The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its fifth report on Monday, entitled Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Head of UN climate panel, Rajendra Pachauri, has said he hopes the report will “jolt people into action”.
His plea may well fall on deaf ears in Argentina, where climate change is a non-topic, and as a result the standard response to its dangers is inertia.
The lack of action is worrisome – 97% of the world’s scientists agree that climate change is happening and temperatures are set to rise at least 2°C by the end of the century (those are conservative estimates – many predict rises of up to 6°C) unless drastic action is taken to reduce carbon emissions, and fast.
The effects of climate change are already being seen around the continent, and Argentina is not immune. Already, between 2000 and 2010, over 600 extreme weather and climate events occurred in Latin America, leaving near to 16,000 fatalities and 46.6m people affected, generating economic losses amounting to US$208bn. Last year’s flooding in La Plata, which killed 89 people and caused US$500m of damage, is one local example of such an event.
According to the much-anticipated report, rising temperatures will affect Argentina’s agricultural productivity, and the country will face changing rain patterns, with increased rainfall -and likely flooding- in the pampas and east (including Buenos Aires), and droughts in the west, as glacier retreat and lower rainfall lead to decreased run-off in the rivers.
The report also highlighted that 4.3% of global deforestation now occurs in Argentina. Deforestation in the north, particularly in the Chaco forest, has accelerated in the past decade due to agricultural expansion, and is now the most important source of carbon emissions for the north of Argentina.
However, these dramatic findings were greeted by all but radio silence in Argentina. There was no mention of the subject in Monday night’s cadena nacional, and no media front-pagers. In fact, none of the national media even covered the report’s release, preferring to focus instead on Sunday’s superclásico and whether Boca should have had a penalty or not.
Whilst the government and media ignored the report, various environmental think tanks, foundations, and NGOs responded quickly to the long-awaited findings. The Foundation for the Environment and Natural Resources (FARN), released a statement in coalition with Greenpeace, Vida Silvestre, Avina, and others, which said: “The development of more active policies on climate change adaptation are needed, as we have reached a situation in which we don’t have any more time to lose.
“This IPCC report has been endorsed by governments – including Argentina’s – on the international stage; and more than 100 scientists from our country have collaborated in its development. Politicians can no longer stand with their arms folded in front of this evidence.”
So Where Does Argentina Stand on Climate Change?
In 2010, the last year for which figures are available, Argentina’s carbon emissions were 315m tonnes, accounting for 0.63% of the global total. In a world with a globalised economy, with international trade and many nations with export-based economies, there are endless debates about how to calculate what each country’s share of carbon emissions should be. Population can be an indicator as to how an emissions budget should be carved up, giving each of the countries an equal share based on population.
Argentina’s population, at just over 40m, is 0.56% of the global total. So in terms of per capita emissions, the country is not doing too badly, compared to say, the US, which has 4.4% of the world’s population, but is responsible for nearly 20% of emissions. But compared to Bangladesh, which has 2.13% of global population and is responsible for just 0.37% of global emissions, Argentina is contributing more than its fair share. What is undeniable is that to prevent its share from rising, any future economic growth in Argentina must be done without increasing emissions – and even by lowering them, if the world is to set itself on the right track. (Science dictates that 350 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere is a ‘safe’ upper limit, but there are currently 400).
And that is where we find a sticking point, as lowering emissions through clean development is not on the government’s agenda. No, the country is looking to fossil fuels to power any future growth. After last month’s discovery of a new oil field in the province of Río Negro, expected to yield 15m barrels of crude, head of YPF, Miguel Galuccio, spoke of an “energy revolution” and highlighted how growth and development can be generated around the country as a result of these reserves and the huge Vaca Muerta gas fields, leaving no doubt about the key role these dirty energies will play in Argentina’s development.
Add to that the government’s 2011 Strategic Agrifood Plan (PEA), which targets a 60% national increase in grain production by 2020, paying little attention to the inevitable increase in deforestation and emissions (agriculture is currently responsible for 36% of the country’s greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions).
These energy and agricultural plans – along with the national silence on the subject – seem to contradict Argentina’s claims on the international stage, which on closer inspection sound more like an excuse for inaction. In its second report to the UNFCCC in 2007, the government admitted that the country is vulnerable to climate change, and that various government-commissioned studies have laid out both mitigation and adaptation strategies. However, it insists that substantial non-refundable international funds are necessary for their implementation. A request that is unlikely to be granted.
The World Bank estimates that poor countries need US$100bn a year to try to offset the effects of climate change, something that has been deemed an unrealistic demand by richer nations. If the historic polluters can’t dig deep enough to help the poorest who are already feeling the worst effects of climate change, they certainly won’t be helping Argentina – a member of the G20 with a growing economy – on its way to sustainable development.
If Argentina wants to mitigate the effects of climate change it will have to do so by itself, following the lead of the many countries, taking the threat of climate change seriously, that have started to do so. Let’s return to Bangladesh. The country has a GDP that measures a quarter of Argentina’s, for a population almost four times as big, yet it has managed to invest US$10bn in climate change adaptation. And so if other, poorer countries are managing to find the way, why is Argentina not acting?
Published earlier this year, the comprehensive Fourth Edition of GLOBE Climate Legislation Study analyses Argentina’s lack of legislation and regulation related to climate change, highlighting the 2007 presidential decree 140/2007 (the only piece of legislation related to climate change), which declared the “rational and efficient” use of energy a national priority. The report says: “Investments necessary to mitigate emissions and adapt to climate change are conceived as politically pitted against social investments in health, education and poverty in a zero-sum game. As such, Argentina has neither enacted comprehensive legislation related to climate change nor made an official pledge to reduce GHG emissions by a measurable difference.”
And even that presidential decree is risible, as “rational and efficient” use of energy seems to set aside investment in renewables, focusing instead on the development of Patagonia’s oil and gas fields. According to Bloomberg’s annual report on green energy investment, published in January, public and private investments in renewable energy in Argentina actually fell from US$539m in 2012 to just US$94m in 2013. (This compares to US$1.4bn in Chile last year and in Mexico the figure was US$1.1bn).
All of this leaves those who do care about climate change wringing their hands: no leadership from the government, no media coverage, and no public pressure are combining to set Argentina on a very unsustainable path indeed.
It can be argued that Argentina’s total emissions are only 0.63% of the global total, and as such the country will unlikely play a major role in tipping the world over the 2°C warming threshold. But does that mean it should endorse policies that go completely against the tide of global consensus?
No, business should not continue as usual. For climate change to really be tackled, all nations need to be working together in setting real, attainable targets in terms of future carbon emissions. The quick lining of pockets may seem like a good idea today, but what will the legacy of this plan be for the people of tomorrow? An old, Native American concept from the Iroquois talks about seventh generation sustainability. In making a decision, it is considered how the actions would affect those around in seven generations’ time, and there is an entire process around thinking through if the idea will be beneficial to them. In Argentina’s case, the undeniable response to the government’s current inaction is a resounding ‘no’, and the country – while perhaps not having to look 150 years ahead, could well benefit from a less shortsighted approach to its management of natural resources and its land.
But unfortunately, when ecology comes up against economy, the former inevitably loses out.
Lead image by Alejandra Bartoliche / Télam
Summary of the principal impacts associated with global warming in Argentina, published by the IPCC in Chapter 2 of its 5th Evaluation Report.
- 4.3% of global deforestation occurs in Argentina.
- Increase in rainfall and technological advances have promoted the expansion of the agricultural frontier west and north of the traditional agricultural heartlands, which has resulted in environmental damage which could worsen in the future.
- Argentina has had the third greatest increase in the production of GM crops after the US and Brazil.
- Deforestation in the Chaco forest has accelerated in the past decade as a result of agricultural expansion, making this the greatest source of carbon emissions in the north of Argentina.
- In Salta and Tucumán, 14,000 km2 of forest have disappeared as a result of technological advances in agriculture and a rise in rainfall. Deforestation continued during the '80s and '90s, and by 2005 crops covered 63% of the region. In Argentina’s central region – in the north of Córdoba – the area of land covered by crops rose from 3 to 30% between 1969 and 1999, and the forest cover fell from 52.5% to 8.2% during the same period. These changes have also been attributed to a synergy of climatic, technological and socio-economic factors. The losses in the Atlantic forests are estimated to be 29% of the original area in 1960 and 28% of the yungas area, principally due to migration in livestock farming from the Pampas.
- By the end of the century, plant diseases will be more common and will have a greater effect on corn, wheat, and soy production.
- In the Pampas, the current changes in the use of the land break the water and biogemochemical cycles.
- Without taking into account technological advances, wheat yield has been decreasing in the central region at increasingly higher rates since 1930 as a result of the rise in minimum temperatures during the months of October and November.
- Crop yield could drop due to water scarcity in the west.
- Water run-off in rivers has risen in the Río de la Plata basin and decreased in the central Andean region, as a result in changing precipitation patterns.
- Models predict longer periods of drought in the south.
- Glaciers and ice fields located in the Argentine Andes are facing significant recession. At the same time, expected reductions in rainfall will add to a reduction in run-off in the rivers.
- Between 1980 and 2000 there has been an increase in flooding the province of Buenos Aires and the metropolitan area.