can sell the excess. Authorities believe that, once all the qualifying projects are registered, the carbon credits will bring in between US$286,000 and US$430,000. At the moment, ten small hydroelectric plants in the Departments of Matagalpa and Rivas are affiliated with the programme.

El Nuevo Diario, Aug. 4
Taken from the Nicaragua News Bulletin
9 August 2011

An inconvenient truth: climate change and indigenous people

In November 2009, Survival International released a report entitled ‘The most inconvenient truth of all: climate change and indigenous people’.[i] The report sets out four key mitigation measures that threaten tribal people:

Agrifuels[ii]: promoted as an alternative, ‘green’ source of energy to fossil fuels, much of the land allocated to grow them is the ancestral land of tribal people. If agrifuels expansion continues as planned, millions of indigenous people worldwide stand to lose their land and livelihoods.

Hydro-electric power: A new boom in dam construction in the name of combating climate change is driving thousands of tribal people from their homes.

Forest conservation: [See Chapter 6]

Carbon offsetting: Tribal peoples’ forests now have a monetary value in the booming ‘carbon credits’ market. Indigenous people say this will lead to forced evictions and the ‘theft of our land’.

[i] Survival International (2009) ‘The most inconvenient truth of all: climate change and indigenous people’, Survival International: London. (November)
[ii] Also referred to as biofuels.

Carbon blood money in Honduras

By Rosie Wong | First published in Foreign Policy in Focus | 9th March 2012
Reproduced here by kind permission of Rosie Wong

With its muddy roads, humble huts, and constant military patrols, Bajo Aguán, Honduras feels a long way away from the slick polish of the recurring UN climate negotiations in the world’s capital cities. Yet the bloody struggle going on there strikes at the heart of global climate politics, illustrating how market schemes designed to “offset” carbon emissions play out when they encounter the complicated reality on the ground.

Small farmers in this region have increasingly fallen under the thumb of large landholders like palm oil magnate Miguel Facussé[1], who has been accused by human rights groups of responsibility for the murder of numerous campesinos in Bajo Aguán since the 2009 coup. Yet Facussé’s company has been approved to receive international funds for carbon mitigation under the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).
The contrast between the promise of “clean development” and this violent reality has made Bajo Aguán the subject of growing international attention — and a lightning rod for criticism of the CDM.

The Coup and Its Aftermath [2]

In June 2009, a military coup in Honduras deposed the government of Manuel Zelaya, stymieing the government’s progressive social reforms and experiments with participatory democracy. “It was not only to expel President Zelaya,” says Juan Almendares, a prominent Honduran environmental and humanitarian advocate[3]. The coup happened “because the powerful people in Honduras were acting in response to the peoples’ struggles in Honduras.”

The result has been social decay and political repression. The homicide rate in Honduras has skyrocketed under the Porfirio Lobo regime, registering as the world’s highest in 2010. Human rights groups highlight the ongoing political assassinations of regime opponents. In this small country of 8 million people, 17 journalists have been killed since the coup. LGBTI organisers, indigenous rights activists, unionists, teachers, youth organisers, women’s advocates, and opposition politicians have also received death threats or been killed. Those responsible are rarely punished by the justice system, which instead devotes its energies to prosecuting social and human rights activists. Protests are often met with teargas canisters and live ammunition.

The coup has also proved a setback for campesino activists seeking to halt the encroachment of large landowners on their farms.

The Struggle for Land in Bajo Aguán

Highly unequal land distribution has long been an issue in Honduras, and genuine land reform has been evasive. However, partial agrarian reform in 1961 made the rainforests of Bajo Aguán available for cooperatives of farmers who migrated there from other parts of the country. Clearing the forests to make the land suitable for farming was extremely difficult work, but the farmers’ perseverance turned it into one of the most desirable and fertile agricultural lands in the country.

However, under pressure from international financial institutions, Honduras’s government passed the Law of Agricultural Modernization in 1994, allowing large producers to extend their territories beyond the maximum legal property limits. As a result, large landowners began to buy up the land of small farmers, effectively reversing whatever limited land reform had been achieved. The human costs were immense. According to Juan Chinchilla of the Unified Campesino Movement of Aguán (MUCA), “it forced masses of farmers to migrate to the cities and to the U.S. under terrible conditions.”

An older movement, the MCA (Campesino Movement of Aguán), has organised several dramatic acts of resistance to this dislocation. In May 2000, the collective orchestrated a remarkable mass occupation of a former U.S. military base on a large tract of arable land controlled by agro-industrialists. Coordinating with landless farmers from all over the country, the MCA organised 50 trucks and, early one morning, entered the former base and tore down its fences. This occupation continues today, despite threats and persecution.

In 2008, MUCA occupied one of Miguel Facussé’s palm oil processing plants and subsequently entered into negotiations with then-President Zelaya to have occupied lands legally transferred to small farmers. When the coup occurred and jeopardized these hard-won gains, landless farmers mobilized against it, with MUCA officials travelling to the Nicaraguan border to meet Zelaya on his second attempt to return to Honduras. It was there that MUCA decided to organise a mass land occupation starting on December 9, 2009.

But despite this resistance, aggressive landholders buoyed by the coup have continued their onslaught against the farmers of Bajo Aguán. According to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, 42 farmers were assassinated between September 2009 and October 2011 in Honduras. More recent reports have the numbers in the 50s by 2011. In one surprisingly brazen incident in November 2010, after five farmers were killed in El Tumbador, Facussé gave a press statement acknowledging that it was his hired security guards who were responsible.

A community member from the Marañones settlement in Bajo Aguán described an eviction of small farmers from the Guanchía cooperative on 8 January 2010, carried out by a contingent of 500 police and soldiers with teargas and guns: “It was a violent eviction where they had nothing legal to show us; the first greetings they gave us were the weapons. They began to shoot at us, to capture and beat our compañeros. There were captured children, nine of them…compañeras were raped…our homes were destroyed, our food – they took part of it and destroyed the other parts.”

Almost every farmer I interviewed said that it was unsafe to leave their settlements. The countryside is dotted with military checkpoints, and farmers have been killed travelling to or from their settlements. “The way we see it, it has become a crime to be a farmer here,” Heriberto Rodríguez of MUCA explained. There have been at least four military operations in the area since 2010.

Palm Oil and Power

Bajo Aguán’s small farmers are already under siege. But carbon trading with the global North could help to fuel this aggression even further under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Set up under the current UN climate treaty, the CDM is supposed to encourage “clean” technology in the South and to provide Northern actors with the most efficient (i.e., cheapest) way to reduce global pollution. The basic equation is simple: a project in the global South that ostensibly reduces carbon emissions generates carbon credits. These credits can then be bought and sold by companies in the global North, who can use them to meet government requirements to reduce pollution without actually reducing emissions in their factories or power plants.

Dinant, Facusse´s palm oil company, has set up one of these projects. In the past, the company’s palm oil mill pumped its waste into large open pits, a process that produces large quantities of methane. Dinant’s project involves capturing this greenhouse gas and using it to power the mill. The project’s blueprint claims that it will reduce pollution in two ways: first, by not letting the methane from open pits escape straight into the atmosphere, and second, by preventing pollution from burning the fossil fuels that were formerly used to power the mill.

Dinant’s approval is obviously problematic for a number of reasons.

First, with the expanding palm oil industry contributing to massive deforestation in sensitive tropical regions, it’s ironic that Dinant would be rewarded for environmentally sound practices. Moreover, its CDM approval essentially endorses a business model of producing palm oil for export—instead of food for local consumption—in a country where one in four children suffers chronic malnutrition. As Heriberto Rodríguez argued, “We don’t need palm oil here. We need what we can eat.”

Finally, if Wikileaks cables detailing some of Facussé’s more unsavoury dealings—including but not limited to his potential links to drug traffickers (to say nothing of his documented violence against local farmers)—are any indication, Facussé’s misdeeds are no secret to the North. And yet one CDM board member told a journalist that “we are not investigators of crimes” and that there is “not much scope” to reject the project under CDM rules.

As rights groups have brought these problems to light, northern companies associated with the project have pulled out one by one, including a consultant that contributed to the project application, the German government bank that had agreed to give a loan to Dinant, and the French electricity company that had agreed to buy the credits. This has left Miguel Facussé and Dinant out on a limb. However, the struggle to stop European carbon market money from flowing to Bajo Aguán is not finished: the CDM board has re-approved the project, and the British government has not withdrawn its support, which means that new buyers could still appear.

Not for Sale

At an international human rights conference in February, MUCA signed an agreement with the Lobo regime that included a financing plan for the farmers to pay the large landholders for occupied land. But critics say that even if the government can be trusted (itself a questionable proposition), the crucial issues of assassinations and impunity were ignored. Facussé´s company is now accusing farmers of new “invasions.”

Needless to say, the situation in Bajo Aguán continues to be incredibly dangerous. Local rights groups have called for a Permanent Human Rights Observatory to witness, document, and discourage the ongoing violence against farmers in the region.

Although growing international condemnation has made it more difficult for Dinant to access carbon market money, the project remains officially sanctioned, and loans from international development banks have not been cancelled. Heriberto Rodríguez, speaking from his roadside hut in an Aguán settlement, had no doubt about the impact of this international support: “Whoever gives the finance to these companies also becomes complicit in all these deaths. If they cut these funds, the landholders will feel somewhat pressured to change their methods.”

MUCA spokesperson Vitalino Alvarez rejects the idea of carbon trading projects altogether. “To get into these deals is like having [our land] mortgaged,” he said. “So to this we say no; this oxygen, we don’t sell it to anybody.”

[1] For more on Miguel Facussé, see Chapter 2 of both the book and the website of ‘The Violence of Development’.
[2] For more on the 2009 coup d’état in Honduras, see Chapter 9 of both the book and the website of ‘The Violence of Development’.
[3] See interview with Juan Almendares in the Interview section of this website.

The Durban Disaster, by the Global Justice Ecology Project (GJEP)

COP 17, December 2011
Global Justice Ecology Project [i] at the UN Climate talks in Durban, South Africa
From Anne Petermann, Executive Director of GJEP

Our entire GJEP team went to the UN Climate Conference this month to strengthen and empower the climate justice movement by lifting up the voices of communities being directly impacted by climate change, the fossil fuels industry or false solutions to climate change (like industrial-scale biofuels or forest carbon offsets schemes).

Ricardo Navarro, of Friends of the Earth El Salvador Addresses GJEP Press Conference. Photo: Ben Powless

Ricardo Navarro, of Friends of the Earth El Salvador Addresses GJEP Press Conference. Photo: Ben Powless

As part of this effort, we sent reporters a list of climate justice experts and front line community representatives that were in Durban and available for interviews. Journalists gave us very positive feedback about this and appreciated our making it easy for them to include climate justice perspectives in their reporting.

We also sent out more than a dozen press releases and helped organise press conferences to highlight the climate justice point of view regarding important issues being negotiated.

We supported the climate justice messages of Indigenous Environmental Network, La Via Campesina, Global Forest Coalition, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives including the wastepickers delegation they brought to Durban, and Climate Justice Now!

March in Durban. Photo: Langelle/GJEP

March in Durban. Photo: Langelle/GJEP

GJEP Direct Action for Climate Justice

By the end of the climate conference, it was evident that the agreements reached were going to be a disaster for the diverse ecosystems and millions of people already suffering from the impacts of climate chaos. So we took action. On the final day of the Climate Conference, two of our youth delegates and I occupied the halls of the convention centre with hundreds of youth activists from around the world. We staged a sit-in, were arrested, “de-badged” and ejected from the conference grounds.

GJEP is removed by UN security during sit-in occupation. Photo: Ben Powless

GJEP is removed by UN security during sit-in occupation.
Photo: Ben Powless

“I took this action today because I believe this process is corrupt, this process is bankrupt, and this process is controlled by the One percent. If meaningful action on climate change is to happen, it will need to happen from the bottom up. The action I took today was to remind us all of the power of taking action into our own hands. With the failure of states to provide human leadership, and the corporate capture of the United Nations process, direct action by the ninety-nine percent is the only avenue we have left.”

Global Justice Ecology Project is one of the very few organisations inside the UN Climate process to take direct action against the corporate takeover of the UN climate talks.

Thank you for your support.


Anne Petermann

Executive Director

[i] Global Justice Ecology Project explores and exposes the intertwined root causes of social injustice, ecological destruction and economic domination with the aim of building bridges between social justice, environmental justice and ecological justice groups to strengthen their collective efforts. Within this framework, our programmes focus on Indigenous Peoples’ rights, protection of native forests and climate justice. We use the issue of climate change to demonstrate these interconnections. Global Justice Ecology Project is the North American Focal Point of the Global Forest Coalition.

Doha Disappointment

By Stephen Leahy | International environmental journalist | DOHA, Qatar | Dec 10 2012

The United Nations climate talks in Doha went a full extra 24 hours and ended without increased cuts in fossil fuel emissions and without financial commitments between 2013 and 2015. “This is an incredibly weak deal,” said Samantha Smith representing the Climate Action Network, a coalition of more than 700 civil society organisations. “Governments came here with no mandate for action,” Smith said in a press scrum moments after the meeting known as COP 18 ended and the 195 parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) approved a complex package called “The Doha Climate Gateway”.

The Doha Gateway creates a second phase of the Kyoto Protocol to cut fossil fuel emissions by industrialised nations from 2013 to 2020 but does not set new targets. There is also no financial support to help poor countries adapt to impacts of climate change – only agreement for more meetings in 2013. Talks will also begin next year to create a “mechanism” to assess damages and costs for countries suffering losses from climate change.

Finally, the Doha Climate Gateway has an agreed outline for two years of negotiations on a new global climate treaty that would go into legal force in 2020.

“It is impossible to get everyone here to smile …. I too am disappointed,” said Qatar’s Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, the COP18 president. Al-Attiyah told Tierramérica * he was surprised countries wanted to make so many changes throughout the two weeks and right up to the final hours. However, this is a “historic” agreement, Al-Attiyah insisted.

Doha will do nothing to cut emissions that are taking the world to four degrees and more of warming. It offers little in terms of finance to help poor countries cope with climate change, Smith said. Smith singled out the US and Canada for blocking progress on key issues. Canada was one of the worst, she said. While profiting from its massive oil sands operations, it was “super-obstructive on finance”.

Industrialised countries promised to put 100 billion dollars a year into a Green Climate Fund by 2020. To bridge the gap till then, developing nations asked for 60 billion dollars in total by 2015. Britain, Germany and a few other countries promised to contribute six billion dollars but this is not binding. Under the Doha Climate Gateway, countries agreed to further talks on finance in 2013.

The loss and damage debate was among the most intense during closed meetings, featuring the US pitted against island states like the Philippines that are badly impacted by stronger cyclones and sea level rise. The US delegates blocked all references that implied compensation or liability, openly admitting they feared a political backlash at home, according to an anonymous source.

“Loss and damage is a huge issue for Central America. We are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change,” said Mónica López Baltodano, of the Centro Humboldt Nicaragua, an environmental NGO. “Honduras and Nicaragua are the number one and number three most vulnerable countries in the world according to the Climate Risk Index,” Baltodano told Tierramérica here in Doha.

The Germanwatch Global Climate Risk Index was released here a few days ago. It said those two countries have been the most affected in terms of lost lives and damages over the past 20 years. In 2011, Thailand, Cambodia, Pakistan and El Salvador were the worst affected by extreme weather events.

In 2010, at COP 16 in Cancun, there was agreement to find ways to assess and reduce losses and damages from impacts of climate change, including extreme weather events and slow onset events like sea level rise, ocean acidification, loss of biodiversity and desertification. Developing countries wanted a new institution and framework to deal with loss and damage, but the US was opposed to any new institution. The compromise is for a “new mechanism” to be created in 2013.

A new second phase of the Kyoto Protocol will run from 2013 to 2020. Getting this second phase or commitment is considered very important by developing countries because it has hard-won legal terms that commit countries to making cuts as well as methods for measuring and verifying emission levels. However, only the European Union, Australia and a few other countries are involved, representing just 12 percent of global emissions. The US has never participated, while Canada and Japan have opted out of the second phase.

None of those in the second Kyoto phase increased their emission cuts pledges. They did agree to a mandatory review of their reduction targets in 2014. Rich countries outside of Kyoto promised to make comparable cuts but offered nothing new here in Doha. “The COP process is very disappointing,” said Baltodano, who has attended two previous ones. “It’s very clear that countries’ economic interests dominate the negotiations.”

Countries are mainly influenced by the corporate sector and civil society has very little interaction or influence there, she said. “There is a huge space we don’t reach.”

The Doha outcome puts the world on track for three, four or even five degrees of warming, said the delegate from the South Pacific island nation of Nauru who represents the Alliance of Small Island States in the final plenary. “We’re not talking about how comfortable your people (in the developed world) may live but whether our people live,” the delegate said. “The lives of our people are on the line here.”

* This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank.

ENCA was grateful to Stephen Leahy for his permission to reproduce his article in ENCA Newsletter 57 (January 2013). The original article can be found at:

Stephen is a professional member of the International Federation of Journalists and the Society of Environmental Journalists and a Fellow of the International League of Conservation Writers.

Blue Carbon

Grettel Navas of the Fundación Neotropica* in Costa Rica introduces the notion of Blue Carbon.
Article reproduced by kind permission of Fundación Neotropica.

Carbon capture. Greenhouse gas emissions. Compensation. Climate change. These and other concepts are repeatedly used in academic discussions, in expert forums and press articles around the world. But they are also used in everyday conversations about the state of our planet and its future.

Only recently, however, has the concept of Blue Carbon been introduced in official discussions on climate change. It was the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea who, based on a global study carried out on the carbon fixation of marine and coastal ecosystems, presented this concept to the international community at the United Nations.

Parallel with the concept of Green Carbon (stored in the forest and the ground), Blue Carbon can be defined as that stored by different marine and coastal ecosystems ̶ for example, plankton, bacteria, seaweed, marshland plants, mangrove swamps and other wetlands. It has been found that these contain five times more carbon than tropical forests and are therefore hugely relevant to the fight against climate change. In Costa Rica, for example, in light of the government’s commitments to achieve carbon neutrality by 2021, attention is refocusing on these mistreated and forgotten ecosystems as an intelligent strategy.

Mangroves in the Golfo Dulce

Mangroves in the Golfo Dulce

Whilst it is true that marine and coastal ecosystems make up only 0.05% of living biomass, they store an important quantity of carbon in the earth since they are the most intense carbon sink on the planet. Historically the coastal ecosystems have been undervalued and unjustly called ‘swamps’ or ‘unhealthy marshes’. This has given the green light to their systematic destruction. Unlike the capture and storage of carbon in the earth (where it can be locked away for decades or centuries), carbon storage in the ocean can last for thousands of years.

This much has been confirmed in a United Nations Environmental Programme report: “of all the green carbon captured annually in the earth ̶ that is carbon captured for the process of photosynthesis ̶ about 55 per cent is captured by marine ecosystems” (Falkowski et al, 2004; Arrigo, 2005; González et al, 2008; Bowler, 2009; Simon et al, 2009).

The idea behind seeing blue carbon separately and giving it a different name is that it is able to highlight the importance of coastal and marine ecosystems, because in many international forums on carbon and climate summits, the role of the oceans has often been minimised or unnoticed. In rescuing its role in climate change we can carry out conservation projects of wetlands, protection of the oceans and protection of different ecosystems.

From 2009 the Costa Rican Fundación Neotropica, aware of the importance of these resources, has continually worked on programmes of community conservation of mangrove swamps. In addition to raising people’s awareness of the importance of the mangrove swamps bordering the Golfo Dulce, the Mangle-Benín project resulted in the strengthening of these areas with the planting of around 100,000 mangrove plants and established environmental clubs with primary school students. The project had strong local support through local organisations and schools, achieving a community-wide management of mangrove areas.

Moreover, with the project ECOTICOS, the ecological economics of the Térraba-Sierpe National Wetlands for the community, Costa Rica and the world were assessed. This wetlands area houses the largest area of mangroves of its kind in the American hemisphere, which even by conservative estimates, produces environmental benefits to the value of $10,000 per hectare p.a..

Another important initiative has been the Wetlands Life for All campaign held in conjunction with other organisations and institutions such as Apreflofas, the School of Biology at the University of Costa Rica and student associations at the major state universities. Through this campaign they look to achieve a greater awareness of the importance of these coastal ecosystems, the benefits that they provide and the need for their effective conservation.

In Costa Rica, despite all its important conservation initiatives, a significant number of mangrove areas are not designated as Protected Wilderness Area having only the general declaration that the law affords to wetlands. This creates a great deal of uncertainty on the future of their management and conservation. These ecosystems are fragile and under constant threat by pressure from production activities, sedimentation and climate change, amongst other factors. This is true in the case of the mangrove areas of Golfo Dulce for example.

“From the incorporation of Costa Rica as a member of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in 1991, a movement for the conservation and rational use of this type of ecosystems was begun. In addition to serving as a source of income from their diverse products and benefits, they also serve as a habitat for rich biodiversity.” (Source: EARTH)

In the fight to counteract climate change, the application of the concept of Blue Carbon and the conservation of coastal and marine ecosystems becomes an urgent action, both beneficial and vital, being an extremely important link for all sectors of society: environmental organisations, social movements, government institutions, academics, private companies and concerned individuals, all committed to conservation.

* Fundación Neotrópica promotes the coordination and auto-management for the conservation and for a just and equitable distribution of the benefits generated by natural resources. The organisation’s website is at: