Peru climate pledge hinges on forests wager

Amazon country pins two-thirds of draft carbon-cutting target on halting deforestation, but critics question country’s resolve

Richard Vignola

Madre de Dios, a region in the Peruvian Amazon contains up to 15% of the world’s biodiversity  (Flickr/ Richard Vignola)

By Alex Pashley

Peru, a country three-fifths covered by Amazon jungle, is setting itself up for a fall in staking its UN climate pledge on exacting aims to tackle deforestation, according to experts.

The Andean nation has put four options to slash greenhouse gas emissions – ranging from a 4-42% cut by 2030 on current projections – up for public consultation until mid-July.

In the draft proposal the environment ministry favoured the third scenario of a 31% reduction, which “optimises” the contribution of several carbon-sucking projects already underway and improves its “socio-environmental performance”.

That target gives a prospectus of 58 “mitigation options” in sectors ranging from waste to electricity. Emissions would still rise 10% from 2010 levels, but be 82 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year lower by 2030 than under business as usual.

(Peru Environment Ministry)

Peru’s Environment Ministry has indicated it will adopt a 31% cut in its contribution to a global warming agreement (credit: Minam)

Zero deforestation

Two-thirds of the emissions cut relate to forests, from awarding land rights to indigenous people to coffee and cacao projects. Peru has vowed to halt deforestation by 2021 as a condition of funding from European donors for REDD+ programs.

The South American country has lost an average 113,000 hectares (560 square miles) a year since 2001, which widened to 145,000 hectares in 2013, according to the environment ministry. Those are low compared with neighbouring Brazil where 3,360 square miles were hacked down in 2013.

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“It’s a big advance, which you have to applaud as it wouldn’t have happened ten years ago, but you have to question how they will implement the outcome,” Julia Urrunaga, Peru director at the Environmental Investigation Agency told RTCC from Lima.

While acknowledging the preliminary nature of the proposals, Urrunaga said the document failed to outline how the country defined deforestation.

Agribusiness often reclassify rainforest as arable land in a ruse to clear the way for plantations of palm oil and papaya for example, she said. While logging mafias linked to regional governments and cumbersome bureaucracy in applying the forestry code had seen little progress on tree loss.

Pablo Pena at the Peruvian Society of Environmental Law said forest protection initiatives like the UN-backed REDD+ hadn’t always worked, and said faster emissions reductions could be achieved elsewhere.

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“I’m not sure it’s going to be easy or cheap to get to 31%. It’s justifiable that they tackle deforestation which makes up half of emissions, but will they comply? I’m not sure,” he told RTCC.

Donor pitch

Others hailed the county with the fourth largest tropical rainforest for its transparency in the submission.

“Laying out the intended mitigation actions is especially helpful when Peru hopefully pitches them to potential supporters such as the Inter-American Development Bank and European donor countries for example,” Guy Edwards, at Brown University’s Climate and Development Lab said.

Though Peru should use the INDC process to engage national debate, after focusing mainly on the international side, he added.

Peru’s environment minister Manuel Pulgar Vidal and chair of last December’s climate talks in Lima won plaudits for brokering a eleventh-hour deal when talks were on the edge of collapse.

But that esteem is not shared throughout a government whose economy is heavily reliant on minerals and hydrocarbons extraction.

CAN international, a coalition of NGOs said unless Peru’s president and ministries commit to a ministerial commission venture started by Pulgar-Vidal, “the chances of success diminish”.

Caroline Herrera at the National Resources Defense Council said the consultation, which involved workshops and meetings with civil society, helped NGOs to hold the government to account.

Ministry battle

But Pena questioned its reach: “The COP (Conference of the Parties) helped awareness of the environment but it’s generally very low.”

In Peru, a global exporter of copper, silver and zinc, economic growth tends to trump concern for the environment.

Last July, lawmakers pledged to speed up environmental impact study times to kickstart investment in its stalling economy.

“Promoting investment doesn’t have to be risky for the environment, but historically every time they speak of it standards drop very low. The environment ministry usually loses the battle against the energy and mines ministry,” said Urrunaga.

Peru’s consultation follows a similar four-month exercise in Chile, leading observers to praise the countries for leading the region on climate.

The draft INDC also sought to expand renewables, and reduce human and economic losses from the El Nino weather phenomenon which wiped $3.5 million off Peru’s economy in 1997-98, it said.

With elections to choose a new leader next year, Urrunaga doesn’t expect a radical change in policy.

Whoever is in power, he stressed, they need to see the plans through: “If they don’t implement the laws, it doesn’t matter if they write them.”

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