During the first two weeks of December, world leaders will lay the foundation for a new global agreement on climate change at the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Lima, Peru. Its focus will be creating a draft agreement that, at next year’s COP in Paris, will replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. This time, as stated by Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, Peru’s Environment Minister and next President of the Conference, “the world will not accept another failure.”
Not without reason. Each year we are both witnesses to and victims of the worsening impacts of climate change. And our role in the problem is conspicuous: “Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history,” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded in their fifth report.
With COP20 nearing and recognition of the problem growing, world leaders are increasingly giving speeches, promising action and making hopeful commitments. One recent example is the unprecedented agreement between China and the United States, which established limits and objectives for the reduction of emissions. In Latin America we, too, have taken effective steps to confront the greatest threat to the human race.
Despite this progress, however, there remain in practice many policies that both created the problem and make it worse. In particular, the reliance of our economies on fossil fuels, which generate 57 percent of the global emissions of carbon dioxide. In the search for alternatives, we have boosted hydroelectric power from large dams. But dams are not clean energy. They generate significant amounts of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, particularly in tropical regions. These and the other negative impacts of dams are often ignored, resulting in rudimentary solutions to climate change.
Consistency, then, becomes critical. What follows are examples of the lack of it in our own countries. Let’s take them into account as an effort to make adjustments, align objectives, and not erase with one hand what was written by the other:
- Brazil is a key player in the region, and has demonstrated its will to achieve positive results on climate change. Proof of this is the historic decline of deforestation in the country, 79 percent in the last decade, as announced by Brazil’s President at the Climate Summit. However, Brazil continues to focus its development on fossil fuels, mining and large dams, particularly in the Amazon Basin. Under the influence of Brazil, 254 new dams are either under construction or in planning phases in the Amazon Basin, including the massive Belo Monte Dam on the Xingú River.
- Chile has made positive signs by deciding, for example, that it would not allow the HidroAysén dams in Patagonia. The country recently presented its Mitigation Action Plans & Scenarios (MAPS Chile) to combat climate change, with an emphasis on energy efficiency in high-emitter sectors such as mining. However, it also established as a priority the implementation of large dams, actually the same dams in Aysen, and the import or exploitation of shale gas in the Magallanes basin. The extraction of shale gas is done by fracking, a major source of CO2 and methane.
- Ecuador recognized the Rights of Nature in its Constitution in 2008 and created the Ministry of Good Living in 2013, promoting the “respect of all beings of Nature” and sustainable development. At the same time, the country continued to base its economy on the exploitation of fossil fuels without considering low-carbon alternatives, in the short or long term. The decision to start extracting oil in Yasuni National Park, where indigenous communities live in voluntary isolation, is inconsistent with the Constitution, and with climate change required actions.
- Mexico has been a leader in global negotiations on climate change. The country has shown a willingness to implement adequate policy measures, legal frameworks and financial instruments. Earlier this year Mexico was a pioneer in committing financial contributions to the Green Climate Fund, setting an example for the many countries with greater climate responsibilities that have not yet announced their commitments. However, Mexico is also pushing energy reform that prioritizes hydrocarbon extraction, undermining progress on climate policy. This “reform” is locking the country into continued dependence on fossil fuels.
- Peru, host of COP20, also must resolve huge policy inconsistencies. The country’s leadership in climate negotiations has been remarkable, as have its internal efforts to promote adaptation to climate change by incorporating traditional knowledge. But still, lack of consistency between talk and action has resulted in widespread promotion of mining and hydroelectric activities. These decisions have been made without considering environmental impacts or clean alternatives.
Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala, Panama, Argentina and the rest of the countries of the region are not exempt from the massive inconsistencies that compromise the effectiveness of the climate actions they champion. It’s worth noting that the development of mining, hydropower and fracking on the continent contribute gravely to the effects of climate change.
The need for development in the region, and a single country’s relatively smaller contribution to global emissions, are not excuses. There exist opportunities for economic development and energy production that could be more efficient than continued dependence on fossil fuels.
Climate change is a global issue that can’t be solved with patches here and there. Climate change affects the planet, and Latin America is one of the most vulnerable regions.
But as long as the policies and actions of the States do not consider climate change a central issue, we will continue moving forward one step and backwards three.
It is our responsibility and in our interest to act consistently. We must align our talk with our actions to accomplish quick and effective steps to combat climate change.
The time is NOW!