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The Santurbán Páramo in Colombia. | Credit: Alberto Peña Kay / Flickr.

2016: 6 reasons to maintain hope for the environment

By Laura Yaniz

2016 was not an easy year. It was especially trying for the fight to protect the environment in Latin America. The loss of brave defenders broke our hearts. The international political environment became so tense after the US presidential election that we learned to take nothing for granted. The effects of climate change hit us hard, and then harder.

But it has not all been grim. This year has also given us important reasons to keep the hope alive. Progress, good news and important victories lay a path to a brighter new year.

Here are six pieces of good news to help you recharge and have hope for our natural world: 

1. The World Bank said “No” to mining in the Santurbán páramo

Just ten days before the end of the year, the International Finance Corporation, part of the World Bank Group, decided to divest from Canadian company Eco Oro Minerals. Their funding withdrawal includes the Angostura mining project, which has for years threatened the Santurbán páramo, a water source for millions of people in Colombia. It is a victory to which AIDA and our allies have contributed greatly.

Now it’s the government’s turn—in accordance with national laws, they must deny all environmental permits for mining projects in Santurbán, and all other Colombian páramos.

The fight for Santurbán isn’t over. Next year we’ll continue to closely monitor Eco Oro, who has filed an international arbitration suit against Colombia for measures the nation has taken to protect its páramos, among them, the high court decision to ban all mining in these sensitive ecosystems. 

2. The Indigenous struggle gains strength, and wins!

The struggle of the Sioux tribe against the Dakota Access pipeline became a global movement. The largest gathering of Native Americans in history inspired solidarity from artists, veterans, activists, and indigenous groups around the world. They won an important victory when the project was suspended.

In Brazil, after years of perseverance, the Munduruku people of the Amazon also emerged victorious when the government denied the environmental license for a dam on the Tapajós River that would have threatened their culture and way of life.

These important achievements give us hope. They highlight the need to uplift the voices and support the struggles of the world’s indigenous peoples who, according to the World Bank, protect 80 percent of our planet’s biodiversity. 

3. A new climate accord is underway

On November 4, the Paris Agreement on climate change entered into force. It happened years sooner than anticipated. The global political achievement was propelled by the ratification of the accord by Latin American and European nations, as well as by China and the United States (the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases).

The validity of the agreement impels all nations, developed and developing, to make their commitments a reality. During the 22nd UN Climate Convention in Morocco, as a civil society observer, AIDA contributed to ensuring progress was made on securing funding to help developing countries confront the impacts of climate change.

The additional news that the ozone is recovering—a fact made possible by the Montreal Protocol—gives us hope that global commitments like this one can actually bear fruit. 

4. Our oceans are protected

Important steps were made, nationally and internationally, to protect our world’s oceans and the many incredible creatures that call them home.

Mexico created the largest expanse of natural protected areas in its history; the nation’s protected oceans are now nearly half the size of its landmass. In the United States, the expansion of a Hawaiian marine reserve made it one of the largest protected areas on Earth. In Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands reserve was also expanded to protect the sensitive marine life it shelters.

Beyond national borders, the global community made important progress on protecting our common waters through the development of a new treaty to protect the high seas. AIDA has brought the voice of Latin America into that discussion.

5. Dam-free rivers

In Chile, after decades of strong opposition, one company announced it was giving up on building large dams on five virgin rivers. In Peru, the new government announced that Amazon dams are not on their agenda. In Brazil, the government denied a dam that would have altered the course of the Tapajós River. In the United States, dam removal is well underway, enabling the return of native species and the restoration of ecosystems.

Additionally, a recent scientific study confirmed that dam reservoirs are a major source of greenhouse gases, worsening climate change. The findings strengthen arguments we’ve been making for years—large dams are not a solution to climate change; they are part of the problem. 

6. Your support

Our work this year on behalf of Latin America’s environment would not have been possible without your support.

When you write to us, donate photographs, join our team of volunteers and interns, or make a donation, you encourage us to keep fighting.

These are messages of hope that remind us how important it is to keeping working for a better future for our children, for yours, and for those of the communities we support.

We know that you don’t just follow our work, but bring it home and do all you can, in your daily life, to care for the planet, our collective home.

Thank you for giving us hope! Happy 2017! 

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