Frontline Online: South America forges ahead with renewables

| 6th February 2013

Sources of renewable energy are not always good news for the environment.

The Ecologist's Lorna Howarth reports on news and action from the environmental frontline....

Further to The Ecologist report on 13th January, which stated that Uruguay is planning to become the planet’s greenest country, it seems that other countries in South and Central America are refusing to lag behind.

A new report by energy experts GBI Research documents how other countries like Brazil, Mexico and Chile are ramping-up efforts to increase renewable energy production and government policy is driving this change. 

Brazil uses Feed-in-Tariffs (FITs) to support renewable development with installed renewable capacity in the country increasing from nearly 3,000 MW in 2005 to over 7,000 MW in 2011. Brazil aims to develop renewable energy production to 45% of the country’s total energy consumption by 2030. 

Mexico's government aims for 35% of its electricity to be derived from renewables by 2024, cutting its greenhouse gas emissions to 30% below 2000 levels by 2020. In order to do this, the country is constructing and commissioning a series of wind farms throughout 2012–2014. The cumulative capacity of wind, solar PV, biogas and biomass in Mexico increased from 199 MW in 2001 to over 2,500 MW in 2011 and the completed wind farms will boost these figures even higher.

Chilean law states that from 2010 at least 5% of energy produced by the medium and large power generating companies should be from renewable energy sources, and this target will gradually increase from 2015 onwards to reach 10% by 2024.

Similarly, Argentina aims to generate 8% of its electricity through renewable energy sources by 2016, and the government has joined the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REERP) with funding from the UN being used to increase public awareness of clean energy. 

Unfortunately in Colombia, despite huge potential for renewable power generation, the absence of financial and political support means the country does not have significant renewable energy generation. This shows how important it is to have government policy driving renewable energy.

Whilst all this is good news in theory, it is important to look more deeply to ascertain exactly where this renewable energy comes from: for example, Brazil is the world’s second-largest producer of sugarcane ethanol which powers much of the country’s ‘flexi-fuel’ fleet of vehicles.


However, a ‘biofuel carbon debt’ is incurred if sugarcane plantations impinge on the Amazonian rainforest. Similarly, energy from hydroelectric dams may be renewable, but if, as in the case of the Bello Monte dam, there is massive destruction to ecosystems and Indigenous territory (not to say, cultural heritage) this creates a significant carbon debt.

Lorna Howarth is a writer and environmentalist. She is a contributing editor to Resurgence & Ecologist magazine and the founder of a small independent publishing agency:

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Image of sugar cane encroaching on rainforest courtesy of





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