Beyond Pledges: Solidifying Climate Action in Latin America

It is imperative that national-level leaders in Latin America play an active role in the 2022 United Nations Climate Summit (COP27) negotiations to tackle the climate crisis that has left a path of unprecedented destruction over the past few years. The hydrological hazards to which the region is subject—droughts, heat waves, cold waves, tropical cyclones, and floods—have unfortunately resulted in the loss of hundreds of lives, severe damage to crop production and infrastructure, and human displacement. At the same time, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has risen to its highest rate in the past 15 years, threatening net carbon emissions of CO2 and suffering massive losses of biodiversity. Elsewhere in the region, countries depend on fossil fuel extraction. All countries across the region know firsthand the effects of climate change and concrete action is needed by leaders at the national level towards a global climate agenda.

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This is an important factor for the region and more than pledges and plans are needed. According to the Climate Analytics and NuClimate Institute’s Climate Action Tracker and the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, some of the largest countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have not yet committed to the necessary measures to achieve the goal of limiting average rise. to 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming through their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Lagging countries like Brazil and Mexico, the largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters in the region, need to urgently reboot their climate policies. Colombia, which played a key role in the previous COP for its ambitious climate announcements, is also facing the same problems: the lack of a road map for the implementation of climate measures and the adoption of the principle of climate justice. Even amid positive recent developments that could be a potential turnaround for Brazil and Mexico, actions speak louder than words.

Kiara Worth. UNFCCC, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Current outlook of major Latin American countries

Mexico

This moment in time could be a turning point for Mexico to tap into its vast renewable energy resources to create new economic opportunities and build a more sustainable future for local communities. Just days before the start of COP27, Mexico signaled its commitment to reduce its GHG emissions by 30 percent by 2030, up from the previous target of 22 percent. Additional recent developments include PEMEX’s pledge to capture 98 percent of methane emissions and Mexico’s announcement to lead the transition to 100 percent zero-emission cars and vans by 2040. PEMEX’s commitment is particularly significant, as methane emissions account for nearly Total GHG production. Also, Mexico announced at COP27 that it will share the Sonora project, which will focus on solar energy, lithium and semiconductors in an effort to transform the state into an electric vehicle hub. Finally, at last year’s COP26, Mexico joined the Declaration on Forestry and Land Use as part of a global effort to prevent and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030.

However, at this point, pledges and vague plans are necessary to make Mexico a climate leader. A local NGO, Initiativa Climatica de Mexico (ICM) released this week, at COP27, an NDC proposal by civil society to help the government of Mexico renew and increase its climate ambition from a climate justice perspective. The proposal matches the government’s non-conditional 30 percent target by 2030, but its conditional target is more ambitious than the government announced. The document is backed by multiple studies to back up the feasibility of the new proposed targets; At the same time, it provides a guideline on how to deliver them. In a webinar to launch the proposal, the group highlighted that implementation is key and that the government’s current policies are not aligned with the more ambitious NDC goal.

Indeed, over the past three years, Mexico has taken consistent steps to undermine its renewable energy sector and unfairly boost its fossil fuel industry because it has generally prioritized climate action. Mexico’s actions against the renewable energy industry—including U.S. firms—called on the United States to negotiate under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Additionally, Mexico currently ranks among the top 10 countries for forest loss, with nearly 300,000 hectares of primary forest loss in 2020. The government is building a new oil refinery in Dos Bocas, which could become a stranded asset in less than 20 years. Furthermore, the president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (popularly known as “AMLO”) has cut the budget for disaster management and climate change. Mexico’s Supreme Court overturned a critical suspension of reforms to an AMLO-backed electric industry law that sought to restore the market power of its Federal Electricity Commission, thereby discouraging private investment in solar and wind. Instead of putting the brakes on renewable energy, the Mexican government should embrace new opportunities and technologies.

Looking beyond COP27, it is commendable that Mexico is reviewing and strengthening its commitments. However, it is clear that current policies will not allow Mexico to achieve more ambitious emission reduction targets. The NDC, proposed by civil society, may provide some answers to create a roadmap for the country to deliver on more ambitious goals. And as emphasized during the launch, it provides the technical elements to show that a more ambitious NDC is technically, economically and legally possible. In the conditions Mexico finds itself in today, it is urgent for the country to step back from its anti-climate energy policies and focus on a green recovery that brings clean energy jobs and builds more resilient communities.

A burning gas flare at an offshore oil production site in the Gulf of Mexico

Brazil

With the recent election of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, hopes for a more eco-friendly change in leadership for Brazil have risen. However, restoring its conservation credentials will be more difficult than simply replacing leaders. On the positive side, President-elect Lula has pledged to prioritize climate action and end deforestation, and the head of his political party confirmed Lula’s participation at COP27, where he will meet UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. representatives). During Lula’s last administration (2003–2010), Brazil reduced the deforestation rate of the Amazon by more than 70 percent. With strong environmental credentials, Brazil is encouraging rich countries to fund climate mitigation and adaptation efforts under Lula. This attempt was successful; In 2008, Germany and Norway created a fund with the Brazilian government to help with Amazon conservation efforts.

But Lula will face struggles to reverse Brazil’s environmental destruction, as former President Jair Bolsonaro actively dismantled environmental protections, legalized illegal environmental activities, and supported policies that opened the Amazon to large-scale mining, oil and gas extraction, and other destructive practices. During Bolsonaro’s administration, the Brazilian government’s GHG emissions reduction commitment of 50 percent by 2030 was a repeat of the promise made at the Paris Climate Conference (COP21) in 2015, which was ultimately insufficient to meet the current goal of limiting warming to 5 degrees. Celsius. The Amazon is one of the most critical areas of forest worldwide, and the rate of deforestation in Brazil is the highest it has been in the last 15 years. If that trend continues, the Amazon will become a net emitter of CO2 and suffer a massive loss of biodiversity. The Brazilian Environment Ministry signed the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forestry and Land Use; However, only Brazil’s commitments apply illegal Deforestation but declaration does not make such distinction. There are no indicators that Brazil has begun to address this problem, and past environmental spending proposals have been vetoed.

To get Brazil back on track, Lula needs to immediately start enforcing existing forest protection laws (according to an analysis by Carbon Brief, full implementation of the Forest Code could reduce deforestation by 89 percent by 2030); Reconstruction of environmental institutions; strengthening the protection of indigenous peoples and environmental defenders; Regulate agricultural businesses; and securing sustainable livelihoods, clean energy and public services for urban populations within the National Climate Strategy.

Aerial view of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in northern Brazil

Colombia

Colombia has proposed an ambitious emissions reduction commitment of 51 percent by 2030, making the proposal to decarbonize by 2050 feasible if implemented appropriately. It has committed to reducing its black carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030, leading to improved air quality and public health in its cities. And Colombia increased its commitment to protecting forests, signing several agreements covering deforestation, land use and marine protection. Additionally, the expansion of its marine protected areas as part of the 30×30 initiative seeks to protect 30 percent of marine and terrestrial areas by 2030. Colombia also signed the “Because of the Ocean” declaration, further committing to marine conservation.

Despite these ambitious goals, Colombia’s current commitments are classified as “grossly insufficient” by the Climate Action Tracker, and for good reason. The agriculture, forestry and other land use sector is responsible for 58 percent of Colombia’s GHG emissions. The country’s heavy reliance on fossil fuel exports for revenue remains a key political factor for any incoming government. At the very least, fracking pilot projects should be halted and coal exports phased out. Furthermore, Colombia needs to: establish concrete climate adaptation measures for its several economic sectors, especially agriculture; increase the price and scope of its carbon tax; and make improvements to the design and implementation of its emissions trading schemes.

Good planning is critical to tackling deforestation. Given the low environmental ambitions of key Colombian economic sectors, with the exception of land use and forestry, the country needs to set robust domestic policies to deliver its goals and commit to fully protecting natural areas on land and oceans.

A mother and her young daughter are harvesting onions on a farm in Colombia

Countries across Latin America must play an active role and develop road maps towards their climate goals

As explained above, Latin American countries must adopt more sustainable energy options, protect their forests and land, and accelerate their transition away from fossil fuel investments (especially refining). Additionally, governments must be held accountable for their commitments by focusing on a just and equitable transition to net-zero emissions. Climate change and related extreme events are amplifying factors in migration and displacement, but exacerbate social, economic and environmental burdens. Latin America is among the regions with the highest documented need to strengthen early warning systems. The torrential rains—causing floods and landslides—set records in many places across the region and caused substantial damage, including hundreds of deaths and tens of thousands of homes destroyed or damaged. Increasing damage to agriculture has also hurt global crop markets. At COP27 and beyond, local governments need to show that they support the climate agenda with concrete action plans, and they need to enable real progress with better policies to transform their economies towards sustainability.

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