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News > Latin America

5 Ways Latin America Learned to Love Mother Nature

  • Latin American social organizations are leading the way to achieve environmental sustainable.

    Latin American social organizations are leading the way to achieve environmental sustainable. | Photo: Reuters

Published 21 April 2017

The region with the most biodiversity is leading the global fight to protect the planet in the face of climate crises.

Latin America is leading efforts to protect nature and prove to the world that ecological well-being and development don't need to be mutually exclusive.

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Social organizations and governments in the region have pushed forward the idea that Capitalism and savage exploitation of natural resources can't lead to a sustainable way of life.

teleSUR presents five of the most groundbreaking and inspirational examples of how nature and humans can coexist in harmony.

1. Ecuador: Constitutional Rights for Mother Nature

Ecuador has gone one step further in the fight to protect the environment by including inalienable rights for nature in its constitution, inspired by the example in Bolivia.

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The constitution approved in 2008 gives nature the "right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution," a groundbreaking concept in the region and around the world.

It also mandates that the government should install "precaution and restriction measures in all the activities that could lead to the extinction of species, the destruction of the ecosystems or the permanent alteration of the natural cycles."

Ecuador's constitutional assembly drafted the articles to legally enforce the rights of nature, and it was ratified by a plebiscite, including one whole chapter called "Rights of Nature."

It acknowledges that nature is not a property to be exploited by people and must be respected, and the people have a legal authority to enforce these rights on behalf of ecosystems and living beings, with the same weight under the law.

This concept was adopted from the Good Living concept, which in Kichwa is called “sumak kawsay,” as part of the government of President Rafael Correa under the Citizen's Revolution. This well-being philosophy to create a more equal and just society was also largely promoted by Bolivian President Evo Morales.

This movement has encouraged other countries and organizations across the globe to rethink the lifestyle of consumer culture and extraction that has led the world to the precipice of climate catastrophe.

2. Costa Rica: Running on Renewable Energy

For the past two years, the Central American nation of Costa Rica has been running almost completely on clean energy and setting an example for other nations.

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The Costa Rican Electricity Institute says that around 98 percent of the country’s electricity came from green sources in 2016. The same figure was recorded for 2015.

Citizens used the energy generated from large hydropower facilities, tapping the resources of rivers and heavy seasonal rains, as well as geothermal plants, wind turbines and solar panels.

The country even used carbon-free electricity for more than 250 days last year, in a continuous 110-day stretch from June until October.

Hydroelectric and geothermal energy accounted for 89.9 percent of all electricity, while the rest came from wind farms, which generated about 10 percent of the energy, and solar plants accounting for 0.01 percent.

Authorities expect renewable power generation to continue to be “stable” in Costa Rica for the rest of 2017 and expand in the decades to come. Several international environmental agencies have highlighted these efforts.

Nicaragua has followed the same path to use its natural resources and protect its environment and has set the goal to use 75 percent of renewable energy by the end 2017, while expecting it to rise to 90 percent by 2020.

3. Cuba: A Unique Model for Sustainable Agriculture

According to the World Wildlife Fund, or WWF, Cuba is the most sustainable country on the planet.

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The urban agriculture system implemented in Cuba has become a model for the rest of the world, and an alternative to ensuring food sovereignty and environmental protections at the same time.

In its bi-annual Living Planet Report of 2016, the Fund says that base on it environmental footprint index, Cuba is a world example. It proves that a sustainable system of food production is compatible with a high level of literacy, life expectancy, and low infant mortality.

The island has both an acceptable ecological footprint for each citizen by using an exemplary amount of energy and natural resources, and also an acceptable Human Development Index rating.

Known for its strong sugar production, its agriculture has moved away from monoculture, and diversified its products to tobacco, cereals, meat and other vegetables and fruits.

Even with the U.S. blockade that forbids them from buying machinery, pesticides, fertilizers and makes importing extremely expensive, the island manages to produce its own food, protects the environment and ensure its citizens have organic products.

Cuba has developed stronger plague management techniques that reduce and even eliminate the use of synthetic and poisonous products.

Cuba's urban farming, part of the government socialist view, provide equitable access to resources, efficient use of soil and water, and improves food security for its people.

After the Cuban Revolution, the government approved several agrarian reforms and created thousand of Campesino cooperatives, to ensure ownership of land and joint efforts to achieve services and loans for the agriculture sector.

4. El Salvador: No More Mining

Central America’s smallest nation El Salvador made environmental history just last month by banning all metal mining projects.

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The nation's Congress approved this law with a cross-party support from 70 lawmakers out of 84 in total. According to a poll, 77 percent of the country’s population approved the measure.

The reform also blocks all exploration, extraction and processing of metals, whether in open pits or underground, as well as the use of toxic chemicals like cyanide and mercury.

According to the country’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, 90 percent of the country's surface water is polluted, as a result of opening up and deregulation mostly in the mining industry.

The pressure from environmentalist and human rights groups, as well as the Catholic Church, was a strong factor in moving forward with the law. Civil society handed over 30,000 signatures demanding the ban.

The decision was highly influenced by the fact that the country won a millionaire lawsuit against OceanaGold, called Pacific Rim in 2007, when the company was denied a new permit to extract gold in a stand for national sovereignty and clean water.

This legal trailblazer could move other countries to seek its implementation, such as the case of Honduras, where protests against mining projects have led to activists being attacked and even killed for protecting their natural resources.

5. Bolivia: Leading the Fight for Climate Justice and Reparations

The demand for climate justice has created a brotherhood of social movements and grassroots campaigns in Latin America that together with Indigenous people and communities has become stronger.

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Communities from Chile to Mexico have found a way to connect their struggles and seek solutions of their own.

When the world met at the COP21 summit in Paris, the Latin American countries led the call for a legally binding agreement to bring the most contaminating nations to justice, led by other countries including Bolivia.

The request would seek rich nations to transition to clean energy, transfer clean technology and financing to countries in development located in the Global South, to finally move away from fossil fuels.

The idea behind this is that rich nations which largely contribute to climate change need to stop polluting and repair the damage inflicted on people.

To add to the argument, rich countries have become richer from using cheap energy mostly from fossil fuels extracted from poor countries and deprived them of developing themselves.

The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, known as CELAC, urged world leaders to agree to limit global warming to maximum 2 degrees Celsius. This is the tipping point scientists say would push the planet into catastrophic and irreparable damage.

Climate change threatens Latin American countries’ efforts to eliminate poverty and stimulate development, says the CELAC.

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