Uruguay takes the lead

After the election of Country of the Year 2013 by The Economist it seems that UK newspaper The Guardian is now also blown away by Uruguay. It calls Uruguay ¨a beacon of innovation and progress¨. An article published on 6 December 2015 gives an overview of Uruguayan progressive stands on different issues such as abortion, cigarette advertising and education. The conclusion it reached was that Uruguay ¨has been returning to its political roots, to become a model not just for the region, but for the world.¨

A few days earlier the same paper had an article about renewable energy in Uruguay. It says that renewables provide 94.5% of the country’s electricity. In less than 10 years the country has slashed its carbon footprint and lowered electricity costs, without government subsidies. WWF last year named Uruguay among its “Green Energy Leaders”, proclaiming: “The country is defining global trends in renewable energy investment.” Uruguayan state-run power company UTE will this month invite retail and institutional investors on the stock market to participate in a new, 70-MW wind farm in Colonia Arias, Flores department.

To balance all the good news there is also a detailed article in The Nation about the effects of forestation giving the example of a farmer family deciding to plant eucaliptus trees on their property.

The article suggests that Uruguay may be one of the few carbon-neutral countries in the world, but environmentalists have a list of concerns about tree farms. They say tree farms don’t necessarily deliver the carbon sequestration that governments seek.

Currently, the Food and Agriculture Organization labels all masses of trees as “forests”. A drippy tropical rainforest in Brazil that’s more than 50 million years old and contains 16,000 tree species? That’s a forest. A 500-acre plantation of two-year-old eucalyptus dunnii trees destined to become toilet paper? That’s also a forest. One way to tip the balance in favor of ecosystems and biodiversity over monocultures might be to structure the global carbon market such that it incentivizes forests over agroforestry.

It is also true however that 90% of Uruguay’s tree farms have sustainability certifications from the Forest Stewardship Council and similar organizations.