Cablegate: Climate Change in Ecuador


DE RUEHQT #0369/01 1151959
O 241959Z APR 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

B. 07 QUITO 1497
C. QUITO 259

1. (U) Summary: For years Ecuador has been experiencing
symptoms of climate change such as glacial melting. This
year, erratic weather is also leaving its mark on the
country. Studies of the country's glaciers show a retreat of
at least 28% in the last ten years. Scientists are concerned
because these same glaciers provide most of the water for
highland agriculture, hydropower, and municipal needs. As
Ecuador faces clean-up costs from widespread flooding,
changes in climate have become particularly relevant, but
remain difficult for the GOE to adequately address. End

Glacial Retreat and Deforestation

2. (U) Most in the NGO and scientific community in Ecuador
are concerned about glacial melting that is the result of
broader global warming. INAMHI (the Insituto Nacional de
Meteorologia e Hidrologia), the Ministry of Energy and Mines'
national weather agency, estimates that glaciers covered
approximately 70 square kilometers in Ecuador in 2006, a 28%
decline from 1998. This data is consistent with previous
studies showing a 30% decline of the Cotopaxi glacier, one of
Quito's primary sources of drinking water, from 1976-1997.
Current studies of Cotopaxi indicate a retreat of 50 meters
per year. Quito's municipal power company, the Empresa
Electrica Quito, estimates that the amount of water flowing
into the hydroelectric plant at Guangopolo from rivers fed by
the Cotopaxi glacier has decreased by 40-50% over the last
thirty years. The U.S. Department of Energy, the
International Energy Organization, and the World
Meterological Organization's Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change (IPCC) predict that green house gas emissions
will continue to cause declining Andean snow pack (the DOE
estimates by as much as 55% by 2100) and a temperature rise
of 2-3 degrees Celsius in the Amazon Basin by 2050-2100 (the
Brazilian space agency estimates a rise of 4-8 degrees C),
with dire implications for forest loss and potable water

3. (U) Scientists point out that deforestation in Ecuador
contributes to glacial retreat; indeed it may be Ecuador's
greatest contribution to global climate change. Ecuador's
deforestation rate was last measured in 2000 by CLIRSEN, the
national satellite agency overseen by the Ecuadorian
military's Geographic Institute, at 1.5% per year, probably
the second-highest rate in Latin America after Paraguay. The
head of Quito's forestry engineers' union tells us that the
deforestation rate in the northwest province of Esmeraldas is
as high as 4.5%, due to the clearing of native forests for
palm oil plantations. The Ministry of Environment has a very
limited budget for enforcement, and nearly all logging in
Ecuador takes place illegally.

Unusual Weather a National Emergency

4. (U) The effects of pollution and deforestation on
glacial retreat and climate change for any given year are
difficult to measure, but it is clear that this year, Ecuador
is experiencing very unusual climatic conditions (ref A).
INAMHI says 2008 is the heaviest rainy period Ecuador has
seen in ten years, due to the fact that the La Nina effect
has been accompanied by unusually warm temperatures in parts
of the Pacific between the Galapagos Islands and the
mainland. Recent flooding on the coast and in the highlands
has caused over $150 million in agricultural and
infrastructure damage, affecting nearly one third of
Ecuador's population. Peace Corps and NGO contacts say the
damage has been more severe than that caused by El Nino in
1997-98. On April 1, a massive sink hole measuring 40 meters
in diameter and 100 meters deep opened underneath the edge of
a major highway in downtown Quito. There were no injuries,
but the government estimates the cost of repairs at $1.5
million. The municipality declared a road emergency.

Scarce Resources and GOE Efforts

5. (SBU) Scientific agencies uniformly tell us their budgets
are restrictive. Existing resources are not well coordinated
among agencies, and scientific data are not regularly
published. Many scientific agencies have only been formed in
the last ten years, as environmental law has been written and
the need for information has grown. The Ministry of
Environment's National Council on Hydrologic Resources (an
agency that manages contracts for the supply of potable water
to municipalities) tells us it does not share data with
INAMHI (the agency that studies glacial retreat); and the
pattern is similar in almost every scientific field.

6. (SBU) At the political level, the GOE has made its
"Keeping the Oil in the Ground" proposal (a proposal to avoid
drilling for oil in the Ishpingo-Tambocoha-Tiputini or ITT
field in Yasuni National Park*reftels B and C), its showcase
initiative to combat global warming. Through this
initiative, Ecuador is proposing to forgo 50% of the value of
oil that would be extracted over the next 40 years. (Note:
this initiative is ambitious but poorly defined and may not
come to fruition; Correa has established a deadline of
October 2008 before opening the field to development.) The
GOE has signed the Kyoto Protocol, and is a member of the
U.S. Methane to Markets Partnership for clean energy. The
Ministry of Environment (MAE) also regularly holds
conferences related to climate change; in October 2007 it
worked with the Andean community and the Municipality of
Quito to hold the week-long "ClimaLatino" conference in Quito
and Guayaquil to raise public awareness.

7. (U) Still, the need for increased training and technical
assistance is great. The Ministry of Environment is
under-funded, and in the absence of substantive policy
initiatives, does what it can to develop connections with
technical agencies worldwide. Over the last ten years, the
U.S. government has helped conserve the biodiversity of over
1.2 million hectares in Ecuador (this year alone, USAID will
provide over $800,000 for biodiversity management). The USG
has also donated $2 million in assistance for the floods.
Probably the greatest U.S. contribution is that made by NOAA,
through the tsunami warning buoys it maintains and data it
makes available to Ecuador. The EPA, U.S. Geological Survey,
and Department of Energy also all cooperate regularly, though
informally, with Ecuadorian scientific agencies.


8. (SBU) Members of the GOE and the public continually
express interest in combating climate change. Like many
countries, Ecuador is still in the process of defining how to
address the issue. The Correa administration has made token
gestures towards protecting the environment, particularly
through the ITT initiative, but in general it has focused
real political will on more sensitive social and political
issues. This year, climate has become an emergency. While
most GOE and international funding will be directed to relief
efforts instead of prevention, the underlying need for
scientific expertise will remain underdeveloped. Post will
seek ways to support the scientific community, particularly
by promoting relationships between bilateral scientific
agencies and through the International Visitors' Program, IIP
Speaker programs, and the Embassy Science Fellows Program.
End comment.

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