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

CLIMATE CHANGE: Central America Must Be Recognised as Especially Vulnerable

Danilo Valladares

GUATEMALA CITY, Nov 5 2010 (IPS) - Having suffered the devastation of extreme weather phenomena in recent years, such as hurricanes Mitch, Stan and Agatha, the countries of Central America will head to the next global climate summit with an emphasis on their vulnerability and demand access to better conditions for dealing with climate disasters.

They will make their case at the 16th Conference of Parties (COP 16) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Nov. 29-Dec. 10 in the southeastern Mexican resort city of Cancún.

“What we are most concerned about is the issue of vulnerability and adaptation, taking into account that the region contributes little to the greenhouse effect but we are very vulnerable to climate change,” Carlos Mancilla, coordinator of the climate change unit at Guatemala’s Environment Ministry, told IPS.

All told, the countries of Central America contribute less than 0.5 percent of the total greenhouse-effect gases at the global level, according to “The Economics of Climate Change in Latin America and the Caribbean 2009,” a study by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

China is the world leader in total emissions of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, followed by the United States.

“We should contribute to reducing emissions according to the principle of shared but differentiated responsibilities; that is, those who produce more greenhouse gases should reduce more,” said Mancilla.


That principle is one of the pillars of the Climate Convention and of its Kyoto Protocol, in force since 1994 and 2005, respectively.

The Kyoto Protocol requires the 37 most industrialised member countries to reduce their emissions at least 5.2 percent by 2012, with respect to 1990 levels.

In Mancilla’s view, Central America must be recognised as one of the world’s regions most vulnerable to climate change in order to obtain financing for adaptation, capacity building, and technology transfer.

Hurricanes Mitch (1998), Stan (2005) and Agatha (2010), and the 2009 drought — all attributed in part to climate change — left hundreds of thousands of people homeless and vast damage to infrastructure and agriculture in the region, mainly in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

At the Cancún climate summit, Central America will also seek compensation for the damages resulting from these disasters. “They could be donations or capacity building in order to replicate those actions in places suffering from drought or flooding,” said the Guatemalan official.

According to the national climate change coordinator for Honduras, Mirza Castro, “There is shared opinion and agreement to declare the isthmus as one of the regions that is most vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change.”

“The idea is that the developed countries would contribute additional and accessible funds to implement adaptation measures, particularly in countries like Honduras where the risk index is very high,” she told IPS in an interview.

In this context, Central America is also looking to join the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), made up of 42 members and observers, and the Caribbean Community (Caricom), with its 15 members, all recognised as vulnerable territories, said Castro.

In her opinion, it is necessary to create a special emergency fund to deal with the catastrophes caused by extreme weather phenomena.

The outcome of COP 16 is cause for concern among experts and activists alike, given that the last summit, held in Copenhagen in December 2009, ended with a non-binding agreement involving only Brazil, China, India, South Africa and United States, and which does not impose specific emissions reduction targets.

The member countries are working to come up with an agreement that gives continuity to the Kyoto Protocol, whose first period of commitments ends in 2012.

“One of my biggest worries is that no agreement will be reached,” said Castro.

“The serious problem is that at those meetings it is the trade and political agreements that prevail, and not the realities of our people,” said Eddie Gallegos, head of AMICTLAN, a Nicaraguan association of municipalities for watershed and environmental sustainability.

“If these meetings were truly a platform for dialogue, it would be greatly important to transmit the problems and necessities of our countries,” he said.

In any case, Gallegos believes Central America should take a united stance and make its demands. “Our region is the most affected by the impacts of climate change. While the rich countries exploit the planet’s resources to sustain their levels of consumption, we have to withstand the onslaughts of nature, and, to top it off, their contributions are seen as a favour, when they should be required as compensation,” he said.

If the region does not take a joint position at the summit, the industrialised countries will impose their agenda, which will not benefit the majority of the world population at all, Ángel Ibarra, of the Salvadoran non-governmental Permanent Council for Risk Management, told a recent press conference.

 
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