by Gerardo Honty – While climate change advances in accordance with the worst scenarios imagined by climatic science, the majority of Latin American countries sit and wait for “the others” to take care of the results of the COP21.
The report recently published by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) (1) confirms the previsions previously announced with respect to climate change. Since 1997 we have seen 17 of the 18 hottest years on the planet and 2014 overcome all the records.
The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere continues to increase and is already at 397.2 ppm and the average temperature in 2014 was the highest in the last 135 years of which there are records. Europe and Mexico had their hottest year since they measured the temperature and various regions of the world reached historic records.
The oceans also hit a record: the global average surface temperature of the sea reached the highest mark in 2014 and the average sea level had risen by 67mm with respect to the annual medium of 1993, when satellite monitoring began.
The ice caps of the Arctic and Greenland as well as the glaciers continue to shrink and climatic anomalies proliferate all around the world: unusual rainfalls and dry spells, floods and tropical cyclones among others.
In our region, the greater part of 2014 was characterized by an increase in the temperature of the Pacific Ocean with an impact on the climate of all of South America. The annual average temperature was predominantly above normal in the region with anomalies between + 0,5º C and +1,5º C.
In Brazil, the temperatures were above normal during the greater part of the year. During the months of January and February, the city of São Paulo experienced its hottest summer since 1943. The city of Río de Janeiro registered its highest record in temperature, reaching 40,6º C on February 3.
In Colombia, the temperatures were above normal during the greater part of the year, with maximum temperatures up to 5º C above average. Similarly, in Ecuador, the average temperature for 2014 was on average above normal, with anomalies between + 0,5º and 1,5º C.
In the Southern Cone, the average temperature was between + 0,4º and + 0,6º C above normal. In general, 2014 was the second warmest year in Argentina and Uruguay since 1961. The warmest year for Argentina was 2012 (= 0,74º C) and 2001 for Uruguay (+ 0,6º C). Temperatures above normal were also noted in Chile with anomalies of +0,26º C after a December in 2013 that was extremely hot.
The regional response
In this context, the countries of the region – and of the world – are preparing to sign a long term agreement to reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses to a level that would make it possible – as a minimum – not to exceed a 2º C increase in temperature with respect to the pre-industrial average. (ii).
To this end, the Convention on Climate Change of the United Nations has invited the countries of the world to present their National Contributions (iii), that is to say, what reduction each country is disposed to make in order to achieve this objective.
But the majority of the countries have been a bit lazy — or distracted with other problems — and have not yet thought about this question: the Convention has only received 22 contributions to date (iv) and the engagements that they have expressed are completely insufficient to achieve the objective.
In Latin America, the only country that has presented its National Contribution is Mexico. Chile, Peru and Colombia have announced their intention but have not formalized this before the United Nations. Of the rest of the more than 40 countries that make up the region of Latin America and the Caribbean, there is still no notice. Some have not yet even decided whether they will present their contributions or not.
The data revealed by climatological institutions at the world level — such as those that presented at the beginning of this article — are year by year more dramatic. And what is worse, they confirm the previsions announced several years ago, hence we must suppose that these are correct when they predict much worse events in the future.
In the face of this scenario, the lack of political action on the part of the countries of the region is increasingly incomprehensible. The argument that there are “others” more responsible can no longer be maintained. Not that it is false, but that it leads to an erroneous strategy. Trying to force the big contaminators to assume greater engagements has left us, to date, with an impasse.
It has already been sufficiently demonstrated that investments in mitigation are much more effective than future expenses in repairing damage. On this basis, the Latin American countries could change their strategies and put their stakes on ambitious National Contributions that could shake up the sleepiness of the negotiations and enable a more ambitious agreement.
If this does not happen, every country will be an accomplice of the failure of Paris. And even though, as usually happens, they accuse each other, it will be evident what each party did to find a way out of the impasse.
The “ecological debt” exists. What doubt remains? But sometimes the litigation over unpayable debts costs more than the debts themselves. In this case, insisting on the “historical responsibility” of others could result in a much greater debt for future generations of Latin Americans.
The period for presenting the National Contributions ends on September 30. Let us hope that our governments leave some heritage instead of new and bigger ecological debts.
[i] State of the climate in 2014. Special Supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society Vol. 96, No. 7, July 2015 http://ametsoc.org/SOC-2014.pdf
[ii] The COP 21, taking place in Paris at the end of this year, hopes to conclude a definitive agreement against climate change.
[iii] INDC: Intended National Determined Contribution. The INDCs presented can be seen on the official website of the Convention:
[iv] The contribution of the 27 countries of the European Union is consolidated in a single INDC.
Gerardo Honty is a senior analyst with CLAES (Latin American Center Social Ecology). Published by ALAI (Latin American Information Agency), August 6, 2015; translated by Jordan Bishop for ALAI.