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The climate emergency is becoming increasingly relevant in political debates and news headlines. The short term prospects are catastrophic, apocalyptic even for many species, including the human race.
This issue is so pressing that militant movements pushing for action to stop climate change such as Extinction Rebellion are on the rise, as is Greta Thunberg’s campaign, that only 5 years ago would have appeared overly alarmist but is currently resonating with hundreds of thousands around the world.
Worries regarding the climate began to emerge in the 60s and later intensified with discussions about nuclear energy and the extinction of certain species. In 1992, an Earth Summit was held in Rio de Janeiro, where the issue acquired an international and multilateral agenda.
27 years later, when Brazil was to once again become a protagonist of the climate debate, the far-right climate change denying government of Bolsonaro was elected, and the COP25 was called off.
Chile saw an opportunity to gain relevance on the international stage and offered to host the event, however after the explosion of protests and social uprisings around the country that have been dealt with through the use of extraordinary force by the government and the army, Piñera decided to suspect the event.
Spain then offered to take its place, and thus on the 2nd of December, the UN Climate Change Summit began in Madrid, however Chile continues to provide logistical support. More than 25,000 participants from 196 countries are expected to attend, among them heads of state, activists, scientists, and business professionals.
According to the experts, in order to prevent irreversible damage, governments of the world must increase the Paris Agreement efforts fivefold if they wish for the world temperature to warm no more than 2 degrees over the following years.
The absence of Jair Bolsonaro is particularly threatening given that the largest portion of the Amazon rainforest is inside Brazil
However, the absence of world leaders at the summit such as Donald Trump, Narendra Modi, and Xi Jinping could become a serious threat to the application of measures that seek to reduce climate change around the world.
The absence of Jair Bolsonaro is particularly threatening given that the largest portion of the Amazon rainforest is inside Brazil. What’s more, the lack of US representation is worrying given that it is among the countries that produce the most greenhouse gases in the world.
In such an urgent global context, we explore what the governments of Latin America are doing to reduce carbon emissions and what we can expect from them in the coming years.
In Colombia, Duque’s government has created a deforestation goal of 220,000 hectares annually in his National Development Plan for 2018-2022, which has created worry among social sectors and environmental organisations who have denounced that this is the equivalent to five times the city of Bogotá.
90,000 signatures which demanded a drastic decrease in the deforestation goal were delivered to congress in April of this year, however shortly after an even higher goal was voted into law.
When, during a recent National Dialogue activists asked president Duque if he would fulfil his campaign promise to prohibit fracking in Colombia, he appeared to no longer have an opinion against the practice. “That’s not a whimsical decision for me or for anybody to make. This matter should not be about politics or ideology, but about the present and future of the country” he responded.
What’s more, the continuous use of glyphosate in the eradication of illegal crops in rural areas of the country under Duque is already causing irreversible damage to natural environments. Colombia’s environmental strategy for the next few years shows the current government is incapable and unwilling to defend the country against pressure from transnational mining and agricultural giants, and does not provide much hope for the future.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Mexico’s new president, has a pro-environmental protection discourse, and a report from this September revealed that his government plan has many similarities with the objectives of the UN Sustainable Development 2030 goals.
His plan includes popular environmental measures such as prohibiting the use of genetically modified crops, prohibiting fracking, the retraction of mining licenses to those who are not guaranteeing protection of the environment, and promoting a sensible use of water resources.
However, his actions don’t always coincide with his promises, and projects such as the new petrol refinery Dos Bocas in Tabasco, which will cost the new government around 8 thousand million dollars, has terrified environmentalists who insist this money would be better spent on renewable energies.
A group of 100 academics and scientists of the province of Yucatán wrote a letter directed to López Obrador expressing serious concerns regarding the environmental impacts of the Maya Train
Additionally, during his presidential campaign, López Obrador promised to build the Maya Train, a transportation project of around 1500 kilometres that would cut through jungle and coast in the South of Mexico, where many indigenous territories and protected areas are found.
A group of 100 academics and scientists of the province of Yucatán wrote a letter directed to López Obrador expressing serious concerns regarding the environmental impacts of the project, and asking for a thorough analysis to minimise these impacts, in December of last year. In spite of this, the president has reassured that the plan will go ahead.
On the 27th of October, Argentina elected a new president, Alberto Fernández, who will replace Macri on the 10th of December. Macri, whose presidency was almost entirely focused on stabilising the precarious economy of the South American country said little about the environment during his four years in power.
During his government, he increased the production of the beef farming industry, which tripled in size in the past years. Production of beef is one of the most harmful industries, due to the fact that it requires huge quantities of water (around 15,000 litres per kilo of meat), huge quantities of terrain that is often deforested to make way for the animals, and it also causes the release of methane gas into the atmosphere, an extremely damaging chemical with greenhouse gas impacts.
What’s more, during his presidency, Macri increased petrol and gas extraction through fracking at Vaca Muerta, an extraction site the size of Belgium that can be found between the provinces of Neuquén, Río Negro, the Pampa and Mendoza.
The Mapuche indigenous communities, that mostly reside in the south of Argentina and Chile, and whose territories are affected by Vaca Muerta, presented a complaint before the UN for irreversible damage caused and a lack of prior consultation by the government regarding fracking projects, but they were unable to stop the extraction.
The new government will be unpredictable in terms of environmental policy, given that Fernández failed to make any mention of the matter during his presidential campaign. NGOs and social sectors have already been pressuring Fernández to create an Environmental Ministry to prioritise environmental issues, rather than relegating environment to the Ministry of Housing, as is the case currently.
Jair Bolsonaro became the president of Brazil in January this year, and since then, environmental conflicts in the South American country have increased exponentially. We saw how the Brazilian Amazon began to catch fire in August, with the burning of half a million hectares (around 5,000 million square metres) of rainforest, an increase of 84% compared to 2018.
Before Bolsonaro stepped into the presidential palace, Brazil had committed to stopping all deforestation in the Amazon before 2025, but the new president made it totally clear that this goal goes against his interests. “I won’t protect any part of the rainforest that can be exploited” Bolsonaro declared during his campaign, indicating what would eventually become true: that he would provide a carte blanche to deforesters when he becomes president.
Bolsonaro keeps denying that his policies have anything to do with the fires, and he instead blames foreign NGOs for mounting a fake news scandal to discredit his government
Although there are forest fires every year in the Amazon, there is a direct relationship between Bolsonaro’s environmental policies and the drastic increase that we have seen this year. Getting rid of the Secretary for Climate Change and dismantling organisms that protect indigenous rights and land were among the first things Bolsonaro did this year. He also named Ricardo Salles as his Environmental Minister, a politician who is fiercely in favour of neoliberalism and a climate change denier.
The current government has made it much easier to get a license to deforest in the Amazon, and it has also taken steps to legalise previously illegally deforested territory. This has created an incentive for loggers and farmers to cut down more of the Amazon rainforest, provoking an ecocide in one of the most important ecosystems of the world.
However, Bolsonaro keeps denying that his policies have anything to do with the fires, and he instead blames foreign NGOs for mounting a fake news scandal to discredit his government. The future of the Brazilian Amazon is at risk, and the next few years could be enough to reach a tipping point from which we can’t come back.
In Latin America, there are still huge areas of virgin jungle, impressive biodiversity, and huge fresh water reserves. It is believed that one square kilometre of Ecuadorian jungle has more biodiversity than the whole of the US.
If COP25 had taken place in Chile, more attention would have been drawn to some of the issues facing the country and the region, such as the melting of the immense glaciers in the Patagonian region, to the destruction and loss of wildlife. Many environmental initiatives have stalled due to the current social unrest in Chile, but the climate crisis is more relevant and important than ever.
More than ever before, we must now fight for a green future. Hopefully, the next Climate Change Summit can begin from there.