Methane emanates from garbage dumps, livestock waste and some plant
Credit: Mauricio Ramos
A Greenhouse Gas Becomes Star of the Market
By Diego Cevallos
Latin America is joining the international movement for trade in methane emissions credits. Environmental activists are giving this approach the thumbs-down.
MEXICO CITY, (Tierramérica).- Capturing methane, one of the gases that contributes to global warming, is fast becoming one of the most attractive environmental dealings for industrialized countries -- and for Latin America. But the trend is causing tensions between social and environmental activists.
Brazil has already signed on to the first international project for capturing methane, responsible for 20 percent of the emissions that cause what is known as the greenhouse effect and changes in the global climate. The idea is to use the gas to produce electricity.
Projects like this in the developing world will receive funding from industrialized countries that have ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on climate change. As part of the pact's ''clean development mechanism'', by paying for reduced emissions in a developing country, an industrialized country can claim the results towards its own abatement target, stipulated by the Protocol.
Following in Brazil's footsteps, other countries in Latin America are also seeking financing for capturing methane, a gas that emanates from garbage dumps, livestock waste and some plants. Methane emissions in Latin America and the Caribbean comprise 9.3 percent of the global total, according to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
And in another global effort to use this gas, the United States signed an agreement in November that gave life to a methane market consortium, which also includes Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, China, Colombia, India, Italy, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia and Ukraine.
According to its members, this initiative could reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions (measured in units of carbon dioxide) by a quantity equivalent to the removal of 33 million vehicles from the world's roads each year.
''We see a great future in the (methane) market,'' which would benefit developing and industrialized countries alike, Jorge Barrigh, coordinator of the Latin American Carbon Program of CAF, the Andean Community's development agency, told Tierramérica.
This regional body and other global agencies, like the World Bank, are pushing for developing nations to take advantage of emissions credits and technological assistance they see as part of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) included in the Kyoto Protocol, which takes effect Feb. 16, 2005.
The CDM is one of three flexible mechanisms set up by the Protocol designed to help industrialized countries meet their goals for curbing greenhouse gas emissions to an average 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2012.
For example, corporations in the industrialized North can obtain ''carbon credits'' when they invest in emissions abatement projects in the developing South.
Brazil registered its NovaGerar plan as a CDM. The project makes use of the methane gas captured from garbage in Nova Iguacu, a city of one million people in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. The gas feeds a thermoelectric plan with the capacity to generate 12 megawatts of electricity.
Participating in that project is the Netherlands Clean Development Facility, associated with the World Bank.
CDM credits are an incentive for municipal government to better manage their garbage, given that ''the possibility of revenues and reducing costs promotes the creation of more appropriate landfills,'' Antonio Carlos Delbin, technical director of Biogás Energia Ambiental, the company executing the project, said in a conversation with Tierramérica.
Another CDM project that Brazil will officially sign in 2005 also aims to generate electricity from methane, but from the sanitary landfill in Bandeirantes, outside Sao Paulo. The initiative has been under way since January and is already producing energy.
The reduction of methane emissions in Bandeirantes will reach the equivalent of 19 million tons of carbon dioxide in 21 years, according to Helvecio Guimaraes, technical director of Econergy Brasil, a company providing technical-financial services for clean technology projects.
Colombia has its own plan for capturing methane. In the western valley of Cauca, where the sugar mill Incauca is located, sugarcane pulp will be used to replace fossil fuels in the mill's operation.
With the funds obtained through this project under the Clean Development Mechanism framework, a business laboratory will be set up for participation by 120 children and their parents, Incauca's energy chief Rubén Uchima told Tierramérica.
But not everyone agrees on the benefits of the CDM.
With this option, ''the industrialized countries are shifting their commitments to curb carbon emissions and avoiding investment in truly clean development technology,'' says Nadia Martínez, of the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies.
The CDM ''looks like a good idea, but it has turned into a scheme for commercial transactions that benefits multinational corporations with projects that aren't necessarily appropriate,'' Martínez said.
U.S. President George W. Bush withdrew his country from the Kyoto Protocol in 2001, arguing that it hurt U.S. economic interests. But Washington has announced it has earmarked 53 million dollars over the next five years for developing the methane market consortium.
That speaks to what and who are really behind the CDM, commented Martínez.
According to María Teresa Szauer, environmental director for the Andean CAF, ''growing interest in capturing methane gas'' is related to the fact that the methodology for measuring and tracking it have already been defined and developed, ''which greatly facilitates its inclusion in the market.''
In response to environmentalists' criticisms, Szauer said they are ''somewhat intransigent'' positions that do not take into account ''the added value that these projects have for our countries.''
The CAF says Latin America and the Caribbean should take advantage of the clean development mechanism because it will give developing countries access to profitable and sustainable technologies, which is why the agency is helping others in the region to identify opportunities in this arena.
* Diego Cevallos is an IPS correspondent. Yadira Ferrer (Colombia) and Mario Osava (Brazil) contributed to this report.