This is a guest blog post by Astrid Puentes, a Colombian attorney who together with Anna co-directs AIDA. Earthjustice is a founding partner of AIDA, an organization that uses the law to protect the right to a healthy environment in the Americas, with a focus on Latin America. This blog is also posted in Spanish on the AIDA website and on the International Law Girls blog.
During the first two weeks of December, world leaders will lay the foundation for a new global agreement on climate change at the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Lima, Peru. The focus of the meeting will be creating a draft agreement that, at next year’s COP in Paris, will replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. This time, as stated by Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, Peru’s Environment Minister and President of the upcoming Conference, “the world will not accept another failure.”
Not without reason. Each year we are both witnesses to and victims of the worsening impacts of climate change. And our role in the problem is conspicuous: “Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history,” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded in their fifth report.
With COP20 imminent and recognition of the growing problem, world leaders are increasingly giving speeches, promising action and making hopeful commitments. One recent example is the unprecedented agreement between China and the United States, which established limits and objectives for the reduction of emissions. In Latin America we, too, have taken effective steps to confront the greatest threat to the human race.
Despite this progress, however, there remain in practice in the region many policies that both created the problem and make it worse. In particular, the reliance of our economies on fossil fuels, which generate 57 percent of the global emissions of carbon dioxide. In the search for alternatives, Latin American nations have boosted hydroelectric power production from large dams. But dams are not clean energy. They generate significant amounts of greenhouse gases, such as methane and carbon dioxide, particularly in tropical regions. These and the other negative impacts of dams are often ignored, resulting in unsatisfactory solutions to climate change.
Consistency, then, becomes critical. What follows are examples of the lack of it in our own countries in Latin America. Let’s take them into account in an effort to make adjustments, align objectives and not erase with one hand what was written by the other:
- Brazil is a key player in the region, and has demonstrated its will to achieve positive results on climate change. Proof of this is the historic decline of deforestation in the country, 79 percent in the last decade, as announced by Brazil’s President at the Climate Summit. However, Brazil continues to focus its development on fossil fuels, mining and large dams, particularly in the Amazon Basin. With the influence of Brazil, 254 new dams are either under construction or in planning phases in the Amazon Basin, including the massive Belo Monte Dam on the Xingú River.
- Chile has made positive signs with the government deciding, for example, that it would not permit the HidroAysén dams in Patagonia. Chile also recently presented its Mitigation Action Plans & Scenarios (MAPS Chile) to combat climate change, with an emphasis on energy efficiency in high-emitting sectors such as mining. Yet it also identified large dam construction as a priority, actually considering the same dams in Aysen, and targeted the exploitation of shale gas in the Magallanes basin. The extraction of shale gas is done via hydraulic fracturing, a major source of climate change pollutants like methane.
- Ecuador recognized the Rights of Nature in its Constitution in 2008 and created the Ministry of Good Living in 2013, promoting the “respect for all beings of Nature” and sustainable development. Nevertheless, the country continues to base its economy on the exploitation of fossil fuels without considering low-carbon alternatives, in either the short or long-term. The decision to start extracting oil in Yasuni National Park, where indigenous communities live in voluntary isolation, is inconsistent with the Constitution and threatens one of the world’s most pristine and biodiverse areas.
- Mexico has been a leader in the global negotiations on climate change. The country has been willing to implement good policies, legal frameworks and financial instruments. Earlier this year Mexico was a pioneer in committing financial resources to the Green Climate Fund, setting an example for the many countries with greater climate responsibilities that have not yet announced such commitments. However, Mexico is also pushing energy reform that prioritizes hydrocarbon extraction, undermining progress on climate policy. This “reform” is locking the country into continued dependence on fossil fuels.
- Peru, host of COP20, also must resolve huge policy inconsistencies. The country’s leadership in climate negotiations has been remarkable, as have its internal efforts to promote adaptation to climate change by incorporating traditional knowledge. But still, lack of consistency between talk and action has resulted in widespread promotion of mining and hydroelectric activities. These decisions have been made without considering environmental impacts or clean alternatives.
Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala, Panama, Argentina and other Latin American nations are by no means free from the massive inconsistencies that compromise the effectiveness of the climate actions they champion. The rapidly growing development of mining, hydropower and fracking projects on the continent contributes substantially to climate change.
The need for economic development in the region, and a single nation’s relatively smaller contribution to global emissions, are not excuses. There exist opportunities for economic development and energy production that would be more efficient than continued dependence on fossil fuels.
Climate change is a global issue that can’t be solved with patches here and there. Climate change affects the planet, and Latin America is one of the most vulnerable regions.
But as long as the policies and actions of the States do not consider climate change a central issue, we will continue moving forward one step and backwards three.
It is our responsibility and in our interest to act consistently and with integrity. We must align our talk with our actions to take quick and effective steps to combat climate change.
The time is NOW!