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LATIN AMERICA / THE CARIBBEAN
No unity against climate change
Milagros Salazar
5/26/2010
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Balancing economic growth with preservation proves a challenge for region.

A cohesive strategy against climate change is proving a challenge for Latin America and the Caribbean, one of the most vulnerable regions to the trend.

The glaciers of the Andes are melting at an alarming rate, endangering the water supply for thousands of campesino farmers and for sprawling metropolises. Floods, cold snaps and droughts have proven deadly and threatened the food supply for countless communities.

But despite the tangible effects of climate change, the region, responsible for a small fraction of the world´s greenhouse gas emissions, lacks joint policies to combat it.

Manuel Pulgar Vidal, an environmental law expert of the Latin American Climate Platform and the Peruvian Society of Environmental Law, says the reason is because “countries tend to respond to their own interests.”

Failed attempt
Industrialized nations are responsible for nearly two-thirds of all carbon emissions, and attempts to curb the emissions, especially with a push by developing nations who are some of the worst affected, have failed.

At the United Nations Climate Change talks in Copenhagen in December, industrialized and developed nations failed to reach an agreement on emissions cuts, and the issue is pending in the next round of talks to be held in Cancun, Mexico Nov. 29-Dec. 10, with negotiations riding on China and the United States, the world´s top two emitters of greenhouse gases.

But their failure to reach an agreement could make it difficult to stop the temperature rise of 2°C, the recommendation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Mixed signals at home
But within the region itself, some governments in Latin America and the Caribbean, where inhabitants experience some of the harshest and most immediate effects of climate change, do not want emissions cuts to hinder their economic development.

Gerardo Honty a Uruguayan researcher on energy and climate chance at the Latin American Social Ecology Center points to oil-reliant Venezuela and agro-dependent Argentina and Uruguay who have made these industries the major parts, if not the centerpieces, of their economies.

Nevertheless, the Venezuelan-led Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of the America bloc, which includes Bolivia, Ecuador – South America´s fifth-largest oil producer – Nicaragua and Cuba, has publicly denounced free-market models, and said that wealthy nations only sign agreements that serve to themselves, while fellow Latin American nations Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru defend the free-market model.

Brazil, the world´s largest exporter of soy, says it wants to preserve its Amazon rainforest, as long as it can continue to grow its economy. Brazil is one of the so-called BASIC emerging markets countries that also include China, India and South Africa, a bloc that together brokered the final proposal in Copenhagen to cut emissions “as soon as possible.”

What´s happening more because of economic and ideological divides in the region, governments are making alliances about specific issues. Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia have joined up in the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD, a forest preservation initiative. But indigenous groups have worried that it will be a pretext to kick them off their native lands.

Some action
Even though the last international summit has not solidified a binding agreement, parties are closer to prioritizing funding for climate change mitigation and adaptation, says Antonio Hill, a climate change expert at Oxfam International. In Copenhague, industrialized nations pledged US$30 billion between 2010 and 2012 and US$100 billion to 2020.

Some countries in the region are turning to Clean Development Mechanisms, which were established in the Kyoto Protocol, though results are not what were expected. More than 70 percent of the Certified Emissions Reduction credits  have been bought by emerging countries like Brazil, Chile and Mexico, not by the developed countries, which are the main responsible for these emissions.

Indigenous communities also want a say. Some indigenous groups argue that their native teachings and customs and ways of life are eco-friendly, and advocate a balance between nature and human beings, not its indiscriminate exploitation. Honty agrees, adding that the region needs an economically sustainable system to reduce its own emissions, since maintaining an economic system based on consumption has high costs: the planet´s survival.
—Latinamerica Press.


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