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LATIN AMERICA
Río+20: No decisions on global warming
José Pedro Martins
6/26/2012
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Leaders spoke about the green economy and the fight against poverty, but did not discuss the impacts of climate change.

The results of Rio+20 conference, held from June 20-22 in Rio de Janeiro, were a letdown for environmentalists and scientists, who were hoping the conference would determine clearer paths to face socio-environmental challenges worldwide, including climate change.

Rio+20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, wasn’t a conference to debate environmental issues, but rather the transition to a green economy as it relates to fighting poverty. Nevertheless, it was inevitable that the biggest environmental challenges would be addressed at the meeting, which is what happened for example with the dilemma of countering global warming. And to that end, there was hope that Rio+20 would at least lay out more hopeful paths regarding the role of a green economy in fighting global warming. But that didn’t happen, frustrating many nongovernmental organizations and other institutions that encouraged parallel debates on the issue.

The annual damage in Latin America and the Caribbean as a result of the physical impact associated with a 2ºC increase in temperatures above pre-industrialization levels will be more than US$100 billion, or around 2 percent of the continent’s current gross domestic product.

This is one of the facts illustrated in a report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, or ECLAC, released at Rio+20, called “The Climate and Development Challenge for Latin America and the Caribbean: Options for climate resilient low carbon development.”

The seriousness of the climate issue was brought up several times at Rio+20 with regard to its impact on the most at risk communities. The CEPAL study noted that, due to its geographic situation and the fact that most of its economic activity is dependent on the exploitation of natural resources, Latin American and the Caribbean are particularly vulnerable to the climate changes projected for the coming years.

Among the anticipated consequences for 2050, ECLAC named the collapse of the large part of the Caribbean coral biome, the disappearance of the majority of glaciers located below 5,000 meters, the possible savanization of part of the Amazon, and the reduction of yield in various crops. These would carry consequences for the supply of water and food safety of millions of people.


Accelerated urbanization
In the absence of a high-level government consensus to combat global warming, there remains the role of people living in cities. In this sense, Rio+20 showed a degree of concern about the issue with respect to civil society and local authorities.

The Cities Climate Leadership Group, or C40, is a network of 59 major world cities, including Bogotá, Buenos Aires, Caracas, Curitiba, Lima, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago de Chile and São Paulo, that sponsored a large meeting in Rio de Janeiro during Rio+20. The fight against climate change was one of its central themes, taking into account the accelerated urbanization around the world and the role of metropolises in greenhouse gas emissions. The meeting’s final declaration stated the commitments of the cities to implement policies, such as encouraging public transport, aimed at a reduction of 45 percent of projected emissions by 2030. This reduction, if achieved, would equal to 1.3 billion tons, or 1.3 gigatons.

“Cities can do a lot to reduce emissions,” agreed Paula Duarte Chrestan, Ph.D. in energy planning and researcher at the Aqua Genesis Institute. She was responsible in part for the inventory of greenhouse gas emissions in the state of São Paulo, Brazil’s richest and most industrialized and populous state.

Duarte Chrestan noted that refrigerators account for 28 percent of residential energy consumption in Brazil. The creation of the Seal Procel (acronym of the Electricity Conservation Program) to rank the best equipment, already led to a 20 percent reduction in energy consumption from 1995-2005.

“More than half of the potential for energy efficiency in Brazil is in household consumption and industries,” the researcher said. She also highlighted the role of municipal authorities in the promotion of change in the public transportation system with the adoption of renewable fuels as a key measure to help combat global warming.


Renewable energy potential
The promotion of alternative energies as part of the fight against global warming was advocated at Rio+20 by environmental organizations like Greenpeace, which during the event presented the publication “Renewable Horizon” and the Renewable Watercolor map, the result of an expedition throughout Brazil. The publications document the country’s renewable energy potential.

“The map outlines for each state which would be the best option for power generation to make the Brazilian grid more efficient,” said Camila Bastianon, research coordinator at Greenpeace.

In any case, unlike the United Nations’ 1992 Earth Summit held also in Rio de Janeiro, Rio+20 leaves no trace of big changes, especially in regard to global warming and the deforestation that leads to the erosion of biodiversity.
Rio+20 “contributed to the advancement of environmental awareness, [and] the sharing of new ideas and experiences, but in practice much stronger commitments are required than in 1992, because the problems have only increased in the last 20 years,” said Maria Dalce Ricas, the executive superintendent of the Association for the Environmental Defense of Minas Gerais, or AMDA, in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais.

She believes the lack of debate about global warming and the erosion of biodiversity are particularly severe for Brazil, given that more than 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the country result from fires and other forms of land misuse.

“Deforestation produces emissions and leads to a decrease in biodiversity. It is essential to have specific goals and very effective policies to reduce deforestation,” Dalce Ricas said. “Those who possess money and power think they are immune to the consequences of climate change and other environmental imbalances. But while the consequences affect the most vulnerable first, those in power are not immune,” she added, reflecting a widespread feeling in social movements and NGOs as to the results of Rio+20.
—Latinamerica Press.


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Most of greenhouse gas emissions in Brazil are the result of fires and deforestation. (Photo: José Pedro Martins)
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