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ECLAC Study Looks at Energy-Climate Change Interface for Central America Through 2100

December 2011: A recently-released sectoral study by the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) on energy and climate change in Central America looks at the probable impact of climate change on the evolution of its energy sector during two periods, the present through 2020, and 2021-2100.  The study concludes that the main cost of climate change on Central America's energy sector may be a decrease in hydropower production, the region's main indigenous energy source, due to the decline and increased variability of rainfall patterns.

The ECLAC study points out that assessing climate change impacts requires long time horizons, whereas most energy development scenarios for developing countries, including those of Central America, tend to look only 15 or 20 years into the future. This study looked at probable impacts based on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenarios and built long-term energy development scenarios for Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama that include inputs from ECLAC's Economics of Climate Change in Central America (ECCCA) project, which calculated the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that would result and evaluated several mitigation strategies.

The study estimates that over 2010-2100, regional average per-capita energy consumption will either double, triple or quintuple under the three economic scenarios used, with Belize, Costa Rica and Panama likely to have per capita consumption rates 2-3 times higher than those of the other four countries. The study suggests increased dependence on external energy supplies, particularly from 2040 onward. It predicts that consumption of traditional biomass for household use will fall drastically, while increasing urbanization will increase dependence on electricity and petroleum derivatives, principally in passenger and cargo land transport. While the study suggests substantial expansion of the region's 22,000 megawatts (MW) hydropower potential in the early decades of the 21st century, this trend likely will taper off in the second half of the century as a result of precipitation changes, particularly in the five nations in the northern portion of the isthmus.

The report makes several recommendations, including greater emphasis, strengthening and institutionalization of energy efficiency and renewable energy development programs, with periodic evaluations and adjustments, and greater focus on transport and climate change options, such as policies to decrease transport demand and favor transport modes that consume less energy and are less contaminating. [ECLAC abstract (Spanish)] [Publication: Estudio sectorial regional sobre energía y cambio climático en Centroamérica (Spanish)]