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LATIN AMERICA / THE CARIBBEAN
Delegates miss the boat in climate change summit
Ramiro Escobar*
1/20/2011
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Region´s activists state their case against climate change, but governments make minimal advancements.

The results of the 16th International Climate Change Conference in Cancun last month were minimal, at best, but the pieces are in place for concrete changes.

The rest is up to policymakers.

Delegates of the more than 190 countries that participated in the 16th Conference of the Parties, the UN summit on climate change, agreed to maintain an average temperature increase below 2º Celsius, but they failed to adopt concrete measures to achieve this, such as the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

They also failed to extend the Kyoto Protocol, which went into effect in 2004 and is set to expire in 2012.

While the Cancun summit largely avoided the sense of absolute failure that ruled the Copenhagen meeting a year earlier, it puts pressure and the world´s attention on the 2011 talks in Durban, South Africa, so concrete agreements are reached.

One of the few measures reached this year was the so-called “Green Climate Fund,”  a World Bank-administered fund that aims to help developing countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change effects with US$100 billion to 2020. Initially, $30 billion will be provided by the United States, the European Union and Japan. Latin American and Caribbean countries can access the fund.

“The agreements do have some positive elements,” said Eduardo Calvo, a Peruvian scientist and member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “And while they didn´t fulfill the expectations, there is a scheduled revision of the goals in 2015 that will allow us to improve them.”

Latin America´s role
For Calvo, Latin America and the Caribbean now have a fundamental role in the climate change debate.

Many of the region´s countries have minimal contributions to climate change, yet suffer some of the greatest impacts, with extreme weather and temperature increases that literally melt away water resources such as tropical glaciers.

This does not mean, however, that there is a consensus in the region.

In Cancun, Bolivia stood alone to slam the participants for not doing enough to avoid a worsening of global warming. It received no support, not even from its allies in the region, like Nicaragua and Venezuela, the latter of which is South America´s largest oil producer.

But Calvo said that Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Peru have all made energetic calls to stem climate change. Costa Rica, whose citizen Christiana Figueres was named executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, says it will be carbon neutral by 2021.

 The entire region is responsible for just 12 percent of the world´s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the World Bank, mainly due to deforestation and use of fossil fuels. 

The United Nations Environment Program says that since the 1970s the number of people who have been affected by climate change has risen from 5 million to 40 million in 2009.

Other Latin American countries have come up with their own programs, including Ecuador´s push for international donations not to drill for oil in rich reserves detected under the Yasuni National Park.

The love/hate of REDD
Part of the Green Climate Fund will be destined for the UN´s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries program, whose objective is reducing emissions for the six gases that cause global warming: carbon dioxide, methane gas, nitrous oxide, hydrochlorofluorocarbon, perfluorocarbon, and sulfur hexafluoride.

Some countries such as Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru, along with environmental organizations including Greenpeace and Conservation International, have backed this plan that allows industrialized countries to pay to maintain forests intact in other regions of the world, as long as those who keep the forest intact are compensated.

Greenpeace, however, has complained that it is still unclear where the money will come from for the Green Climate Fund and that some regions will take precedence over others.

The Caribbean is particularly vulnerable to climate change, as rising sea levels could mean that some of the island nations will be under water. According to the Alliance of Small Island States, composed of countries from the Caribbean, Africa and Oceania, a 1-meter rise in water levels could cost damages above $6 billion a year.

Basic infrastructure, hospitals, schools, housing and farmland and tourism infrastructure face potential risks, particularly in the Bahamas, Belize and Trinidad and Tobago The estimates do not take extreme weather, such as tropical storms, into account.
—Latinamerica Press.


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Developed countries have resisted making significant cuts to greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. (Photo: ecologiaverde.com)
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