Monday, 20 October 2008 11:55

Andes face glacial meltdown Featured

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This article was first posted on the Guardian's Comment is free Glaciers in Peru are melting so quickly that by 2015 almost all of them may have disappeared. This is not just a problem for Peru but for the whole Andean Community of Nations, including Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador. These countries generate around 73% of their electricity from hydro energy. Ironically, this renewable source of energy risks disappearing because of melting glaciers caused by climate change. The report, Climate change knows no borders, provides a chilling reminder of the catastrophic impacts of climate change on the Andean region. The evidence predicting the rapid loss of glaciers and a fiercer, more frequent El Niño effect, where ocean temperatures rise along the coasts of Ecuador and Peru, causing droughts and floods, reveals an uncertain and potentially destructive future for the region. The El Niño of 1997/8 had a devastating impact, leaving thousands dead or homeless, crops ruined, roads and bridges left smashed. The bill ran into billions of dollars. If this wasn't enough, climate change could lead to further losses of up to $30 billion a year by 2025 in the Andean region while the effect of melting glaciers could place 40 million people at risk of losing their water supply. It seems ironic that the highest number of the Kyoto Protocol's clean development mechanism projects in the Andean Community relate to the resource facing the greatest threat – water. The climatic stresses causing the loss of glaciers, and in turn jeopardising what many regard as a key constituent of rural development through electrification, may result in a vicious cycle. The loss of this vital resource, combined with high prices and scant political enthusiasm for other renewable options – geothermal, wind and solar – may result in countries resorting to an increase in the use of fossil fuels. Considering the region's minor contribution to the world's greenhouse gas emissions this would be extremely counter-productive. It might also run the risk of undermining what has so far been a progressive stance on climate change at the international policy level. In 1993, Ecuador became the first developing country to ratify the climate convention. Although scientific evidence and past experience of extreme weather conditions have provided grounds for a strong rhetorical stand on climate change at the international level, Andean governments have been reluctant to integrate climate change strategies into the fabric of development policy. Peru did not establish a ministry for the environment until May 2008, exposing a pattern played out regionally of weak state institutions, unequal access to natural resources, a lack of political will, non-existent funding, insufficient information and deficient infrastructure. The challenge of integrating development and climate change agendas is, therefore, critical. The Andean Community is skating on thin ice as the longevity of one of its most important sources of renewable energy is thrown into doubt. The question remains whether or not the world will act, and if the ice will remain thick enough to support Andean sustainable development for the future.
Read 1446 times Last modified on Wednesday, 11 February 2015 19:08
Guy Edwards

Guy Edwards is a Research Fellow at the Center for Environmental Studies, Brown University, where he manages a research project on the politics of climate change in Latin America. Along with co-author, Professor Timmons Roberts, he is currently writing a book on Latin American leadership on climate change for MIT Press. He has also written various academic papers, policy briefs and op-eds for a number of different publications. As co-founder of Intercambio Climático and formerly co-editor of the website, Guy has worked closely with the Latin American Platform on Climate and the Latin American office of the Climate and Development Knowledge Network. He has also worked for the Overseas Development Institute, the consultancy River Path Associates and as the resident manager of the Huaorani Ecolodge in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Website: twitter.com/guyedwards