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Climate Change

Central American Civil Society Calls for Protection of Local Agriculture at COP20

A farmer from Alauca, Honduras plants maize on his land. Agriculture, which accounts for up to 20 percent of GDP in some countries in the region, has been hit hard by climate change. Credit: Neil Palmer/Ciat

SAN JOSE, Nov 25 2014 (IPS) - Worried about the effects of global warming on agriculture, water and food security in their communities, social organisations in Central America are demanding that their governments put a priority on these issues in the COP20 climate summit.

In the months leading up to COP20 – the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – civil society in Central America has met over and over again to reach a consensus position on adaptation and loss and damage.

These, along with mitigation, are the pillars of the negotiations to take place in Lima the first 12 days of December, which are to give rise to a new climate change treaty to be signed a year later at COP21 in Paris.

“Central American organisations working for climate justice, food security and sustainable development are trying to share information and hammer out a common position,” Tania Guillén, who represents Nicaragua’s Humboldt Centre environmental group at the talks, told IPS.

That consensus, in one of the regions of the world most vulnerable to global warming, will serve “to ask the governments to adopt positions similar to those taken by civil society,” said the representative of the Humboldt Centre, a regional leader in climate change research and activism.

Guillén said the effort to hold a Central American dialogue “is aimed at guaranteeing that adaptation will be a pillar of the new accord, and there is a good climate for that.”

The Nicaraguan activist stressed that the other question of great interest to the region is loss and damage, aimed at addressing and remedying the negative effects of climate change already suffered by the countries of Central America.

“Studies indicate that we have spent 10 percent of GDP to recover from Mitch, which was basically the starting point of risk management in the region,” said Guillén, referring to the hurricane that caused billions of dollars in damages and claimed thousands of lives in Central America in 1998.

These two main thematic areas dominate the agendas of Central American networks seeking solutions to climate change, like the Central American Alliance for Resilience, the Regional Coalition for Risk Management and the Vulnerable Central America Forum.

On Nov. 14 these organisations signed the declaration of the Second Central American Conference on Loss and Damage from Climate Change, where activists from the region studied water stress, food security and the risks facing the population.

One of their demands was that during COP20 the seven governments of the region “promote the declaration of Central America as a region highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.”

The same thing was demanded by the Fifth Regional Meeting on Vulnerable Central America, United for Life, held in September.

Another gathering in preparation for COP20 will take place Wednesday Nov. 26 in Honduras.

Costa Rican farmer José Alberto Chacón grows beans on terraces to control the water flow that erodes the soil on his small farm in Pacayas, on the slopes of the Irazú volcano. Terraces are one example of adaptation to climate change. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Costa Rican farmer José Alberto Chacón grows beans on terraces to control the water flow that erodes the soil on his small farm in Pacayas, on the slopes of the Irazú volcano. Terraces are one example of adaptation to climate change. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

The demands set forth by civil society are backed by studies highlighting the climate fragility of this region, which is set between two oceans.

In the 2012 report “The economics of climate change in Central America”, the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) predicted that precipitation in the region would decline by at least 11 percent by 2100.

This year, a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed that forecast.

The effects of climate change on agriculture in this region could also be devastating.

ECLAC estimated that if global warming continues at the current pace, the negative impacts on agricultural production would lead to a loss of nearly 19 percent of GDP in Central America.

For all of these reasons, civil society groups are demanding that governments in the region and the Central American Integration System (SICA) take a firmer stance on climate change adaptation.

In the meantime, they are developing projects to curb the negative effects of global warming in the region.

In Costa Rica, the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Centre (CATIE) is working with local authorities to implement a river basin management plan.

The plan includes the Barranca river, which flows into the Pacific ocean after running through an important farming area.

“We are developing a master plan for the basin and we put special importance on future scenarios of climate change and variability,” the coordinator of the CATIE programme, Laura Benegas, told IPS.

The research centre is also carrying out an ambitious seed protection and improvement programme, to guarantee food security in Costa Rica.

SICA, the government counterpart to the regional social organisations, is currently presided over by Belize, whose government ensured that addressing climate change would be among its top priorities.

However, the organisations are sceptical about the possibility of the government delegations taking their positions on board.

“Civil society does not have an influence on the official position to be taken to the talks because there are no mechanisms for that and because many segments of civil society are still having a hard time taking that step,” Alejandra Granados, president of the Costa Rican organisation, told IPS.

With respect to the climate summit in Lima, Central America has the advantage that Costa Rica currently presides over the Independent Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean, made up of middle-income countries pushing for an adaptation initiative within the UNFCCC.

The group also includes Guatemala, Panama, Colombia, Chile and the COP20 host country Peru.

During the Sep. 23 climate summit held at U.N. headquarters in New York, the countries of Central America committed themselves to making their economies even greener.

Costa Rica confirmed its commitment to become carbon neutral by 2021, Nicaragua promised to continue to invest in renewable energies, and Guatemala pledged to reforest 3.9 million hectares between 2016 and 2020.

Nevertheless, this region shares very little responsibility for global warming.

While China and the United States together account for 45 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, Central America is responsible for just 0.8 percent.

By contrast, according to the Global Climate Risk Index produced by GermanWatch, three nations in this region were among the 10 countries in the world affected the most by climate change between 1993 and 2012.

Honduras is in first place on that list, Nicaragua in fourth place and Guatemala in 10th place. El Salvador is in 13th place, Belize 22nd, Costa Rica 66th and Panama 103rd.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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