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Decarbonising Latin American regions

11 February 2020, 15:26 GMT 3 min read

The Amazon Basin is rich in mineral deposits - particularly gold - and, as a result, mining has become an economically important activity in many Amazonian regions. However, much of the mining is illegal in nature, often occurring in protected reserves by artisanal and small-scale miners, and subsequently goes unregulated.

Rainforest cleared to make way for mines contributes significantly to deforestation in the Amazon – almost 10% of total deforestation in Brazilian regions between 2005 and 2015 –, in addition, mercury used in the mining process pollutes rivers and fish stocks, and dredging in riverbeds can change the structure of river networks. The resulting environmental degradation often disproportionately impacts indigenous people and forest-based communities.

Using satellite imagery, The Amazon Network of Georeferenced Socio-Environmental Information mapped over 2,300 illegal mining sites across Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia and Colombia in 2017. The Peruvian region of Madre de Dios is a hotspot for these activities and is considered the Amazonian region that has seen the most pronounced degradation from gold mining despite being exceptionally rich in biodiversity. Their government reported in 2019 that mining has resulted in the destruction of at least 50 000 ha of regional forest since 1999, an area roughly one fifth of the size of Hong Kong. This deforestation carries with it the heavy price of increased GHG emissions for the region.

To confront this issue, the government of Madre de Dios argues that improved regulation and institutionalization of mining can bring economic and social benefits to the region while offering more environmental protection. Through the Climate Pathway Project and together with key stakeholders from the public, private, and academic sectors and from indigenous communities, Madre de Dios has identified mining - as well as transportation, and forestry and land use - as a priority sector for emissions reduction within their jurisdiction.

In the last few months, our Climate Pathway Project team conducted workshops in Madre de Dios and two other Latin American states and regions: Querétaro in Mexico, and São Paulo in Brazil. Prior to this, the project team had worked with these states to develop a business-as-usual carbon emissions trajectory and to identify priority sectors for emissions reduction. The workshop objectives were to present and discuss the results of this baseline, and to use the outcomes of those discussions to ultimately determine jurisdictional visions and goals for decarbonization of the state’s economies with relevant stakeholders.

While Madre de Dios’ emissions reduction pathway will prioritize mining and transportation, Querétaro will pay special attention to the energy sector, and São Paulo will have an economy wide focus after identifying waste management, energy, and industry as priority sectors. All three states will also prioritize agriculture, forestry and land use (AFOLU).

During the workshops, the states also discussed jurisdictional emissions reductions targets. Madre de Dios agreed to review and raise the ambition of their jurisdictional target in light of their national government’s announcement at COP25 of their commitment to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. Stakeholders attending the workshop in São Paulo proposed a target of 2TCO2 per capita by 2050, which is in line with the goal laid out in the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to well below 2°C.

In Querétaro, the state baseline and target approved during the workshop was presented at the first meeting of the State Climate Change Commission of Querétaro in November, where Governor Francisco Dominguez and over 15 secretaries of the state were in attendance.

With the support of the Climate Pathway Project, the next step for the states is to build from the baseline and identify actions in each priority sector to be presented as a catalogue of policy options. Through the catalogue, a participatory process will be used to determine the priority actions for the states that both contribute to the quality of life of the population, and support emissions reduction efforts and protection of the environment.