The year 2015 is shaping out to be a turning point for climate change action as countries inch closer to putting the world on a trajectory that would curb the cataclysmic effects of global warming by limiting average global surface temperature increase to 2°C. Climate change is already impacting every corner of the world, and Latin America has been no exception. More than ever before, extreme storms and droughts, melting glaciers and pollution have ravaged the region, forcing leaders to increasingly prioritize climate change in their agendas.
Over the past year, countries in the region have increasingly shown a willingness to act on climate change. There is a growing understanding that domestic climate action can produce real benefits for citizens by creating green jobs, improving health by reducing pollution and creating more equitable societies. Peru, the hosts of last year's Conference of the Parties (COP20), and France, the host of this year's round of negotiations have joined forces to urge countries to bring forth their most ambitious commitments to Paris, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL) dedicated a whole week to climate change discussions in September and mayors from some of the biggest cities in Latin America such as Mexico City, Bogota, Buenos Aires, Lima, Rio de Janeiro and Santiago signed on to the Compact of the Mayors and committed to reducing emissions in their cities.
A critical piece to achieving the success necessary to curb dangerous climate change in the future is the climate agreement that will come out of Paris negotiations this December. Scores of leaders are hopeful Paris negotiations will produce the strongest global treaty on climate and the environment to date. The most optimistic are eager for this to be the first legally binding agreement. While too soon to predict what will actually come out of this year's negotiations, it is important for countries to start off the first round of negotiations offering strong commitments if the world is to have a chance at solving the issue of climate change. This October was the United Nations-set deadline for countries to submit climate commitments, also known as INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions), which will become the framework of this global agreement.
So far, 13 countries in Latin America have submitted their plans: Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Peru, Chile, Uruguay, Honduras, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Argentina, Ecuador and Paraguay. Collectively, these countries represent 82 percent of the region's emissions, with Brazil (53%) and Mexico (12%) making up the largest portion.
Here is a recap of what each country's commitment entails:
- Brazil - As the fifth largest emitter of carbon pollution in the world, many eyes were set on Brazil plan to be a role model to the rest of Latin America. As it stands, Brazil pledges to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 37 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 and 43 percent by 2030. This is the first time a major developing country has committed to absolute reduction of emissions from a base year rather than projected emissions or GDP. It also proposes achieving a 45 percent share of renewables in the energy matrix by 2030 and eliminating illegal deforestation by 2030. While encouraging, the pledge falls short of the 57 percent the Climate Observatory of Brazil proposed the country could achieve and includes no long-term target. Official INDC submission here.
- Mexico - First developing country in the world and first in the region to submit an INDC, Mexico pledges to unconditionally reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 22 percent below business-as-usual (BAU) levels and reduce its black carbon emissions by 51 percent by 2030. Together this represents a 25 percent reduction of overall emissions. They expect net emissions will peak in 2026 and conditional on international support, the 25 emission reduction could increase to up to 40 percent. While the pledge includes no clear plan for shifting to renewable energy sources, it does seek to slash deforestation rates to 0 percent by 2030.Official INDC submission here.
- Chile -Less ambitious than the options included in the draft circulated for public consultation last December, Chile's INDC includes the goal of achieving an unconditional 30 percent reduction in carbon intensity by 2030 based on 2007 emission levels and a conditional 35%-45% target contingent on international support. Additionally, it pledges to reforest 100,000 hectares of forest. With 75% of its emissions coming from the energy sector, it will be critical for Chile to take concrete actions to boost its non-conventional renewable energy sector.Official INDC submission here.
- Colombia - Under the submitted mitigation target, Colombia will reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 20 percent by 2030 as compared to a projected business-as-usual (BAU) scenario. For the first time, Colombia adopts a national, economy-wide emissions reduction target. It also emphasizes adaptation planning and goals through specific measurable goals through 2030 such as land protection, water resource management and education to raise awareness.Official INDC submission here.
- Peru - Unconditional 20 percent greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction by 2030 as compared to projected business-as-usual (BAU) scenario. 30 percent reduction contingent on international technical and financial support. Official INDC submission here. Additional analysis by Nivela here.
- Costa Rica - Unconditional, absolute reduction of CO2e per capita to 1.73 tonnes by 2030, 1.19 tonnes by 2050 and .27 tonnes by 2100. Official INDC submission here. Additional analysis by Nivela here.
- Argentina - Unconditional 15 percent greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction by 2030 as compared to projected business-as-usual (BAU) scenario. 30 percent reduction contingent on international technical and financial support. Official INDC submission here.
- Paraguay - Unconditional 10 percent greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction by 2030 as compared to projected business-as-usual (BAU) scenario. 20 percent reduction contingent on international technical and financial support. Official INDC submission here.
- Dominican Republic - Conditional greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction target of 25% below 2010 levels by 2030. Official INDC submission here.
- Uruguay - Greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions by sector. Official INDC submission here.
- Honduras -15 percent greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction by 2030 as compared to projected business-as-usual (BAU) scenario contingent on international technical and financial support. Official INDC submission here.
- Guatemala - Unconditional 11.2 percent greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction by 2030 as compared to projected business-as-usual (BAU) scenario. 22.6 percent reduction contingent on international technical and financial support. Official INDC submission here.
- Ecuador - Unconditional 20.4-25% percent greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction by 2030 as compared to projected business-as-usual (BAU) scenario. 40 percent reduction contingent on international technical and financial support. here.
Will it be enough?
The question now is whether Latin America's commitments, along with those from the rest of the world, will be enough to "solve" climate change. Before countries committed to new climate actions in 2009 as part of the Copenhagen Accord, the world was headed down a trajectory to reach an average global temperature increase of 5°C. The most recent estimates project that, if followed through, INDC pledges made this year have will bring that number down to around 2.7°C. While not ideal, this new estimate gives us all hope that collectively countries are making measurable progress towards preventing catastrophic climate outcomes, and proof that the stronger individual country pledges are, the closer we get as a planet to reducing the effects of climate change. To be sure, it will be important for cities and business to step up with their own solutions. The groundswell of action from all sectors is key. The good news is that these climate pledges are a starting point, not the finish line for what countries can and must do to secure a safe, healthy and prosperous world for future generations. With 80 percent of its population living in cities, the compounding impacts of city-level initiatives in Latin America are inspiring. Businesses, non-state actors and financial institutions too can contribute actions ambitious enough to ensure we reach that optimal 2°C maximum temperature increase limit. The time is ripe for every major player to take a step in the right direction and help shape the types of communities the people of Latin America deserve before it's too late. It will also be important for Latin American leaders to remember that acting to address climate change is about much more than just counting emissions, it's about improving public transportation, creating healthier cities, securing resilient communities, spurring innovation, increasing jobs, protecting our natural resources and signaling to the rest of the world that Latin America is a force for action and for solutions to be reckoned with now and in years to come.
Updated on 10/14/2015