Latin American heads of state expressed their commitment to fight climate change and lambasted industrialised nations for not abiding by environmental regulations at the UN Climate Summit in New York on 23rd September.
They joined a guest list of 150 heads of states as well as business leaders, civil society representatives and celebrities during the special one-day event at the UN headquarters.
The UN has warned that global temperature rose by 0.85°C between 1880 and 2012. It predicted that temperature will increase between 1°C and 3.7°C this century.
A Global Carbon Budget report published on 21st September found that during 2013 global emissions had increased by 2.3%. The majority of the emissions were produced by four nations or blocs: China produced 28% of global emissions, followed by 14% for the United States, 10% for the European Union, and 7% for India. Brazil and Mexico were the only Latin American countries to appear in the Top 20 worst emitters during 2013, figuring 12th and 13th in the global ranking respectively.
The Price to Pay
A day before the summit opened, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAC) released a report that said that the region “has made a minor contribution to climate change, given the region’s low levels of greenhouse gas emissions”. However, the study found the region to be “particularly vulnerable to its negative impacts.”
The cost Latin American nations would have to pay – should the world carry on along this road – would include long term agricultural loss in a region where many economies depend on export of agricultural products.
“The projected losses in the agricultural sector will also have multiple effects, such as slowing progress towards poverty-reduction and food-security goals,” reads the report.
Due to rising gasoline consumption, Latin American countries already suffer from deteriorating air quality in congested cities, a “serious” degradation of natural assets like water and forests, as well as health issues.
A Joint Effort
Amongst the first speakers at the UN summit was Peru’s president Ollanta Humala, who stressed that “building consensus on this topic” was a priority. His nation will host the next UN climate conference, COP20, in Lima this December.
President Humala then called for developed economies – the major greenhouse gas emitters – to take responsibility for their contribution to global warming. “It is time for developed countries to acknowledge their responsibility in climate change,” he said.
In a similar vein, Bolivia’s president Evo Morales said: “The extent to which developing countries will effectively implement their commitments under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change will depend on the effective implementation by developed countries of their commitments under the Convention.”
He added that industrialised countries have to provide “financial resources and transfer of technology and […] take fully into account that economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing countries.”
Ecuador’s environment minister Lorena Tapia affirmed “the importance of negotiation on climate change” but lamented the “lack of commitment of developed countries”.
She said that the Kyoto protocol is the “cornerstone” of climate change efforts and deplored the fact industrialised nations – like the United States – had not ratified it.
Economy vs Ecology
For his part, Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro scolded the Western capitalism model of growth that has led to a dramatic increase of carbon emissions. “Until when will we follow a capitalist model?” he asked.
President Maduro then asked the audience to be realistic about world business leaders’ commitment to climate change. “Does anyone believe that multinational companies can change themselves into protagonists of salvation for the planet?
“If you want to change the climate, we need to change the system,” he added.
The address of Bruno Eduardo Rodriguez Parrilla, Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, was along the same lines: “The main cause of the world environment crisis, including climate change, continues to be the irrational and unsustainable production and consumption patterns that support the capitalist economic domination system, which generates greater poverty and inequalities,” he said.
He also explained that “less luxury and less waste in a few countries would mean less poverty and hunger in much of the world”.
Pledges of Sustainable Development
Latin American countries pledged to promote to sustainable development ahead of the 2015 United Nations Climate meeting, COP21, when a global agreement to replace the Kyoto protocol will be adopted.
President Bachelet listed various measures Chile is taking to combat climate change, such as the launch of an energy agenda for “more diverse, safer and cleaner systems”.
She said that her country will add over 1,000 megawatts into its energy grid in 2014, and recover degraded soils to combat deforestation.
President Enrique Peña Nieto acknowledged that Mexico was a “moderate emitter”, but pointed out that his country voted the general climate change law in 2012 that aims to reduce 30% of the 2000-level gas emissions by 2020 and 50% by 2050. He also vowed to generate 34.6% of electricity production from renewable energies by 2018.
“Climate change is not only an obligation but also an opportunity to transform our economy and make it more competitive in the future,” said Peru’s president, who reiterated his country’s efforts to fight deforestation and illegal mining.
Meanwhile, Costa Rica’s president Luis Guillermo Solis acknowledged that all countries contribute to global warming due to industrial activities but at different levels. He emphasised that the largest economies should “lead these efforts” for global consensus. However, his country is already one of the greenest in the world, with a commitment to be a carbon neutral nation by 2021.
President Solis confirmed that the Central American country will develop an electric railway system and a bus system that use fuel only so as to substantially decrease traffic and carbon emissions. President Solis stressed the need for developing countries to have access to “appropriate and affordable” energy technologies.
Brazilian Deforestation Disappointment
Anti-deforestation campaigners have expressed disappointment at Brazil’s rejection of an anti-deforestation pledge, the centerpiece of the UN Summit. More than 30 countries set a deadline to end deforestation by 2030, but the South American giant, which has the largest continuous rainforest in the world, refused to sign on, saying the plan conflicts with its own laws and targets.
If successful, the plan could reduce carbon emissions by an estimated eight billion tonnes per year – the equivalent of emissions by all of the world’s one billion cars.