Consider this: the United States has contributed 28.75 percent of historical, cumulative greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, while all Central and South American nations combined have only contributed 3.58 percent. And that, although the population of Latin America is nearly double that of the United States.
Of course, the tricky thing about climate change is that we all share the same atmosphere and the same planet. So, even though Central and South American nations can rightly claim that they didn’t start the fire, they’re now being bombarded with all manner of smoke and smoldering embers.
Thus are the findings of a new report released by Earthjustice’s partner in international law, the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA). The report, Principal Human Rights Impacts of Climate Change in Latin America, was presented by AIDA last week to the delegates at the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Durban, South Africa.
The report shows that global climate change is already harming human rights in the Americas, and that those impacts will intensify in the future. One of the most troubling impacts of climate change is the dramatic reduction in freshwater availability for millions of people as glaciers melt, water-capturing ecosystems degrade, and weather patterns become more erratic. Climate scientists predict that by 2050 up to 50 million people in the Tropical Andean region alone will be affected by the loss of dry-season water for drinking, irrigation, sanitation, and hydropower.
Climatic eccentricities are also increasing storm severity and flooding, destroying crops, homes and infrastructure. For example, in 2010 Colombia suffered its most devastating floods in 40 years, affecting over 2.2 million people and costing the country more than USD $300 million in emergency aid.
The report also highlights the threat global climate change poses to our oceans and coastal communities as a result of the decimation of fish populations and rising sea levels. Further inland, the report predicts climate change will increase droughts and wildfires, bringing disastrous consequences for access to food and housing.
These impacts may hit harder in poorer nations, but as we have seen in recent years, the U.S. is by no means protected. Although the climate negotiations that just finished in Durban may have provided a glimmer of hope that nations are willing to tackle climate change, we need to do much more—we all need to take individual action to help stop climate change. Please do what you can, this holiday season and beyond.