NicaNotes: Climate Change and Nicaragua: Who Will Pay for the Damage?

By Rick Kohn

[This article was originally published in LA Progressive on Oct. 27, 2021, as the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow was about to begin. The talks, which ended on Nov. 12, were generally agreed to have fallen short of expectations.] 

Nicaragua is one of the top places in the world for wind power. Photo: Katherine Hoyt

(Rick Kohn is a Professor in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Maryland. He has worked on extension and research projects in the US, Nigeria, and Nicaragua.)

To people in developing countries, it seems clear, the wealthy countries that caused most of the problem of climate change should pay the most to adapt to it and to solve the problem.  But instead, countries like the United States lecture low low-emitting countries to do more while they extract their resources and destroy their forests.

For example, Nicaragua was an outspoken critic of the 2015 Paris climate talks because they did not go far enough. It is one of the countries most impacted by climate change, yet its own greenhouse gas footprint is one of the smallest.  Nicaragua initially insisted that the Paris Accord did not reduce emissions enough (a position that was later adopted by a majority of countries and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).  Dr. Paul Oquist, Nicaraguan Minister and envoy to the talks, insisted in Paris that developing countries should receive the billions of dollars promised by the big greenhouse gas emitters to pay for greenhouse gas mitigation programs.

The idea that the wealthiest countries should pay for the damage caused by their pollution is not popular among the world’s biggest polluters like the United States. As retribution for his statements, the US Treasury Department applied sanctions on Dr. Oquist in 2020 seizing his US assets and blocking interactions with US citizens because he allegedly “pled Ortegas’ case internationally with an unrelenting flow of lies…” Sadly, Dr. Oquist recently passed away.  US sanctions on Nicaragua now make it more difficult for them to participate in carbon trading programs to promote reforestation and poverty reduction.

Nicaragua is heavily impacted by climate change.  Over the twenty-year period from 1998 to 2017, the country was ranked 6th in the world for climate impacts.  It is primarily an agricultural country that has experienced numerous droughts in the past two decades.  It is also surrounded by oceans on both sides and susceptible to hurricanes.  In 2020, two category-five hurricanes touched ground in eastern Nicaragua within a week of each other.

The average resident of Nicaragua emits one eighth as much greenhouse gas as the average US resident. Nonetheless, Nicaragua has promoted programs to move it toward a zero-carbon footprint.  Nicaragua promoted renewable electricity and today 98.5% of the country has access to electricity with 75% of it coming from renewable sources: hydro, solar, wind, and geothermal.  The country has promoted efficient agricultural practices and today it is 90% food self-sufficient, but not by converting forests to cropland.  Nicaraguans planted over a million hectares of trees which capture carbon, and continue to protect large rain forest reserves.  Nicaragua has promoted improved pasture management to decrease the greenhouse gases from agriculture while still exporting beef.  The Sandinista-led government has also reduced poverty, provided basic healthcare to the entire population, and provides free public schooling from primary grades through graduate school.  Social programs and protection of the environment did not destroy the economy. Nicaragua had the fastest GDP growth in the region for the first ten years after the Sandinistas returned to the executive branch.

It would be simplistic to say that Nicaragua embarrasses the United States with its achievements.  The US has slated Nicaragua for regime change for other reasons.  US sanctions are designed to cause suffering among the Nicaraguan people and to undermine every achievement of the Sandinista-led government, including advancements in protecting the environment along with improved literacy rates and decreased poverty. The hope seems to be that the Nicaraguan people will give up and just vote for the US-backed candidate in order to stop the aggression.  If not, the US aims to put itself in a better position to orchestrate a coup.

The underlying problem is that our political system is not optimized for solving the problems facing our own population, and certainly not for solving the problems of foreign populations.  Our political system is designed to maximize profits for the donors to political campaigns and advertisers and owners of media outlets. Although most people in Nicaragua and the US benefit from environmental protection, influential US companies have lobbied for a return to neoliberal rule.  US companies want deregulation and cheap labor and land, not regulations preventing climate change.  Would you expect a lobbyist to support any policy that even marginally decreased its client’s profit? Such a lobbyist would soon be replaced or its client would go out of business.

The US is not only the biggest direct cause of climate change, but US foreign policy in support of neoliberal governments, regime change against governments that regulate their economies, and US engagement in wars around the world all greatly contribute to climate change.

Unfortunately, the wealthy countries that are the biggest emitters of global warming gases are not willing to address the problem themselves, and they prevent less industrialized countries from addressing it. Most countries the U.S. calls “democratic” are run by corporations driven by their profit motive. Environmental activists need to counter free-market capitalism and imperialism if they want to have a meaningful impact on climate change.

By Nan McCurdy

Nicaragua Elected VP of Board of COP against Climate Change
Nicaragua was elected Vice President of the Board of Directors of the Conference of the Parties (COP) against Climate Change in representation of Latin America and the Caribbean, during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) held in Scotland from October 31 to November 12. Nicaraguan Climate Change Secretary Javier Gutiérrez stated that “the unanimous election of Nicaragua to the COP Board of Directors is a recognition of the work of the country on issues of climate change adaptation and mitigation, as well as sustainable development with climate justice.” (Nicaragua News, 16 November 2021)

Declaration Denounces Illegal OAS Interference
With 83 votes in favor, the Nicaraguan National Assembly approved a declaration which rejected the interference of the Organization of American States (OAS) in the internal affairs of Nicaragua, and which requested that President Daniel Ortega denounce the OAS Charter, following the mechanism stipulated in Article 143 of said instrument. The declaration was read by the president of the legislative branch, Dr. Gustavo Porras, and referred to the resolution approved on November 12, 2021, in Guatemala City, where the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states was openly violated. (Radio La Primerisima, 16 November 2021)

Nicaragua re-elected to UN International Law Commission
Nicaragua was re-elected as a member of the United Nations International Law Commission, in recognition of the country’s historical trajectory and contributions to International Law. Ambassador Carlos Argüello, who has represented Nicaragua in the International Court of Justice for more than 36 years, was re-elected for a new period of five years, starting in January 2023. A government press release stated that Nicaragua will have the opportunity to continue contributing to the most important issues in public international law, which governs the relations between nations, contributing with its progressive vision of international law at a key moment for multilateralism. The press release also highlighted that Russia and China were elected, while the United States did not obtain enough votes. See more: HERE (Radio La Primerisima, 12 November 2021)

House to House Vaccination against COVID-19
The Nicaragua Ministry of Health (MINSA) announced yesterday that medical brigades and mobile clinics of departmental and municipal hospitals will begin house to house vaccination against COVID-19 to expand the National Voluntary Vaccination Program. The Director of the Expanded Immunization Program, Jazmina Umaña, explained that “the new phase of the COVID-19 National Vaccination Program seeks to create greater facilities for the population in the most remote communities, as well as disabled people in these areas to ensure access to the vaccine.” She also noted that “COVID-19 vaccination will continue in the 1,127 sites located in healthcare centers and hospitals throughout the country, as well as community healthcare fairs that are held every week.” (Nicaragua News, 11 November 2021)

More than 3.5 Million Vaccinated Against Covid-19
The Ministry of Health announced that, as of November 14, 3,583,899 people have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, equivalent to 55.96% of the total population aged 2 years and older. According to the last report, MINSA has administered 60,329 doses of vaccines in the last 24 hours. (Radio La Primerisima, 14 November 2021)

Exports Increase by 26%
Between January and October, 2021, Nicaragua’s exports totaled US$5.4 billion, 25.8% more than in 2020, according to Minister of Finance and Public Credit Iván Acosta. He said that, on top of that, Free Trade Zone exports were US$2.5 billion, 33.5% above 2020. (Radio La Primerisima, 12 November 2021)

2022 Budget Prioritizes Social Expenditure
Minister of Finance and Public Credit Iván Acosta said that the 2022 General Budget is in harmony with the National Program for the Fight against Poverty and for Human Development 2022-2026. For 2022 the budget prioritizes social expenditure which is 56.8%. Twenty-three percent is for education; 22.2% for health and the rest for social protection. Among the social and economic priorities for 2022 are access to quality health services, as a human right to safeguard the lives of families, and access to education at all levels and modalities. (Informe Pastran 12 November 2021)

Over 30,000 New Jobs to Be Generated in 2022
Minister of Finance and Public Credit Iván Acosta announced that the public investment section of the General Budget of the Republic 2022 includes the means to generate 30,000 to 40,000 jobs next year. Acosta stated that the public investment in 2022 reflects the sustained growth in the last two years which directly impacts the generation of temporary and permanent jobs as well as the creation of new businesses. “There is enough room so that as 2022 goes by, the amount allocated for public investment can be expanded, so we believe we will achieve greater impact” expressed Acosta. He explained that the construction of roads and bridges, and road repair or maintenance, generate direct jobs, but also businesses and those businesses become permanent jobs, which boosts the local economy. (Radio La Primerisima, 15 November 20)

Loan for Lake Managua Sanitation Program
On Nov. 11 Nicaragua signed a loan for US$44.35 million with the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) in support of the Lake Managua South Bank Sanitation Program. The program includes installation of three wastewater treatment plants and expansion of the potable water systems in the municipalities of Managua, Tipitapa and Ciudad Sandino, benefiting 1,459,976 inhabitants. (Nicaragua News. 11 November 2021)

A Million Dollars for Small Loans to 4,000 Women
The government-sponsored “Zero Usury” microloan program allocated US$1.14 million last week to finance and train 4,000 women in 92 municipalities, to install and expand small restaurants and miscellany stores in urban and semi urban areas. This is part of the Plan to Strengthen Productive and Organizational Capabilities of the Creative Economy Model. (Nicaragua News, 10 November 2021)

65 Homes and 100 Lots to New Owners
Sixty-five houses and 100 lots will be handed over to their new owners this week in different municipalities of the country as part of the Bismark Martínez Program, according to Iván Lacayo, general director of the Nicaraguan Institute of Municipal Development (INIFOM). The houses are in the municipalities of Estelí, Pueblo Nuevo, Condega, Granada, Masaya, Rivas and Granada. Lacayo said that, in the municipality of Ticuantepe, three blocks of land were acquired to be divided into more than 100 lots, part of the Bismark Martinez Program. The goal set for this year is to deliver 50,000 houses and 50,000 lots. He also reported that 22 streets were inaugurated in the Germán Pomares and Nueva Nicaragua neighborhoods in Managua and five kilometers of rural roads were rehabilitated in the El Desenredo community of El Crucero, among other projects. (Radio La Primerisima, 16 November 2021)

A Million Children to Receive Toys at Christmas
The Ministry of Education will deliver more than one million toys for boys and girls from public schools throughout the country, between December 13 and 18. This government initiative is carried out every year to celebrate Christmas, and the first caravan with trucks loaded with toys leaves Managua soon for the most remote areas. “We are organizing so that these toys that bring the love and hope of all of us to the children of Nicaragua are transferred to the municipalities,” reported Vice President Rosario Murillo. Dolls, balls, cars, and helicopters, and other toys, are among the gifts that will be delivered to students. (Radio La Primerisima, 12 November 2021)

Surf Competition at Playa Maderas
On November 19 and 20, the second edition of the “Shaka Surf Festival,” a surfing competition with participation of nationals and foreigners, will take place at Playa Maderas in San Juan del Sur. The event is expected to be attended by approximately 100 surfers, and according to Suyén Vargas, member of the organizing committee of the event, the objective of this competition is to promote surfing in Nicaragua, as well as tourism in coastal areas. The first competition of the “Shaka Surf Festival” was held on June 26 and 27 of this year at El Remanso beach, San Juan del Sur. (Radio La Primerisima, 16 November 2021)