Kyoto cleaning up Latin America

China and India are getting more of the attention and cleanup funds.

McClatchy Newspapers

MIAMI — With little fanfare, hundreds of millions of dollars are flowing annually into Latin America, cleaning up city garbage dumps and country animal manure, financing hydroelectric dams and doing away with coal-burning power plants — thanks to a foreign-aid program that goes by the name of Kyoto.

For the United States, the program could serve as a view of the future. Although the Bush administration refused to join the Kyoto cleanup effort, the top three presidential candidates have all vowed to become highly active in global-warming issues.

The Inter-American Development Bank, which held its annual meeting in Miami Beach last week, has itself been a leader in promoting the cleanup of greenhouse gases, by investing in hydro power projects in Colombia and Guatemala and a biofuel program in Brazil.

These Latin American efforts are based on a key element of the Kyoto Protocol, in which more than 170 countries agreed to curtail man-made global warming. The 30-some developed countries are working with the 100-plus developing countries in complex schemes to reduce greenhouse gases.

The concept is simple: Because these problematic gases are worldwide, it doesn’t matter where on the globe they are removed. Power companies in Japan or the Netherlands often find it cheaper to sponsor cleanups in the developing world than to reduce their own emissions at home — a swap that’s encouraged by Kyoto.

Roughly 3,000 projects have been proposed in Latin America. Marco Monroy, a Miami executive who develops such projects, offers a “semi-conservative” calculation that they bring $260 million a year to that region, climbing to $500 million perhaps next year.

These sums are “frankly peanuts,” said Christiana Figueres, the Latin American and Caribbean member on the executive board of the Clean Development Mechanism, a United Nations group that oversees the projects.

“This is just the beginning,” Figueres said at a global-warming conference in Coral Gables, Fla., in January. It’s intended to “warm up the muscles for the marathon,” when a new Kyoto agreement starts in 2013, one that virtually all experts expect will include the United States.

For a while, Latin America was the world’s leading region in these greenhouse-gas projects, but those involved say the projects have frequently stalled because of troubles with financing, bureaucrats demanding payoffs, and the difficulties of doing long-term projects in unstable countries.

In the past two years, China and India have jumped to the forefront, partly because both are so large and have huge pollution problems that need to be cleaned up.

Brazil has been a leader in climate change since it hosted the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, a meeting that eventually led to Kyoto, Monroy said. The country also was the first to propose the concept of swapping pollution in the developed world for cleanups in developing countries.