Thursday, May 15, 2014

Peru, Sustainability, and the Challenge Ahead

The Peruvian Andes.  Click for photo credit.
I've been looking at some sustainability data and ran across an interesting statistic that was highlighted by Treehugger here.  Peru is the only country in the world that has a relatively high human development index measurement combined with a low ecological footprint.  Other countries have high human development indices and high ecological footprints (the U.S. for example) and other countries have low human development indices with either low or high ecological footprints.

What this means is that Peru has found a way to have a relatively decent standard of living while minimizing the impact on the environment.  This does not mean that all is sunshine and lollipops.  There are many poor in the country and  plenty of examples of environmental problems.  Roughly about 1/3 of the population has limited access to drinking water and many work as subsistence farmers.  Such is the danger of summarizing a nation with a single index--we sometimes miss out on the details.  The data are useful, but when digging deeper, one finds significant challenges for survival.

Lima, Peru.  Click for photo credit.
It is important to note that Peru is exceptionally vulnerable to climate change--especially in the arid and semi-arid coastal zones and agriculturally productive Andean highlands.  The Peru Support Group provides insight into the challenges ahead.  Some of the issues they note are highlighted below.

All of the research is showing that Peru's agriculture and water resources are vulnerable to even subtle shifts in climate change.

Thus, while Peru is one of the nations that seems to have navigated itself into a sustainability "sweetspot", it is unclear whether or not Peru can continue to limit its environmental footprint as its natural systems change.

Peru will see between 1 and 4 degree Celcius temperature rise according to the Stern Report.  What this means is that melting of its tropical Andean glaciers will accelerate, thereby causing significant flooding and water resources problems.  Plus, Peru gets most of its energy from hydroelectric dams.  If the snows melt and the rains don't come, Peru's energy system will see problems.

Approximately 1/3 of Peru's population lives in Lima, which sits within a desert.  It relies heavily on seasonal glacial meltwater for its water supply.  Lima is already seeing water shortages due to the challenges of supplying 9 million people with water.

While Peru might be in a "sweetspot" now, there are distinct challenges ahead.

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