With one degree of global warming we are already sailing perilously close to the wind. A survivor from Paradise, the Californian town decimated by forest fire, or a Caribbean Islander following the catastrophic 2017 hurricane season would say we are already in very dangerous waters.
If only one degree of warming above pre-industrial levels can contribute to whipping up such deadly and costly disasters, imagine what three degrees of warming could do.
Countries in the Western Hemisphere, especially in the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico and Andes mountains, are at high or extreme climate risk. Climate impacts in the region include the potential collapse of the Caribbean coral biome, rising sea levels, the disappearance of Andean glaciers, increased exposure to tropical diseases and risk of dieback of the Amazon rainforest.
A report published by Tufts University says that The Bahamas is projected to use 6.6 percent of its GDP by 2025 and 13.9 percent of its GDP by 2050 to cover climate impacts if the international community fails to act sufficiently. The Fourth National Climate Assessment warns that uncontrolled climate change is expected to cause substantial damage to the U.S. economy. With continued growth in emissions, annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by 2100—more than the current GDP of many U.S. states.
The damage to fragile ecosystems, infrastructure, freshwater supply, and livelihoods could set a growing number of countries back decades and contribute to and exacerbate other problems such as forced migration, poverty, crime, and unemployment.
Unfortunately, this is where we appear to be heading. The latest UN Environment Emissions Gap Report says that the current round of countries’ national climate plans set us on a trajectory of roughly 3 degrees Celsius of warming this century. As the largest historical emitter, the U.S. decision to abandon the Paris Agreement is a serious blow, adding additional pressure to ramp up emission reduction efforts by others.
That’s why the next couple of years are critical for countries to present more serious commitments to the Paris Agreement. With Chile organizing the next major round of UN climate negotiations, known as COP25, in December, there is amble pressure on the host to work with other countries and the UN Secretary General, who is hosting a complementary summit in September to scale up global ambition.
Existing collaboration and promising signs
In an encouraging sign, last year the European Union and nine Latin America and Caribbean nations including Argentina, Chile, Jamaica, Mexico and St. Lucia, alongside Canada and other countries, declared their willingness to put forward emission targets consistent with the limiting of warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
This positive shift comes off the back of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report last October on avoiding overshooting 1.5 degree Celsius of warming, which is the Paris Agreement’s most ambitious goal. The report says that without a global transformation, the world could surpass 1.5 degrees of warming in a little over a decade.
We urgently need leaders to prepare revamped climate plans and come together to present them. Drawing on their extensive cooperation on climate change, the EU and some Latin American and Caribbean countries can spearhead this effort.
Together, the EU and the LAC region represent approximately 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, ensuring they can make an important contribution to achieving the 1.5 degree goal. At the UN climate talks, the EU and LAC make up 61 countries, which is roughly a third of the 195 Parties to the UNFCCC. A collective push by both could nudge others to follow.
Over the last decade climate change has become a top issue for EU-LAC relations. In the Ecuadorian capital, Quito, the European Investment Bank is co-financing the construction of the city’s subway system, which will be operational this year. The metro will create hundreds of millions of dollars in annual investment and reduce air pollution, emissions, congestion, and traffic accidents.
Between 2005 and 2017, European firms were responsible for 65 percent of all investment in renewable energy projects in the LAC region. Meanwhile the EU’s EUROCLIMA+ programme is working with Spain’s Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID) along the Ecuador-Peru border to reduce the vulnerability of the population to droughts and floods by strengthening public institutions working on disk risk management.
Over the next two years, the EU and Latin America and Caribbean can build on this progress and show how their cooperation can be an engine for sustainable development, injecting much-needed ambition into the international negotiations.
In November 2018, the European Commission published a long-term strategy for achieving a climate neutral EU by 2050. The strategy is currently being debated across the bloc, with a final decision on its feasibility expected in the coming months. There is also a push from several EU Member States to increase the level of ambition of the bloc’s climate plan.
Many LAC countries are also working to step up their contributions. Last year, Argentina announced the completion of three sectoral plans on energy, transport and forests to support its climate actions. Costa Rica also recently launched a de-carbonization plan with the goal of becoming a zero emission economy by 2050. And Cuba has just enshrined the fight against climate change and the conservation of the environment in its constitution.
There are a number of opportunities to build on this progress. The Alvarado administration in Costa Rica plans to construct an inter-city electric train, which will make a significant contribution to reducing emissions and improving public transport. The European Investment Bank is well-placed to help co-finance this transformative project.
The Chilean government is also working to produce a draft climate change law this year. There are opportunities for the United Kingdom, which has had a trailblazing climate bill since 2008, and Spain, which is drafting its own bill, to hold dialogues with the Chilean government to discuss these processes and opportunities for mutual learning.
The European Commission and European development agencies can also support Ecuador’s efforts to reduce deforestation. Ecuador’s PROAmazonía Programme seeks to benefit more than 2 million people by promoting measures to tackle climate change by reducing emissions, protecting biodiversity and increasing resilience.
European agencies could consider supporting local civil society groups such as Brazil’s Climate Observatory, Costa Rica Limpia and the Latin American and the Caribbean Climate Finance Group, which play a significant role in encouraging governments to support climate action. The timing is ripe as various LAC countries have signed the Escazú Agreement, which emphasizes the protection of environmental defenders and their rights in decision-making processes.
A priority will be to capture the progress of climate action in the real economy. This can build confidence that implementing the Paris Agreement is not only about reducing emissions but also about creating jobs, attracting investment, improving competitiveness and fiscal discipline. The scale of EU-LAC trade and investment in high-carbon sectors including fossil fuels also needs addressing as they currently undermine efforts to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goals.
The achievements of EU-LAC cooperation and diplomacy on climate change are notable. Yet given the urgency of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees, this cooperation needs to go up a gear. The road to 2020 is a considerable opportunity for the European Union and the LAC region to place the low-carbon and climate-resilient agenda at the heart of their relationships.