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

ARGENTINA: Agriculture, Both Victim and Villain in Climate Change

Marcela Valente

BUENOS AIRES, Oct 27 2006 (IPS) - The Argentine government is concerned about the effect of climate change on agricultural and stock-raising activities, the pillar of the country’s economy. But it turns out that the countryside itself, while generously producing grains, legumes and cattle, also contributes enormously to global warming.

The Argentine Foreign Ministry’s office on environmental affairs presented some 20 research studies to civil society organisations on Thursday, which will be the basis for drawing up the second National Communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“We are particularly concerned about the impact of climate change on our primary production activities, which is why we are carrying out studies on the vulnerability of this sector,” said Raúl Estrada Oyuela, director for environmental affairs, at the presentation.

A National Communication is a periodic report that states parties to the Climate Change Convention must submit, with information about greenhouse gas emissions (which cause global warming), and indicating the areas that are most sensitive to a rise in temperature.

At the heart of the report will be the National Inventory of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions and Sinks 2000, which measures the country’s contribution to the rise in global temperature. The conclusions of Argentina’s study are unique and contrast with the usual profile of developing countries.

In an interview with IPS, the Inventory’s coordinator, Osvaldo Girardín, of the non-governmental Bariloche Foundation, said that in Argentina emissions of nitrous oxide, from farms, and methane, from digestive fermentation in ruminant livestock and from dung, “are as important as those produced by energy generation.”

In addition to those GHGs, another important source is carbon dioxide from burning oil, coal and gas.

“Although global figures show that nearly 80 percent of emissions are the result of energy generation, in Argentina and other countries with a strong agriculture and livestock base, like Australia or New Zealand, farmlands contribute nearly half the emissions,” he said.

The inventory shows that the energy sector (including burning fossil fuels for electricity generation, transport, and oil and gas flares from oilfields) accounts for 47 percent of emissions, and agriculture and livestock account for 44 percent. Industrial processes and waste products are other sources.

Another special characteristic of Argentina is that, unlike most developing countries, here and in neighbouring Uruguay forests still play a key role as carbon sinks. “In Argentina, forest plantations are still vast, and they are not used for fuel,” Girardin said.

At the presentation, Estrada Oyuela emphasised that, as well as the inventory itself, there are reports about vulnerable areas: the Atlantic coast of the province of Buenos Aires, the central and southern areas of the country where desertification is occurring, and large rivers in the northeast which flood in heavy rainstorms.

The official said that rich countries want developing countries to commit to lowering pollution, as they have done by signing the Kyoto Protocol, except for the United States which is not a party to that treaty.

Wealthy nations that are signatories to the Protocol must reduce their GHG emissions to amounts 5.2 percent below their 1990 levels, by 2008-2012.

The second National Communication will incorporate initiatives of this kind, Estrada Oyuela said.

“We have identified ways of mitigating climate change by means of policies that do not hamper our growth projections,” he said, mentioning studies on improved efficiency of energy use and transport, and control of methane emissions from cattle ranching.

Other studies also propose policies for adapting to the climate change that is already under way and will have stronger effects over the next few decades. They propose education programmes at different levels, to raise public awareness on the problem.

Scientists have established that the rise in global temperatures is causing the Earth’s climate to change, with ice melting, sea levels rising, and droughts, floods and hurricanes of greater than usual intensity.

The research studies, produced over nearly five years, will be analysed by Argentine scientist Vicente Barros, who will write a draft of the National Communication which must be submitted to government approval. “It will be a concise report, in which Argentina must decide what to prioritise,” the researcher told IPS.

Apart from the inventory, an essential aspect is the report on the country’s vulnerabilities and its plans to adapt to climate change, Barros said. Here he mentioned the storms and flooding of ever-increasing severity, and the decline in availability of water and thus hydroelectric power.

The vice president of the Bariloche Foundation, Daniel Bouille, pointed out that all the research studies had been conducted by local scientists. “This shows that preparing the National Communication is an instrument for strengthening technical expertise, which is one of its objectives,” he said.

The Bariloche Foundation was in charge of technical coordination of the studies, which were carried out by private, non-governmental and public research agencies. Among the public institutions were the National Commission on Atomic Energy, the University of Buenos Aires and the National Institute for Agricultural and Livestock Technology.

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