By Evan Berry*
The “COP 21” Climate Conference beginning in Paris this week appears likely to produce meaningful results yet fall short of policymakers and civil society leaders’ high hopes for an international accord. Strong action on climate change is of particular significance in Latin America – because of its environmental vulnerability and the key role it plays in helping establish a post-carbon global economy. The coastal communities of the greater Caribbean Basin, the intensely biodiverse forests of the Amazonian region, and the glaciated peaks of the Andes are acutely threatened by climate change. Concern about climate change is higher in Latin America than in any other region of the world, according to the Pew Research Center. Several nations from the region have played key roles in putting the international community on a path toward a substantive agreement at COP 21, especially Peru, host of last year’s UN climate talks.
The negotiations in Paris are designed to develop an architecture for international cooperation on carbon mitigation and climate adaption that, while essentially voluntary, will catalyze bolder action in the future. In anticipation that COP 21 will conclude an agreement signed by all the negotiating parties, the international community finds itself again trying to strike the right balance between critical pressure for stronger action and acceptance of an imperfect, but necessary, policy apparatus. Although observers expect that more mitigation will be necessary, Paris will provide several powerful tools for states afflicted by climate change. Most especially, through the vehicle of the Green Climate Fund (GCF), financing for large-scale adaptation projects is now starting to flow. Because the mandates of the GCF prioritize low-carbon agriculture, climate-compatible cities, resilience in Small Island Developing States (SIDS), and financing for forests, the fund will have a special impact in Latin America, one of the world’s most urbanized and forested regions and home to more than 20 SIDS. Indeed, the first round of CGF projects, announced this month, includes two in Latin America – an energy efficiency bond in eastern Mexico and an indigenous people’s forest management project in Peru.
While there is room to be optimistic that these talks will make important progress, many probably will be dissatisfied with the outcome. According to independent evaluations, several Latin American countries have put forward robust plans to limit carbon emissions, including Costa Rica, Mexico, and Brazil. But many stakeholders, particularly environmental NGOs and leftist governments like Bolivia and Ecuador, are likely to be skeptical about the outcome of the negotiations. They will be right to point out that the sum total of emissions reductions being discussed at COP 21 is insufficient to keep warming below the consensus 2°C limit, and that the anticipated deal is almost certain not to be legally binding and may also have weak measures for verification. The “Road to Paris” may not take interested countries as far as they’d like to go, but in Latin America as elsewhere, critics might be well advised temper their skepticism, embrace the incremental progress, and begin preparing for the next round of climate change politics.
November 30, 2015
* Evan Berry is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion and Co-Director of the Ethics, Peace, and Global Affairs master’s program at American University.