Latin America in International Climate Treaties

The past two weeks have been a remarkable period for international efforts to combat climate change, beginning on October 5 when the number of countries that ratified the Paris Agreement reached the number needed to bring it into force. This period wrapped up this past Saturday morning (October 15) when countries agreed to a new amendment to the Montreal Protocol that will phase down powerful climate-warming pollutants called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). These agreements, and others, are crucial efforts to constraining global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius so that we can avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Many Latin American countries have been important proponents of these accords and others, underscoring the importance that people in the region place on combating global warming and adapting to its present and future impacts. Here, then, is a brief summary of these incredibly significant international agreements, starting with the most recent, followed by a chart listing the countries in Central and South America that have signed on to and/or ratified each one (to date).

The Montreal Protocol

Big news came out of Rwanda early Saturday morning last week when countries agreed to a new amendment to the Montreal Protocol called the Kigali Amendment that will avoid the equivalent of more than 80 billion tons of CO2 emissions over the next 35 years—an amount equal to stopping all global CO2 emissions for two years. The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer dates back to 1987, and, as its name indicates, is an agreement among member countries to specifically reduce substances that damage the ozone layer. It has been amended and adjusted several times over the years, and Latin American countries have generally ratified or accepted those changes.

Secretary Kerry delivering remarks in Kigali

U.S. Dept. of State

Member countries met in Kigali, Rwanda last week to discuss setting a schedule to phasedown HFCs under the Montreal Protocol. HFCs are the chemicals used in air conditioning, refrigeration, insulating foams, among applications. They are the fastest growing climate pollutants and are hundreds to thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of climate impact. In Rwanda, all Latin American countries joined China, South Africa and around 140 other nations in agreeing to freeze their HFC production in 2024 and to make subsequent reductions afterwards.

Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA)

On October 6, the U.N. body that deals with the aviation sector, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), announced that governments, industry and civil society had agreed to a plan to reduce GHG emissions. This agreement—called CORSIA—is really important for two reasons. First, aviation currently accounts for a full 2 percent of global emissions, and these emissions are expected to grow three-to-four times from 2010-2040 if no action is taken. Second, this sector is not covered under the Paris treaty, meaning that, without this specific agreement, the aviation sector could have continued to emit GHGs without constraint.

The agreement relies on a market-based mechanism to cap the amount of GHGs from international flights, and my colleague explains the agreement in more detail here. Due to the agreement’s initial voluntary phase and reliance offsets, some believe it is not as strong as it should be. The World Bank projects offset demands to amount to 250 million tons of CO2 (MtCO2) by 2030. Here is a great interactive tool where you can see the impacts different countries would have if they join CORSIA during various phases.

The Paris Agreement

At the U.N. international climate conference in Paris last December, 177 countries from around the world agreed to, as mentioned above, keep global temperatures at a level low enough to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Leaders decided that the treaty would come into force 30 days after at least 55 countries representing at least 55 percent of the world’s emissions had ratified it. This happened with unprecedented speed early, and still more countries are expected to ratify ahead of the upcoming climate negotiations next month in Morocco.  

The Minamata Convention

I would be remiss if I did not include the U.N. Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Minamata Convention here. While not directly a climate treaty, its scope could have significant impacts on global GHG emissions. Minamata regulates mercury, a potent neurotoxin and pollutant that moves around the world in the air, in water and as a commodity. The agreement controls the mining of mercury; regulates trade in mercury across borders; phases out the use of mercury in household products from batteries to skin creams; reduces its use in processes like small-scale artisanal gold mining; and presents a timetable to stop airborne emissions of mercury from sources like coal-fired power plants, industrial boilers, cement plants, waste incinerators and industrial smelting processes for gold, lead, zinc and copper.

After four years of negotiations, the Minamata Convention on Mercury was adopted in 2013. To date, 128 countries have signed the convention and 32 have ratified it. It will come into force when 50 countries have ratified. For countries with coal-fired power plants or other industrial sources of airborne mercury mentioned above, this means reducing emissions from those sources – a process which can coincide with reducing GHGs as well. 

     * Members of the consensus agreement for the Kigali Amendment and Article 5 parties. Note that the amendment will have to be ratified by countries’ national governments.

     ** Countries that have signed on to either the voluntary or mandatory phases of CORSIA. Note that countries that are not in either of those columns are exempt according to the agreement.

     *** Countries that have ratified the Paris Agreement as of today (October 17, 2016).

     **** Countries that have signed and/or ratified the Minamata Convention as of today (October 17, 2016).

As you can see, Latin American countries are generally very present in the international negotiations and agreements to fight climate change. Yet a table like one this also indicates where work remains to be done. While there is much to celebrate from the past two weeks of landmark achievements, clearly there is still much to do—in Latin America and all parts of the world—to avoid the worst effects that climate change could bring to our communities and our planet. 

About the Authors

Amanda Maxwell

Director, Latin America Project

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