Climate Change, Development & Aid, Environment, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

ENVIRONMENT: Argentina Assesses Vulnerability to Climate Change

Marcela Valente* - Tierramérica

BUENOS AIRES, Feb 18 2004 (IPS) - One hundred Argentine scientists and technicians will work on a project over the next two years to measure the country’s greenhouse gas emissions and to determine where its vulnerabilities lie with respect to the impacts of climate change.

The project is to be financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), which will grant the government 1.14 million dollars for the effort, but the coordination and administration of the programme is in the hands of the non-governmental Fundación Bariloche.

“The project will allow us to determine how vulnerable the country is to changes in climate,” economist Daniel Bouille, president of the foundation, told Tierramérica.

He said the focus areas “are priorities determined by their relevance from the economic and social perspectives.”

The project has four objectives. The first is to take an inventory of emissions of gases that contribute to global warming, particularly carbon dioxide and methane. The results will be presented in a report to the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The first report was made in 1990, and its data were updated in 1999. The study will now take figures from 2000 to conduct a new measurement, in the hands of 10 experts from the Fundación Bariloche who took part in the first inventory.

Greenhouse gas emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels in Argentina represent 0.5 percent of the global total. The country ratified the Kyoto Protocol on curbing greenhouse gas emissions in 2001.

The second objective of the project is to determine Argentina’s vulnerability to climate variations and the increase in average temperatures in the long term. There will be 90 scientists and technicians from institutions from throughout the country working on that effort, and it is where most of the funds are going, according to Bouille.

There are many problems found in crucial economic and social areas, and that is where the experts will focus their work, says Raúl Estrada Oyuela, director of environmental affairs for the Argentine foreign ministry.

Estrada told Tierramérica that they will analyse, for example, the impacts of climate change on agriculture in Argentina’s central humid Pampas. In this vast fertile region, which provides most of the country’s farm exports, heavy rains have caused flooding in recent times.

Just over a year ago, nearly 20 percent of the cultivated area in this flat region was under water.

Under normal conditions, the water filters into the subterranean layers or evaporates, but after a period of heavy precipitation, the ground’s absorption capacity was exhausted.

The problem is aggravated if the type of crop does not contribute to evaporation, as occurred with soybeans, Argentina’s leading export, which covers half of the country’s cultivated area.

There are regions in the northeast where prolonged drought is hurting the operations of hydroelectric dams. In others, intense rains cause devastating floods, as occurred in 2003 in the western province of Santa Fe, with the Salado River.

The inundation occurred in just a few hours, affecting half of the provincial capital and killing 23 people. Thousands of families were left homeless as entire neighbourhoods along the river disappeared under water.

Another area of study is the effect of rising temperatures on sea levels in Buenos Aires province, where windstorms from the south cause the Río de la Plata estuary to rise, triggering damage along the shores.

Also to be assessed is soil deterioration in the Patagonia region, in southern Argentina. The area has been affected by desertification, but could be hit by increasingly torrential rains as a result of climate change, aggravating the soil erosion problem.

Formulating a National Mitigation Programme is the third objective, and entails reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, which retain heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. Experts are to propose policies and actions to neutralise the harm produced by carbon dioxide and methane gases.

By way of example, Estrada pointed to a study being conducted by Argentine scientists to reduce methane emissions from livestock by changing the diet of cattle, which, he said, has the added benefit of improved beef and milk.

Finally, the project calls for training in climate change issues, and raising public awareness about the relationship between emissions, temperature increases and the impacts of climate change on the population.

(* Marcela Valente is an IPS correspondent. Originally published Feb. 14 by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Environment Programme.)

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