MANAGUA – For the past nine months, environmentalist José Milan has been traveling around Nicaragua to meet with farmers, scientists, soldiers, ambassadors, legislators and others in an effort to design Nicaragua’s National Climate Change Policy.
A Cuban-born architect who obtained a doctorate in environmental studies from the University of Havana, Milan recently brought in a team of Cuban climatologists to help him put together a climate-change strategy for Nicaragua, which he hopes to launch by the end of the year.
On a recent afternoon at his office at the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARENA), where he works as a consultant to Minister Juana Argeñal, he discussed the proposal with The Nica Times.
“Nicaragua is already feeling the effects of climate change,” he said, peering over glasses perched on his nose.
Central America produces about 0.3 percent of global emissions, but the species-rich isthmus is set to feel some of the biggest effects of climate change, he said.
According to an analysis Milan conducted with the help of visiting scientists from Cuba’s Meteorological Institute, temperatures throughout Nicaragua have increased by 0.2 to 1.6 degrees Celsius between 1965 and 1995, with the exceptions of Chinandega and Masatepe. Rainfall in Chinandega has decreased a record 10 percent, while in Granada it has decreased 6 percent.
In the worst-case scenario, by 2090, temperatures across Nicaragua could increase by up to 5 degrees Celsius, resulting in desert-like highs in areas like Chinandega. Rains across Nicaragua could decrease by 20 to 50 percent in much of Nicaragua – though rainfall would likely increase in the southern Pacific, according to Milan’s calculations based on a model approved by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Though rainfall will decrease overall, there will be more days with more than 10 millimeters of rainfall.
“It’s very worrisome, because that’s what causes flooding,” Milan said.
Tides will rise by as much as 200 mm within 100 years, bringing the tide in as far as 2 kilometers in some places along the Pacific coastline of Chinandega, he predicts.
Ten municipalities will be at high risk of “multi-events,” that is, hurricanes, droughts and floods.
But Milan’s doomsday predictions and calls for change have fallen mostly on deaf ears, he said. Despite all the noise being made about climate change in Central America, no more than $100,000 in funding in Nicaragua is being dedicated to climate change policy, he said. (He doesn’t count the hundreds of millions in aid and budget spending on reforestation programs.)
But he hopes to draw new support with his climate-change strategy, which is being funded by the government of Denmark and the United Nations Environment Programme and which is following guidelines approved by Central American heads of state during a climate change summit last May.
He has already sent a draft to President Daniel Ortega, who he expects will sign it into a presidential decree.
The four-point strategy focuses on vulnerability and adaptation, mitigation, education and institutional coordination. It calls for an environmental impact study of Nicaragua’s coasts, an area that will be most affected by climate change, as well as a study of how to prepare Nicaragua’s farming and livestock sector for change. More studies such as the ones that the National Institute of Agricultural Technology are currently undertaking are what is needed, Milan says.
“The strategy calls for government actions as well as actions on the part of non-governmental organizations and civil society,” Milan said.
The 200-page strategy calls for Nicaragua to reduce transportation emissions, reduce deforestation, include climate change in school curricula, and to get a carbon certificate program. According to Milan, the country is on its way to having a carbon certificate program because an arm of the World Bank has pre-approved a carbon certification project in Nicaragua, in which producers could get income for mitigating carbon emissions.
But perhaps most importantly, the strategy calls for a National Commission on Climate Change, an inter-institutional panel that would steer climate-change policy.
For Milan, funding is crucial for the initiative to work. He says he has helped design a program to educate small farmers in Nicaragua’s river basins how to reduce their environmental impact, but the project has no funding.
Even more worrisome is that funding from the United Nations Development Programme to finance Nicaragua’s climate change report, which it publishes each five years, is to phase out this year. That’s why Milan is now relying on Denmark to continue his work as a MARENA consultant.
The budget-strapped MARENA, meanwhile, is trying to come up with the funding just to keep its climate change office running.
“If our government doesn’t make the effort, we could lose this office,” he says, which would be like throwing in the towel in the first round of the fight.