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Paris Climate Agreement: the US out, Nicaragua in

News from Nicaragua | Friday, 27 October 2017 |

52% of Nicaragua's energy supplies are from renewables

52% of Nicaragua's energy supplies are from renewables

While Donald Trump gives the appearance of wavering over his decision to pull the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement, Nicaragua signed up on 20 October. It was one of only two countries not to sign in Paris in 2015, the other being Syria. Nicaragua abstained out of principle that the agreement didn’t go far enough. The target – to prevent the average global temperature from rising no more than 2ºC above pre-industrial levels – was not only too high but also very unlikely to be met. An unfair burden was being put on developing nations and not enough money promised to help build low-carbon economies.

When President Daniel Ortega returned to power in 2007 after 16 years of neoliberal governments, most of Nicaragua’s electricity was produced by burning oil. Nicaragua was the poorest country in Central America but had the highest electricity prices. Shortages led to daily blackouts.

Ten years later, blackouts are much less frequent, prices have stabilised 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 become increasingly vulnerable as climate change worsens. Nicaragua’s energy matrix is more balanced, using wind, geothermal, solar and biomass alongside hydro.

While Latin America has plentiful renewable sources for electricity generation, the next challenge in reducing emissions is transportation. Even in the bigger cities, public transport is often inefficient and deemed unattractive to the growing numbers who can afford cars. Weaning people off petrol or diesel cars and onto public transport demands a major change in mindset for the increasingly affluent whose point of reference is Miami. In a continent where railways have fallen into disuse and only the poor take buses, infrastructure investment 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 largest area of tropical forest in the hemisphere, but it is under constant threat from settlement, especially for cattle ranching. President Ortega has granted a Chinese company, HKND, the rights to build an inter-oceanic canal, rivalling Panama. He argues that the income from the canal will strengthen the economy which in turn will enable Nicaragua to protect water sources, defend the remaining forests and replant as many areas as possible.

Nicaragua has suffered several years of limited rainy seasons. The prognosis is for the droughts to worsen, threatening production of food, coffee and other crops. Yet the country generates only 0.03% of global carbon emissions - a negligible 0.8 metric tonnes per head annually. By comparison, Costa Rica produces twice that amount per head, the UK eight times and the US twenty times.

If developed countries are serious about the Paris Agreement, they will put money into helping poor countries achieve higher living standards without raising emissions. Even the IMF agrees. But Nicaragua’s scepticism about the likelihood of it happening is more than justified, even when, as an ‘act of solidarity’ with the poorest and most vulnerable nations, President Ortega has signed the Agreement.

This is an edited version of an article by John Perry first published in the London Review of Books blog, 3 October, 2017