Development & Aid, Environment, Tierramerica

Latin America Between Hope and Realism

COPENHAGEN, Dec 7 2009 (IPS) - Representatives of Latin America's governments are arriving in Copenhagen calling for an aggressive pact with teeth to fight climate change, though there are still minor differences among them when it comes to priorities.

Wheat is among Latin America's crops that could suffer as a result of climate change. - Mauricio Ramos/IPS

Wheat is among Latin America's crops that could suffer as a result of climate change. - Mauricio Ramos/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 with the risk that this strategy could fail, the Latin American representatives are also willing to accept some compromises.

The ideal outcome for the region is that a legally binding agreement will be adopted in the Danish capital. But delegates are not ruling out the idea of signing on to a pact that establishes voluntary reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, which cause global climate change.

It will all be determined at the 15th Conference of Parties (COP-15) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, under way here Dec. 7-18.

At the “climate summit,” the world's governments are expected to adopt a new plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions after 2012, when the current period of commitments under the Kyoto Protocol comes to an end. The Protocol is the only international pact aimed at fighting this environmental problem.

In force since 2005, the Kyoto Protocol does not establish obligatory emissions cuts for the developing world, only for industrialized countries.

The Latin American countries combined are responsible for just five percent of global emissions of carbon dioxide, one of the principal gases that cause climate change. 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 the reading of Brazil's President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, his country's decision to voluntarily reduce greenhouse gas emissions 36.1 to 38.9 percent by 2020 (in large part by halting deforestation of the Amazon), mobilized the nations “that had been resistant to presenting numbers.”

Several Latin American countries have indicated that at COP-15 they will follow the lines of the Group of 77 and China (G-77), which currently includes 130 developing countries.

The G-77 insists on keeping the priority on “shared but differentiated responsibilities,” as established in the Convention and in the Protocol, and which implies leaving the brunt of emissions reduction efforts to the wealthy North, the main source of emissions in the industrial era.

Furthermore, this 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 G-77, 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' and the need for mitigation and adaptation resources in developing countries and the historic responsibility” of industrial nations, summarized 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, and others that only want them to be voluntary for developing countries,” he explained.

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

At the Ibero-American Summit, which ended Dec. 1 in Estoril, Portugal, Mexico's President Felipe Calderón stated that the wealthy countries have the main responsibility to reduce 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 environmental responsibility.

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

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

Buenos Aires also has 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 industrialized North holds responsibility historically, so 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. It isn't possible that it has bailed out its banks and car companies but now doesn't have the resources to deal with climate change,” he said in a meeting with several officials.

According to Rodríguez, the Hugo Chávez government will heed the position of the G-77 in Copenhagen, the same as Argentina.

“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 emissions goals, but they have upheld the Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs), including energy efficiency programs 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 G-77 stance, it is taking its own steps to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, “even without receiving funds from the developed countries to carry out the task.”

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