Weds. Dec. 30, 2009
The recently concluded U.N. Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen has generated widespread disappointment since it did not deliver tangible results to effectively combat the rapidly encroaching problems generated by global warming.
The conference spent a considerable amount of time to reach a non-binding `Copenhagen Accord` which took shaky steps against global warming even though it pointed to a new start for rich-poor cooperation on climate change. The accord was accepted by consensus after delegates arrived at a compromise decision to `take note`, instead of formally approving it. Overall, the agreement has been spurned by numerous developing countries because it failed to set specific emissions targets for the industrialized countries.
But in general terms, countries agreed to cooperate in reducing emissions, with a view to keep temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.
Further, the developing nations will report every two years, subject to `international consultations and analysis`, on their voluntary actions to reduce emissions. And the developed nations will finance a $10 billion-a-year program for three years to fund poorer nations` projects to deal with drought and other climate-change impacts, and to develop clean energy. The United States along with other rich countries also proposed `mobilizing $100 billion-a-year by 2020` to assist with this purpose. However, none of them made any announcement as to their specific financial contribution to this enterprise.
But even these amounts will be grossly insufficient. Significantly, a World Bank report released in The Hague in September revealed that developing countries will need up to 100 billion dollars (80 billion Euros) a year for 40 years – beginning from the present time – to combat the effects of global warning.
On the other hand, what could be regarded as a positive achievement for the rain forest countries is that the accord allows for a widened `REDD Plus` fund – the mechanism for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation – which would enable them to obtain incentives for keeping standing forests.
Guyana`s President Bharrat Jagdeo, long before the Copenhagen conference, actively lobbied to widen the concept from `REDD` to `REDD Plus` to add conservation of forestry to the overall concept of cutting deforestation rates – a position that received much support from both developing and developed countries. Under the original conception of REDD, countries like Guyana could not have received any money since previous international agreements, including the Kyoto Protocol which will end in 2012, did not reward countries that conserve their forests. Unfortunately, the new proposed mechanism was not formally codified in Copenhagen.
Clearly, the conference failed the expectations of a vast majority of countries that a treaty on climate change issues would have been finalized. Cuba`s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, said his country as well as many other poor nations would not recognize the agreement because they were not permitted to participate in its development. President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, on behalf of the ALBA group of countries, also vociferously opposed the `non-transparent` agreement reached at exclusion of the vast majority of developing countries, and he sharply blamed the capitalist system for the global climatic predicament. And in expressing his reservations, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva sharply criticized the United States, the world`s biggest polluter, for failing to commit itself to concrete carbon-emissions reductions.
In Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), the problems associated with climate change are regarded with great apprehension. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), in a report released during the conference, warned that the region could bear one of the heaviest costs of climate change. The organization said that up to 40 percent of the biodiversity of some Latin American nations could be wiped out by 2100 if steps are not taken immediately to control carbon emissions.
`Although Latin America and the Caribbean is the second region in the world with the lowest greenhouse gas emissions after Africa, it is nevertheless suffering the effects of global warming more than any other,` the report emphasized. At present, LAC`s `carbon footprint` in the global context is quite modest – about 6 percent of total emissions, according to World Bank estimates – but indicators will change in the next 25 years, as transportation and industrial sectors expand.
The report explained that increases in temperature would lead to a sharp fall in rainfall in the Amazon `causing a substantial deterioration of jungles that are home to one of the world`s largest concentrations of biodiversity.`
It showed that rising sea levels would cause a huge movement of populations and the loss of land, while mangroves on the lower coasts of countries such as Brazil, Ecuador and Guyana might be swamped forever and coastal areas of the Rio de la Plata in Argentina and Uruguay could also be seriously threatened.
In economic terms, ECLAC warned that in the absence of an international climate mitigation agreement, the cost for Latin America and the Caribbean could be equivalent to 137 percent of the region`s current GDP by 2100.
Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru could be among the countries worst hit, losing up to 60 percent of their arable lands, while water supplies could be drastically reduced, even though the effects of climate change would vary from country to country. For instance, the report intimated that Argentina, Chile or even Uruguay might even see an initial increase in agricultural production if temperatures rise up to 2 degrees Celsius from now until 2050.
The ECLAC report is a stark reminder that 60 major LAC cities situated along coasts as well as the coastal areas of the Caribbean islands and of the low coastal plains of the continental mainland are highly vulnerable to rising sea levels.
Moreover, millions of South Americans who depend on rivers fed by Andean glaciers face the possibility that their primary water source may disappear within the next 15 to 25 years. With a warmer climate now, the glaciers are not regenerated significantly during the winter months. The Andean countries are also highly dependent on hydroelectric energy, and many of the dams need water from the glaciers to operate, especially during the dry season when rains are not refilling reservoirs.
Meanwhile, some 600 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean are experiencing the effects of climate change in a dramatic way, through droughts, floods, melting glaciers, rising temperatures, and new agricultural pests.
Further evidence of climate change is the expansion of disease vectors to areas beyond their normal habitat. This is the case of the Anopheles mosquito, which transmits malaria, and has spread from tropical zones at less than 1,000 meters above sea level to areas higher than 2,000 meters.
In the area of agricultural production, abrupt weather variations – drought, heavy rains, hail and frost – take a toll on agriculture because crops are not always able to adapt, and the associated losses intensify poverty among farmers.
According to the World Bank, the world`s total agricultural production could decrease between 3 percent and 15 percent due to global climate change, but those proportions could be much worse in the agricultural regions of Latin America`s equatorial belt. The Bank says that revenue losses in Latin America`s agricultural sector could range from 12 percent to 50 percent by 2100, even after accounting for a certain level of technological adaptation to climate change.
Meanwhile, some countries in the region are already taking initiatives to confront the long-term effects of climate change. For instance, Guyana is on the verge of implementing its Low-Carbon Development Strategy. Recently the country signed an agreement with Norway by which Guyana will accelerate its efforts to limit forest-based greenhouse gas emissions and protect its rainforest as an asset for the world. Norway, in turn, will initially put US$30 million into Guyana`s `REDD Plus` fund and subsequent payments of up to US$250 million over five years would be contingent with Guyana`s ability in limiting emissions and reducing deforestation, which, currently, is almost negligible. The fund will be used for sustainable development projects and climate change adaptation measures.
Brazil is also making huge efforts to protect its great Amazon rain forest, including a fund to fight deforestation, currently responsible for 70 percent of the country`s greenhouse gas emissions. The huge Amazon basin has lost an average of 19,000 square kilometers (7,336 square miles) in the last 30 years, due to a combination of economic forces, deficient agricultural practices, diluted property rights and to the `savannization` of the Amazon basin, with disastrous consequences for water and carbon cycles. The World Bank supports the Brazilian initiative with a wide range of projects and financial assistance including a loan for sustainable environmental management worth US$ 1.3 billion.
Keeping in mind the growing problems associated with climate change in LAC, regional leaders will have to redouble their efforts to convince especially those of the world`s developed economies that an effective international treaty to mitigate existing and future problems is a dire necessity. There still remains a glimmer of hope that such a treaty can become a reality at the next UN climate conference in Mexico City in 2010.