Latin America Advisor

A Daily Publication of The Dialogue

How Real Are Latin American Leaders’ Climate Promises?

Several Latin American leaders, with some notable exceptions, attended the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, making commitments that generated headlines. // Photo: United Nations. Several Latin American leaders, with some notable exceptions, attended the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, making commitments that generated headlines. // Photo: United Nations.

Latin American leaders made new commitments at the U.N. Climate Change Conference, or COP26, in Glasgow, but some also have faced criticism over their environmental policies. Brazil vowed to step up its plans for cutting emissions, achieving carbon neutrality and ending illegal deforestation, but President Jair Bolsonaro didn’t attend the conference, and environmentalists have said his government’s plans lack specific details. Meantime, Colombian President Iván Duque committed to moving up plans to declare land protected, but critics say he hasn’t done enough to stop guerrilla groups from cutting down forests. How significant are Latin American leaders’ new pledges on climate change, and how valid are the criticisms they face on their environmental policies? To what extent are Latin American leaders backing up their vows to protect the environment with concrete initiatives? How much opposition to aggressive climate goals exists from industries in the region?

Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, global leader of climate & energy at WWF International and former president of COP20 in 2014:Few of us have appreciated the fact that under the Paris Agreement, and with the contribution of science, a collective vision of the planet has been agreed upon. No one doubts now that the increase in temperature toward the end of the 21st century should not exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius, or that we need to strive toward the goal of carbon neutrality and resilience by 2050 and therefore need to halve our emissions by 2030. This is good, and in this sense, the announcements and commitments of Latin American leaders and nonstate actors count. This, however, is insufficient if the announcements are not reflected in concrete actions, or if the announcements do not have transparency and accountability mechanisms that facilitate the monitoring of their progress and the verification of their goals. But at the same time, it should be added that in Latin America the gaps to be filled and the tasks to be undertaken are significantly greater than the announcements that are made. Let us start by recognizing that Latin America participates in the climate debate in a fragmented way. Decision makers have failed to understand that a new global economy demands necessary change with a strong climate component. Those who are irresponsible in their actions will be sanctioned. In this sense, some of the climate plans are weak. Latin American companies’ climate commitments are absent. Also, adaptation plans, which in most cases are nonexistent and have little awareness about transformational change, are worrying. Latin America must wake up, and its citizens need to mobilize their ‘activism’ to insist on their demands.

MK Vereen, program assistant for the Energy, Climate Change & Extractive Industries Program at the Inter-American Dialogue:Although several countries in Latin America updated their climate commitments in 2020, most states’ current climate policies and actions are more aligned with a catastrophic 3 to 4 degrees warming scenario. Across the region, political instability, regime change and heavy debts from the pandemic have stymied climate progress, with leading economies such as Mexico and Brazil backsliding on climate action. On top of these crises, extreme droughts and hurricanes have revealed the region’s high vulnerability to the effects of climate change. With climate adaptation absorbing an increasing percentage of these countries’ budgets in the future, the salience of international climate aid has begun to overshadow country-level mitigation commitments. President Joe Biden announced at COP26 that the United States will begin to provide $3 billion each year by 2024 to help the developing world adapt to climate change. However, this pales in comparison to the actual costs that adaptation already entails. Overall, Latin American countries are not doing enough, but neither are their wealthier counterparts, which are responsible for most of the world’s historical emissions. Despite these challenges, during the first week of COP26, a dozen Latin American countries signed on to the Global Methane Pledge, which aims to limit methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030 as compared to 2020 levels, as well as the Declaration on Forests and Land Use, which aims to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030. Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Panama launched a new marine protected area called the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor. Boasting climate mitigation and adaptation benefits, this ‘marine highway’ will be a fishing-free corridor covering more than 500,000 square kilometers of biodiverse ocean. Given the current challenges facing Latin America, as well as historical challenges such as enforcement of regulations, whether these agreements will actually be implemented remains to be seen.

Mirza Castro, consultant and specialist in climate change from Honduras:The Latin American leaders represented by the presidents of the UNFCCC member countries are only political figures who know very little about the subject. Behind them are teams of advisors and technicians from different disciplines who prepare their speeches and country documents on climate change issues. When there is no knowledge, empowerment or commitment, these initiatives remain on paper and in beautiful speeches. The challenge for all Latin American countries is development planning that considers the issue of climate change as an axis around which all other issues revolve in order to achieve climate-compatible sustainable development. Countries must implement these plans in an inter-institutional, comprehensive and intersectoral way. All the criticisms that leaders face against their environmental policies are not just valid but also necessary. It means that other sectors are interested in protecting our livelihoods, ways of life, food security, biodiversity, water, air quality, soil and the oxygen we need to live. Hopefully, these large groups of critics will continue to support and protect the environment, as well as influence more and more young people to take interest in protecting future generations. In my country, Honduras, Green Cross UK awarded the Climate Positive Award to Nasry Asfura, the mayor of Tegucigalpa, for filling the streets of the capital with concrete, eliminating trees and green areas and allowing urbanization in La Tigra National Park, a source of water for the capital’s residents. This is ironic and a bad example for those who are really acting in favor of the environment, including private companies that are entering the post-pandemic green recovery.

José Luis Samaniego, chief of the Sustainable Development and Human Settlement Division of the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean:Latin America and the Caribbean requires great efforts for adaptation, as it is highly vulnerable to climate change. As of August, of the 17 countries that had updated their nationally determined contribution (NDC), 11 had a guiding policy framework for adaptation. There is ambition in the region. The serious insufficiency is that of the large emitters, particularly the developed countries, whose laxity compromises the global goal. The NDC Synthesis Report (by the UNFCCC) affirms that the NDCs of 192 parties together imply a 16 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 as compared to 2010. Being such a vulnerable region, inaction or insufficient global action puts us increasingly at risk. We are concerned that Latin America is the region of the world with the highest number of murders of environmental defenders. These are crimes with impunity. Of the total spending for 2020 announced in the region, a very low percentage is oriented to green investment (0.4 percent), and it is only 2.3 percent of the specific spending on economic reactivation. Achieving the emission reduction goals requires a structural economic change, and that requires aligning public policies to change investment incentives. For this, we must align our policies and investments. The economy associated with the reduction of emissions generates economic growth and greater employment and promotes new sectors in our region. There is much work to be done to show the benefits of climate action in both mitigation and adaptation and to realign incentives for investment in the enabling and green sectors.


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