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CLIMATE CHANGE: Latin America Between Hope and Realism

Daniela Estrada and Raúl Pierri* - Tierramérica

COPENHAGEN, Dec 8 2009 (IPS) - Latin America has come to Copenhagen with the goal that the wealthy nations of the North pay their climate debt by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and providing resources to developing nations. But facing the risk that this strategy could fail, the Latin American representatives are also willing to accept some compromises.

Wheat is one crop in Latin America that could be hit hard by climate change. Credit: Mauricio Ramos/IPS

Wheat is one crop in Latin America that could be hit hard by climate change. Credit: Mauricio Ramos/IPS

The ideal outcome for the region is for a legally binding agreement to be adopted in the Danish capital. But delegates to the 15th Conference of Parties (COP-15) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change are not ruling out the idea of signing on to a pact that establishes voluntary reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.

At the Dec. 7-18 climate summit, the world’s governments are to adopt a new treaty for reducing greenhouse gas emissions after 2012, when the first period of commitments under the Kyoto Protocol expires.

In force since 2005, the Kyoto Protocol only establishes binding emissions targets for industrialised countries.

The countries of Latin America combined are responsible for just five percent of global emissions of carbon dioxide, one of the main greenhouse gases. But the region is one of the most vulnerable to the effects of the phenomenon.

Droughts, floods, glacier melt, rising temperatures, new agricultural pests and diseases are already hitting the region, as detailed in the First Regional Report on Climate Change, published in November by Tierramérica, based on information from 23 Latin American experts.

“All of the Latin American and Caribbean countries, including Chile, are looking for a legally binding agreement,” Álvaro Sapag, a Chilean delegate to Copenhagen, told Tierramérica.

“In the current state of the debate, thinking that these agreements should be built through consensus, we probably won’t come out of Copenhagen with a legally binding text that the heads of state can sign,” Sapag said.

Mexico’s Environment Secretary Juan Elvira shares that opinion. “We are going for a legal accord, with well-defined goals, but we aren’t ruling out a political compromise as a last option in the negotiations,” he told Tierramérica.

“I haven’t lost hope, but it is not an easy issue,” said Sapag, who would accept as a minimum “a robust political accord, one that allows a short period to hone the details in order to then create a legally binding agreement,” possibly at the COP-16 slated for 2010 in Mexico.

Optimism that the Copenhagen meet would produce a solid and ambitious agreement was revived when the United States and China, the world’s leading greenhouse gas emitters, announced voluntary emission reductions by 2020, taking 2005 levels as their starting point.

According to Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, his country’s decision to voluntarily reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 36.1 to 38.9 percent by 2020 (in large part by halting deforestation of the Amazon) mobilised the nations “that had been resistant to presenting numbers.”

Several Latin American countries have indicated that at COP-15 they will follow the lead of the Group of 77 and China (G77), which groups 130 developing countries.

The G77 insists on keeping the priority on “shared but differentiated responsibilities,” as established in the Convention and the Protocol, which implies leaving the brunt of emissions reduction efforts to the wealthy North, the main source of the emissions.

Furthermore, the negotiating group is demanding that the North contribute financing and technology so that poor countries can take steps to confront the harmful effects of climate change and seek “cleaner” forms of development.

But regardless of the G77, Latin America’s stance is not 100 percent united.

“I would say there is a single opinion on certain issues, such as ‘shared but differentiated responsibilities’, the need for mitigation and adaptation funds for developing countries, and the historic responsibility” of industrial nations, said Sapag. The region’s governments are sharply aware of the risk that climate change could ultimately lead to trade barriers for their products.

“There are countries in Latin America that don’t accept market mechanisms as a tool to reduce greenhouse gases, while others do. Some want all actions to be reportable, measureable and verifiable, while others only want them to be voluntary for developing countries,” he explained.

Mexico, which emits 715 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, is voluntarily working to reduce the total by 50 million tonnes by 2012, although the government has stated that it would accept an obligatory reduction over the longer term – as long as Mexico receives funds and technology.

At the Iberoamerican Summit that ended Dec. 1 in Estoril, Portugal, Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón stated that the wealthy countries have primary responsibility for reducing emissions, but that the task cannot fall only to them, because sooner or later, “we will all pay the price of inaction.”

Calderón reiterated his proposal to create a new Global Fund Against Climate Change, with a starting budget of 140 billion dollars, to which each country would contribute according to the size of their economy and their share of responsibility for the problem.

Although the Kyoto Protocol has an Adaptation Fund, Calderón believes Mexico’s proposal would ensure a broader variety of climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts.

Argentina, meanwhile, proposes executive councils with public funds from industrialised countries under the auspices of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – not the Protocol – coming from each as a percentage of GDP, which could range between 0.5 and 1.0 percent.

Buenos Aires has also insisted on the need for “a fair transition” in sustainable development so that emissions reductions efforts don’t hurt employment.

Venezuela, for its part, seems to have a firm position: the industrialised North is historically responsible for climate change, so it must be the first to act.

“We are operating on the basis of shared but differentiated responsibilities. If I am a big emitter of greenhouse gases, my responsibility is different from someone who doesn’t emit or is just beginning to,” said Venezuela’s deputy minister for environmental regulation and administration, Sergio Rodríguez.

“The United States is the country that has historically emitted the greatest quantity of CO2 into the atmosphere. How can it bail out its banks and car-makers and then turn around and say it doesn’t have the resources to deal with climate change?” he said in a recent meeting with several regional officials.

According to Rodríguez, the administration of Hugo Chávez will heed the position of the G77 in Copenhagen.

Argentina will do the same.

“We don’t have weight as an emitter country, nor do we have weight in this negotiation,” Nazareno Castillo, Argentina’s director for climate change at the Environment Ministry, told Tierramérica.

Other countries, like Uruguay and Chile, have not announced concrete greenhouse gas reduction goals, but they have upheld the Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs), including energy efficiency programmes and the introduction of non-conventional renewable energy sources.

Carlos Colacce, Uruguay’s minister of housing and environment, says his tiny country of 3.3 million people has adopted a “novel position” for the Copenhagen summit, because although it supports the G77 stance, it is taking its own steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, “even without receiving funds for that purpose from the developed countries.”

(*Additional reporting from Marcela Valente in Buenos Aires, Mario Osava in Rio de Janeiro, Emilio Godoy in Mexico City and Humberto Márquez in Caracas. This story was originally published 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, United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank. It also appears in the IPS TerraViva online newspaper published daily for the COP 15 in Copenhagen.)

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