“I hope for the best”
Interview with Gabriel Quijandría Acosta
Your country is particularly exposed to global warming. The water supply of millions of Peruvians depends on glaciers in the Andes, and those glaciers are melting. Many of them will disappear in the next ten years. Does Peru need donor money to adapt to climate change?
Well, the situation is really dramatic. You might have added that we have 3000 kilometres of Pacific coast, so the level matters, or that we are already experiencing more and more severe droughts and flooding. And yes, we are still a poor country, so funds would be welcome, but need to be complemented by our own resources. On the other hand, we have to act immediately, the matter is urgent. Otherwise, things will only get worse for our people. We must, moreover, protect the rich biodiversity of our country – both in our lowland rain forests and our mountain regions.
Adaptation money would not be aid. The rich nations have caused climate change, so they should pay some kind of compensation for the damage done. Doesn’t your government insist on getting that money?
Yes of course, but we have to be realistic. It will be very difficult to have a comprehensive international agreement on climate change before 2015, and it is supposed to come into force by 2020. That is the agenda set by the climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009. We simply cannot afford to wait that long, and merely demand that those who caused the problem in the first place must pay.
But do you have the funds you need?
In recent years, our nation has seen solid economic growth, not least due to high commodity prices. Macroeconomic management has been sound too, so our budget position is strong enough to do something on the environmental front. Our laws protect nature in about 17 % of our national territory. We have various national parks and reserves. They matter in terms of biodiversity and climate protection because micro environments have an impact on micro climates.
Do you really have the trained staff you need to enforce strict environmental protection in 17 % of your territory?
We have good staff, but we do not have enough. We never will, actually. Seventeen percent is really a lot of land. We have to involve the local communities. If they have a stake in nature, they will help us protect national parks and reserves. Consider, for instance, the Salinas y Aguada Blanca National Reserve near the town of Arequipa. This Reserve is the location of rain-fed wetlands on a plain high up in the mountains. The altitude is 4300 metres on average up there, the vegetation is very scarce, but it is enough for local people to keep flocks of alpacas and llamas. Though the villagers are quite poor, they do earn enough money to survive. About 8000 indigenous people live in the Reserve. Part of their incomes depends on wildlife. Vicuñas are a wild species that is related to alpacas and llamas. Vicuña wool is very valuable. One kilogramme costs several hundred dollars. However, vicuñas cannot be kept in flocks. The local people have the exclusive right to catch vicuñas with fishing nets, shear them and set them free again. They also have the exclusive right of grazing their animals on the vegetation. And because of these economic incentives, they have become guardians of the Reserve.
But does that have an environmental impact beyond the Reserve?
Oh yes, it certainly does. Arequipa’s water supply depends on the wetlands in the Reserve, and those wetlands depend on the mountain vegetation. Arequipa is a city of 1.2 million people, so the Reserve really matters. It needs protection, moreover, because otherwise people from outside would use the plants as fire fuel, so the ecosystem would be destroyed fast.
You cannot replicate this model in other protected areas. It is locally specific. There are no vicuñas in rain forests, for instance. And nature protection often involves some kind of economic trade-off. Can ecotourism, for instance, provide enough economic benefits for stemming illegal mining in rainforests?
Well, in the short run, illegal mining certainly leads to higher revenues, and I doubt ecotourism alone will ever generate enough money for funding nature conservation. We have to be creative. We need to find ways of using forest resources in a sustainable way. Nobody will get rich fast this way, but in the long run, we are not talking about a zero sum game. Unlike illegal mining, sustainable livelihoods will not be conflict prone. People will not have to fear the police and the courts. On the other hand, strict law enforcement by the police is necessary for fighting illegal mining, but it is not enough. Therefore, we are also reducing the scope for illegal mining, for instance by making it harder to get access to necessary inputs like mercury. We similarly emphasise more transparency of financial flows. We want to get the middlemen who benefit most from the illegal business, but do nothing to improve people’s lives or protect the environment. At the ground level, however, illegal miners are mostly very poor, and we have to provide these people with alternative livelihoods.
Formal-sector mining can be environmentally and socially destructive too – and this sector is driving Peru’s economy.
Yes, you are correct, and our government is tackling the challenges. We recently approved new guidelines for sustainability in extractive industries. The discussions involved nine ministries and were not easy, but we have made real progress. For example, the Ministry of the Environment was given the final say on environmental impact assessments of large scale investment projects. Earlier, the Ministries of Energy and Mines, Agriculture, Production and Transportation were in charge of that matter – and their obvious priority was not nature protection, but rather the growth of sector activity.
What else is new in the guidelines?
We have changed the way the government approaches people who will be affected by mining projects. Previously, someone from the mining ministry would show up and tell them they’d better plan to move because they would loose their homes. In the future, we want to tackle compensation and rehabilitation first. The government needs to assume social responsibility in these cases. The new guidelines, moreover, emphasise the efficient use of water and other things.
Has Peru signed up to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which insists on public disclosure of mining-related
Yes, Peru has joined EITI.
Let me return to nature conservation. To improve forest-related livelihoods, you must be interested in some kind of international REDD+ scheme. The idea is to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation by linking the protection of woodlands, which are natural carbon sinks, to the trade in carbon credits. This is one area in which international climate negotiations seem to be moving ahead somewhat.
Well, let me say first that, in our eyes, forests are much more than mere carbon sinks. They are the habitats of many species of animals and plants. They are of economic and social relevance. Therefore forest issues have to be dealt within a comprehensive and holistic way. But of course, all additional revenue is helpful and welcome.
So far, there is quite a bit of bilateral activity on REDD+, but no multilateral scheme that would provide market incentives internationally for storing carbon in forests.
No there is not such market yet, and it will still take some time to create it. The issue is quite complex. We need baselines. We need to assess precisely whether a given forest is storing additional carbon or not, and, as I said before, we must take into account other issues such as biodiversity too. And it would be wrong to belittle bilateral action however. All in all, we’ll get $ 300 million to $ 400 million of international funding for our forests in the next five years. Bilateral agreements are helping us to prepare for REDD+. Our government, for instance, is cooperating with Germany on a national REDD+ register as well as on nature conservation more in general.
International climate talks haven’t made much progress in years, and the Clean Development Mechanism for international emissions trading is in trouble because there are no new commitments to reduce carbon emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. Will there really be a comprehensive climate agreement by 2015?
Well, it is obvious that the process will not be easy. On the other hand, the scientific evidence is becoming ever more compelling. At the same time, the impacts of global warming are becoming worse, and they are felt all over the world. So I hope for the best.
D+C/E+Z Feedback from our readers:
Legal aspirations and ground reality
The picture painted by Peru’s vice minister for the environment is too rosy. It is true that Peru’s legislature has passed ILO Convention 169 on consulting people affected by projects, for example in the rain forest. But there is no implementation. Environmental risks are huge in Peru. Corporations have been awarded concessions to produce oil, gas, timber, gold, copper et cetera in more than 60 % of the country’s rain forest and more than 50 % of the Andean region. Commodity exploitation is threatening survival. Just one example: On the shores of Lake Titicaca, a Russian stateowned company is entitled to dig for oil. The local people are worried, but they have not been informed. Indigenous organisations in Peru (AIDESEP) have expressed serious criticism of government ideas, according to which an international carbon capandtrade system (REDD+) is supposed to result in appreciation for the value of forests and, accordingly, their protection. The indigenous people fear such a programme will lead to their displacement as fishing and farming on small plots become prohibited. In Peru as elsewhere, legal aspirations are one thing, and ground reality is another. The big issue of regional planning is not being tackled. Heinz Schulze, Informationsstelle Peru e. V., Freiburg