Latin American Foundation for the Future

9 ways Cusco is adapting to tackle climate change


A 2012 report examined how climate change would change life in Cusco, and what should be done about it. I went recently to a climate change conference at Cusco’s engineering university to find out what progress has been made since it was published.

Peru contributes just 0.4% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (ERFCC, 2012). While Peru emit on average 2.0 metric tons of carbon per person in 2014, British citizens emit 6.5 and gas guzzling Qatar a staggering 45.4 (World Bank, 2014).

It is easy to forget from a western perspective that these figures have a real world impact, until the remnants of yet another ‘once in a generation‘ hurricane drags its feet across the Atlantic and lands in south Devon as a surfer’s dream swell.

Here in Peru however, the consequences are much more tangible. Some of the consequences identified by the Cusco regional government include an increase in forest fires, rainfall variation, altitudinal crop migration, pests & diseases and glacial melt.

The latter is usually pinpointed by the academics as having the largest effect on the local population. In the last 25 years alone the glaciers of Cusco’s Cordillera de Vilcanota range have retreated by 30% (ERFCC, 2012) and with average minimum temperatures are set to increase by 0.7-1.3°C by 2030 (PACC, 2013), the consequent thawing means that the problem is only exacerbated, and by 2050 Peru will have just 60% of the water available today (MINAG, 2009).

“Eighty percent of the farmland is seasonal. In other words, if there is rain, we plant. If there isn’t enough rain, we can’t keep planting. I’m a native of this region. When I was a child, there was quite a lot of water in this region. There were toads and frogs that you don’t see any more. It’s a big worry. And if I go up to the mountains around Urubamba, I see that they’re almost black now. [...] The rains used to start in October, and we would plant broad beans, wheat, and potatoes. Now the rains begin around mid-December, and we lose more than a month and a half of growing time.”

~ Cirilo Quispe Latorre, Mayor of Cachimayo.

LAFF’s partners work primarily in rural areas, with a strong tradition of livelihoods in the agricultural sector, so clearly there is potential for the full force of climate change to be felt by our partner’s beneficiaries. Luckily, Cusco’s regional government are not sitting on their hands when it comes to these issues, here are just 9 of the many steps that have been taken in recent times:


1.An overarching framework: Formulated in 2009 and approved by Cusco’s regional government in 2012, the ‘Regional Strategy on Climate Change’ (ERFCC) set out 32 indicators measuring the progress of 19 strategies proposed to strengthen Cusco’s capacity to tackle climate change. Baseline measurements were made in 2014, and a recently updated report analysed the progress of each of these initiatives. Here are some of their findings:


2.Strategies to tackle Deforestation: In a recent study by MAAP (Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project, 2018), in was estimated that 47% of Peru’s carbon emissions were caused by deforestation in the last five years. Still, Peru’s remaining forests absorbed 3.17 billion metric tons of carbon last year (The equivalent of 2.5 years of US carbon emissions). To tackle deforestation since 2015 there have been 6 new reforestation projects creating 5381 ha of new forest. 134 ha alone of seedlings were planted in a project covering Ccorca, San Sebastián, San Jerónimo y Saylla, communities familiar to us at LAFF.

(The red markings in the graphic above show how nationally widespread the removal of important forest has been in Peru.)


3.Renewable energy projects: Reducing carbon emissions was made a priority in the ERFCC report. Renewable energy simultaneously presents an opportunity to reduce reliance on fossil fuels whilst also saving energy costs in the long term. An excellent local example of this in action came from la Universidad Andina del Cusco who recently installed 2 wind turbines and 101 solar panels, saving 30% of their energy consumption.


 4.Water security programs: As a result of climate change there will simply not be enough water for people to continue at their current consumption. Since 2014, 2 new water security programs have promoted effective water management, including the holding of workshops to discuss with farmers how resources can be managed most effectively (15 more are proposed to be established by 2021)


5.Policies to strengthen biodiversity: Climate change is estimated to cause huge biodiversity loss, a crying shame in one of the most unique and biodiverse microregions in the world. Since 2015, 6 new conservation areas have been established, meaning that now over 11% (845,805.15 ha) of the Cusco region is under protection. One of these is located a stones throw away from our partner Sacred Valley Project in Ollantaytambo. It is lovingly called Veronica’s Sanctuary.


6.Strategies to diversify agricultural production: Biodiversity is not only intrinsically valuable, but also affects livelihoods: if a disease affects the principal crop that a community relies upon, it can have disastrous consequences. Since 2015, 3 projects have committed to tackling this, including one by CEDEP Ayllu that among other things has created seed nurseries to protect local strains of potato, quinoa and tarwi.

7.Education: When the baseline report was produced in 2015, they could not find a single example of climate change mentioned in education. We at LAFF share the point of view that change is best implemented from the earliest years, and thus we’re encouraged by the fact that since 2015, 2 separate laws have legislated that climate change adaptation and water resource management be included at different levels of the Peruvian education system


8.Spreading knowledge: Conferences like the one I attended help to spread knowledge of climate change adaptation to the wider public and enable academics to share their findings.


9.Local solutions to global problems: The ERFCC report recognises that none of the projects and policies described could have a lasting impact without the proper consultation and guidance by the local communities. Adaptation strategies were discussed in workshops with community leaders, NGO’s and local government to work together to prioritise the concerns of the local people and strengthen the institutions that enforce climate change adaptation policy.



Overall, much progress has been made during the study period of just over 2 years since the strategic framework was approved. However, there were gaps in the findings of the report. Ironically, the following lecture at the conference identified nitrous oxide emissions (310 times more potent than CO2) as caused primarily by transport and fertiliser use, both of which are left unmentioned by the ERFCC report. I would also have loved specific evaluations of the projects implemented by local governments, but the report revealed that this data was unobtainable, raising issues of transparency and accountability.

(Orlove, 2009)

A common concern with this sort of top-down agenda setting is that local concerns are listened to and then steamrolled by theoretical tinkerers. The graphic above is taken from a 2009 book that shows how academics tended (in this sample at least) to prioritise short-term goals, as opposed to the local herders. Whether this will be the case for the ERFCC is yet to be seen, targets are only set for 2021 but are likely to be updated once more data is gathered. Climate change happens so incrementally that the contribution of a single report is not easy to identify, who is to say that this progress wouldn’t have happened regardless of the academic target making. Either way, the effort is substantial compared to certain other countries that at the end of the day are the largest contributors to the problem.


If you would like to be part of the solution rather than the problem, you can support these organisations I found while researching for this article, they specialise in climate change adaptation projects/research for vulnerable people in the Cusco region:




ERFCC, 2012

(MINAG, 2009)

(MAAP, 2018)

(PACC, 2013)

(Orlove, 2009) Glacier retreat: Reviewing the Limits of Human Adaptation to Climate Change

(World Bank, 2017) Data bank