The sustainable development of Guatemala- an interview with Jose Raul Furlan Castaneda

Luis Chang, Minister of Energy and Mines, and President Jimmy Morales pose with the new energy plan.

Greenhouse gas emissions in Guatemala have increased by more than 140% between 1990 and 2005. The latest national inventories show that Guatemala actually emits more greenhouse gases (GHG) than it absorbs.

RTI is partnering with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Guatemala Low Emission Development Strategy (LEDS) Project to help the government of Guatemala develop a national strategy that lowers GHG emissions and mitigates climate change through, among other actions, the promotion of renewable energy and energy efficiency. The low emission development strategy builds on existing national policies and objectives to enhance economic growth and improve environmental performance across various sectors of the Guatemalan economy.

Thanks to support from the USAID/LEDS project, the Guatemalan Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) recently launched its national energy plan, which includes mitigation actions in energy supply, industry, transportation, and firewood use, aiming to reduce up to 29% of energy sector GHG emissions by 2032. This energy sector plan will be an essential piece of Guatemala’s overall national strategy to reduce its GHG emissions.

We sat down with Jose Furlan, the USAID/LEDS Project Climate Change Mitigation Specialist, who led the project’s work on the plan, to learn more about this energy plan and its significance for the country of Guatemala.

Q: What are the goals of the new energy plan, and how will it contribute to the sustainable development of Guatemala?

A: This is the very first energy plan in Guatemala’s history. Currently, 8% of Guatemala’s population doesn’t have access to electricity, and this plan will help ensure sustainability in the energy supply and therefore expand access to electricity, improving the quality of life of Guatemala’s citizens.

“The National Energy Plan is not only intended to comply with the Climate Change Law, but to reach the Guatemalan population in general, to improve living conditions and contribute to poverty reduction.”
-Luis Chang, Guatemalan Minister of Energy and Mines

The energy plan has three overarching goals: improved use of renewable resources, efficiency and energy savings, and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. It proposes the increased use of renewable energy resources including geothermal, wind, solar, and hydroelectric. In 2016, 58% of the country’s energy generation was produced using renewable energy sources, with hydropower producing the most energy. The goal under the new energy plan is to attain 64% of power from renewable energy sources, a 6% increase.

The plan establishes goals for energy savings in different sectors to confront the expected increase in energy demand from population growth. One key action at the municipal level includes requiring cities to use low-energy lighting in public street lamps for more efficient energy usage, which will allow them to stop generating greenhouse emissions from the street lights, and experience an estimated savings of $153 million dollars over the next 15 years. With savings like this, cities can reduce the local taxes usually incurred by the public, or they can invest the savings in infrastructure, sanitation and clean drinking water, waste management, and roads.

Another goal of the plan is to reduce the amount of wood that the country consumes.

In Guatemala, around 70% of the population needs firewood for cooking, and burning wood for fuel accounts for 55% of Guatemala’s total energy usage. Burning wood releases high levels of carbon dioxide and monoxide, which has negative impacts on health.

The new energy plan proposes the production of 100,000 firewood-saving stoves which will improve the efficiency of firewood consumption from 8 to 48%. These stoves will reduce wood consumption by over 15 million tons by 2032, not only reducing deforestation and pressure on natural landscapes, but also drastically reducing the release of greenhouse gases by 203,715 tons by the year 2032.

In his speech at the energy plan launch, President Jimmy Morales emphasized the importance of the plan for the country: “The three pillars and mitigation actions presented in this plan will contribute to the sustainable use of renewable resources and will promote energy efficiency and savings — resulting in a reduction of 11.91 million tons of carbon dioxide by 2032.”

Q: Which local stakeholders were involved in the plan’s development? How will they be involved moving forward?

A: The energy plan was formulated by the government of Guatemala with support from USAID/LEDS. A number of government agencies were involved, including the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM), the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARN), and the Presidential Secretariat of Planning and Programming (SEGEPLAN). They developed the guidelines for the plan, while also taking into account inputs from the existing National Development Plan, K’atun 2012–2032, the private sector, civil society, and academia.

The MEM also outlined in the plan which groups will be in charge of each mitigation action going forward. For example, the National Electrification Institute will have to coordinate with other institutions as the use of renewable sources increases, and the National Forestry Institute will be involved with the issue of efficient use of firewood. Many institutions will have to come together to achieve the goals of the plan.

“The USAID/LEDS Project has been a facilitator, encouraging dialogue between the government, the private sector and civil society.”
— José Furlan, USAID/LEDS Project Climate Change Mitigation Specialist

Q: How does the plan fit into the overall strategy that the government is preparing to reduce its GHG emissions?

A: The connection to the existing policy framework is important. Since 2015, the USAID/LEDS project has supported different government ministries in Guatemala, starting with the establishment of a long-term climate change planning target. In 2015, the project team supported the MARN in formulating and socializing its proposal for an international emission reduction target with the National Climate Change Council, which allowed the proposal to be presented at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This accomplishment established the basis through which Guatemala signed onto the Paris Climate Agreement and began determining how to meet its GHG emission reduction goals. This proposal became law, which then informed the creation of the National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP) in 2016.

The NCCAP took inputs from the emissions reduction proposal, but there was still a need to establish the specific actions to meet each goal. Therefore, the project supported the MARN and SEGEPLAN in the creation of the low emissions development strategy, so that each sector could identify the best opportunities for mitigation. There are now three policy instruments to help Guatemala move toward a climate-friendly future — the Paris Climate Agreement and Guatemala’s related emission reduction target, the NCCAP with general guidance on meeting that target, and the low emissions development strategy, scheduled for completion this year, that will provide further detail and specific sectorial strategies for GHG reductions and economic growth. The energy plan is one part of the low emission development strategy, and takes inputs from it.

The National Energy Plan aims to increase the share of renewable power in Guatemala’s energy grid to 64% in the coming years, including hydro, wind, and geothermal power.

Q: What elements of the project’s approach led to the successful development of the plan?

A: The project has supported the MEM, MARN, and SEGEPLAN in the development of the low emission development strategy and energy plan by working with each of them to identify the best options for climate change mitigation, using a participatory and multi-sectoral approach.

Historically, there has been little communication between government and civil society, and between government institutions, and the project has served as a key facilitator of dialogue between these groups.

In the creation of the low emissions development strategy, the project coordinated with the MEM to open consultation to the private sector, civil society, and academia so each could propose mitigation actions. It formed roundtable dialogue groups to generate discussion for the planning process, including individuals from the government, private sector, civil society, and academia, as well as representing each sector involved: energy, industry, transportation, agriculture and livestock, forest, and waste. The MEM then took the inputs that came out of the various roundtable discussions and used that to formulate the energy plan.

Policy decisions for the energy plan, rather than being made from the top-down, were made using input from a variety of stakeholders. For example, the Ministry of Agriculture first requested inputs from the farmers and unions, the stakeholders who would be carrying out the mitigation actions, and guided them in defining priorities for improving competitiveness and reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. By acting as an intermediary, the project enabled the MEM to obtain inputs from the population, the private sector, and academia, increasing cooperation and buy-in from a variety of stakeholders.

Lastly, the project has also built the technical capacity of MEM by embedding a technical specialist in the ministry to address analytical and planning issues. For example, the MARN previously was the only ministry that had the capacity to develop greenhouse gas inventories, but thanks to support from the project, the MEM now has the ability to do so, expanding the ability of the government of Guatemala to measure and carry out mitigation activities. In 2017 and for the second year in a row, the MEM’s National Energy Balance has included a section on greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector, and presents an emission factor for the energy grid, thanks to the support of the USAID/LEDS project.

Q: What challenges did Guatemala face in the development of this plan, and how did the project help to overcome these challenges?

This plan has taken five years to become finalized. When the government asked the MEM to have it ready at the beginning of 2015, there were great challenges, including inter-institutional problems. For example, at that time, the MEM and MARN had disagreements over who would do what. There were no inter-institutional agreements, and the ministries at times lacked technical capacity to carry out mitigation activities. Previously, the MEM only had one or two people who were experts in climate change mitigation planning. The energy plan would be worked on by one ministry at the time and get rejected by other government institutions. USAID/LEDS has supported the MEM to establish relationships with other government institutions and other parts of the energy sector and come to agreements on processes. The project also built the technical capacity of the MEM by providing climate change mitigation training and supporting the development of software tools for planning analysis.

Q: How has the project worked to prepare the public and private sectors of Guatemala to implement the plan once the project ends?

The project has prepared the public sector in many ways to implement the energy plan. Everything the project worked on indirectly changed the government’s ability to implement the energy plan because the energy plan is part of the implementation of the low emission development strategy. USAID/LEDS has helped the government to establish monitoring mechanisms to know if they are fulfilling the goals set out in the strategy, and has also helped them promote the wood-saving stoves and expand the use of geothermal energy. We carried out training for the private sector, to inform them about the effects of greenhouse gases, help them understand options for mitigation, and teach them about the benefits of implementing mitigation actions.

We helped to make the theme of climate change and climate change mitigation mainstream in Guatemala. Three and a half years ago, climate change mitigation was not talked about or accepted, and the project has been able to create this mindset in the government along with the private sector.

Different institutions, from the chambers of agriculture and industry to farmers and coffee growers’ associations, are now recognizing the environmental and economic benefits of mitigation activities, including the creation of competitive advantages. For example, sectors now know that if they publish their carbon emissions and establish the necessary environmental measures, their products will be more widely accepted.


To learn more about RTI’s work in energy for development, visit: https://www.rti.org/practice-area/energy-development