President Donald J. Trump appears at odds with scientific consensus. He has called climate change a hoax created by the Chinese to stymie U.S. competitiveness. His cabinet appointees are dominated by climate change skeptics and fossil fuel advocates.
A number of public statements by the new administration have expressed a willingness to unravel Obama’s legacy on climate change and push forward new fossil fuels projects including the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, both of which Obama blocked partly due to concerns about how they would contribute to climate change.
Trump’s “America First” agenda also takes a dim view of the United Nations with draft executive orders under consideration to significantly reduce the U.S. role in the UN and other international organizations, and possibly withdrawing from some multinational treaties.
This could apply to the Paris Agreement on climate change, although withdrawing from the treaty could take a number of years.
For the Latin American countries that strongly backed the Paris Agreement as the principal vehicle to confront climate change and the United Nations more generally as a means of promoting a rules-based international system, Trump’s attitude and policies are alarming.
Latin American countries are already feeling the devastating effects of global warming from more frequent and extreme climatic events. As one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases, if the Trump administration walks away from the fight against climate change it could undermine global efforts. Latin American governments will likely continue to advance their own climate change policies but a recalcitrant U.S. administration could serve to undermine efforts to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement to secure a safe climate and build a global low-carbon economy.
- Latin America is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states categorically that the Earth’s climate is warming. Moreover, it finds with 95 percent scientific certainty that increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are due to human activity.
Latin America is responsible for only about 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions yet the region is highly vulnerable to climate change impacts. These impacts are already being felt and pose a serious threat to growth and development in the region.
Since 2014, droughts have ravaged the Caribbean, Central America and Bolivia due low rainfall and exacerbated by El Niño. Today, there are more than 3.5 million people in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras facing food insecurity due to failed harvests. A 2015 survey by the Pew Research Center states that 77 percent of Latin Americans commented that climate change is already harming people.
Glacial melt throughout the Andes is also likely to affect water supplies with serious consequences for millions of people and take a toll on power production from hydroelectricity. Other impacts include rising sea levels, intensification of weather patterns and storms leading to increased flooding and droughts, and increased exposure to tropical diseases.
The Inter-American Development Bank indicates that damages associated with a rise of two degrees Celsius will likely approach $100 billion a year by 2050. The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) suggests that the estimated costs of climate change in the region range from 1.5 to 5 percent of GDP, although there is a high level of uncertainty and variation across countries.
- Latin American countries are busy developing national institutions and policies to confront climate change and promote low carbon development
Most national and subnational governments in the region are actively building up their institutional capacity to reduce emissions and adapt to the impact of climate change. There is a growing recognition among governments that policies to reduce emissions and build resilience to a changing climate are now essential for building prosperity.
Brazil has established a national emission-reduction target of roughly 36 percent by 2020 below its projected emissions, largely based on reducing deforestation rates. In 2012, Mexico passed a climate change law, with targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2020 and 50 percent by 2050 compared to the year 2000.
At the same time, in 2015, the number of countries in the region with renewable energy targets nearly doubled compared to the year before. Argentina has declared 2017 as the “year of renewable energy” and aims to achieve 8 percent of its electric generation to from renewables by 2018, and 20 percent by 2026. In January 2015, the Chilean government established a goal of reaching 70 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2050.
Latin American cities are pioneers in building greener urban spaces. Curitiba and Bogotá are leaders in creating Bus Rapid Transport Systems and more than 45 cities in the region have invested in similar transport systems. In 2015, mayors from 20 Latin American cities signed the C40 Clean Bus Declaration in Buenos Aires, which aims to improve air quality and reduce emissions by incorporating low- and zero-emission buses in their fleets.
While, the region’s agenda on climate change is impressive, there are worrying examples that demonstrate both the difficulties in implementing these policies and the fact that Latin American governments (like all others around the world) have competing priorities that can result in climate policies being jettisoned, undermined, or simply ignored.
- Most Latin American and the Caribbean nations have ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change
To date 129 countries have ratified the Paris Agreement. This includes 23 Latin American and Caribbean countries making up over 60 percent of the region. These include Chile, Cuba, Antigua and Barbuda, Guatemala, Argentina, Bahamas, Costa Rica, Barbados, Uruguay, Belize, Guyana, St. Lucia, Brazil, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Mexico, Honduras, Bolivia, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Most countries in the region participated in securing the Paris Agreement’s adoption in Paris in 2015. This diplomatic success was not a fleeting moment but rather evidence of these countries leadership on global climate governance that has been building up over the last ten years or so.
The agreement aims to limit the mean global temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit global mean temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. A long-term mitigation goal aims to reach greenhouse gas emission neutrality in the second half of the century.
It includes a legally-binding requirement for Parties to prepare, communicate and maintain successive nationally determined contributions and pursue domestic mitigation measures. A central tenet of the agreement is the national climate change plans called the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Nearly all LAC countries (except Nicaragua) have submitted a national pledge.
Among those pledges are:
Mexico made an unconditional target to reduce 25 percent of its greenhouse gases and short-lived climate pollutant emissions such as black carbon below “business-as-usual” projections for 2030. This commitment implies a 22 percent reduction of greenhouse gases and a reduction of 51 percent of black carbon. Mexico also set a conditional target: it will reduce its emissions and pollutants to 40 percent below business-as-usual in 2030 if certain conditions, such as a global carbon price, access to financial resources, and provisions for technology transfer, are met.
Brazil pledged to reduce emissions by 37 percent by 2025 and 43 percent by 2030, compared to 2005 levels. Brazil’s was the first developing country to put forward an economy-wide target. It pledges to eliminate illegal deforestation, restore and reforest 12 million hectares, and recover 15 million hectares of degraded pastures and enhance 5 million hectares of integrated cropland-livestock-forestry systems by 2030.
Chile made an unconditional target of a 30 percent reduction of CO2 emissions-intensity of GDP below 2007 levels by 2030 and to 45 percent with further international support.
Costa Rica made one of the most ambitious pledges, setting an unconditional target to keep net emissions below 9.37 MtCO2e by 2030, with proposed emissions per capita of 1.73 net tons by 2030, 1.19 net tons per capita by 2050 and -0.27 net tons per capita by 2100.
As the devastating recent forest fires in Chile tragically demonstrate, climate change is now one of the greatest risks facing Latin American countries and others around the world. Trump’s strong enthusiasm for promoting fossil fuels while undermining U.S. climate change policies goes against the direction of travel in Latin America on climate change and indeed most of the world
In the interests of achieving a positive relationship with the U.S.’s partners in the region (and beyond), Trump should reconsider his position on climate change immediately—not just for the long-term safety and security of the citizens and economies south of the border but also for the political fortunes of those governments that courageously committed themselves to a broader collective good.