South America falters over climate action

The Andes feed many Peruvian rivers – and provide much of Lima’s water
Image: mark goble/Yanapaccha via Wikimedia Commons

Leading South American governments submit disappointingly unambitious climate targets for Paris climate talks.

SÃO PAULO, 8 November 2015 – “Too timid” is the verdict on the emissions targets submitted by four of South America´s largest countries to the Paris climate talks.

The judgment follows an analysis by Climate Action Tracker (CAT) of the submissions by Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Chile, which together account for over two-thirds of the continent’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

CAT concluded that none of the submissions was sufficient to achieve a reduction in global warming to under 2°C unless other countries made much greater reductions. Instead, global warming would be more likely to reach 4°C if all countries came up with similarly unambitious targets.

The four countries are together responsible for 72% of South American GHG emissions, excluding changes in land use like cutting or burning forests for agriculture, a category known as LULUCF – Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry.

“None of these countries will be immune to the effects of climate change. An increase in warming of 2°C would have severe impacts on all four of them, and on the rest of the continent,” said Dr. Marcia Rocha, head of the climate policy team at Climate Analytics, one of the four research organisations which make up CAT.

“Yet instead of taking action commensurate with the size of the threat, these governments are largely sticking with their current policies, which are heading in the wrong direction.”

Targets missed?

Two Brazilian scientists have questioned in a letter in Science magazine whether even the modest targets set for 2030 will be met.

Raoni Rajão and Britaldo Soares Filho, environmental policy analysts at The Federal University of Minas Gerais, claim that it will be very difficult to meet Brazil´s target of a 43% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030, which is largely based on cutting illegal deforestation, because recent changes in the Forest Code will actually lead to an increase in legal deforestation.

In contrast to the government’s claim that deforestation has been reduced to no more than 5,000 square kilometres a year, they project a total loss of 198,000 sq km of forested areas by 2030, mainly in the Amazon and Cerrado regions, at a rate of 13,200 sq km annually. Brazil has 60% of the Amazon rainforest, by far the largest share.

The Brazilian Environment Ministry says that the scientists’ numbers are based on wrong interpretations of the Forest Code, and that huge strides have been taken in reducing previously soaring rates of deforestation, cutting them by 85% between 2005 and 2012.

Whatever the real figures are, climate change impacts are already affecting Brazil. This year the Amazon has been hit by a severe drought, leaving hundreds of boats stranded far from the water as river levels have fallen drastically.

The drought has contributed to a big increase in forest fires: INPE, the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research, using satellites, has detected over 11,000 fires in the state of Amazonas alone this year, a 47% increase over last year.

Growing thirst

Brazil´s many coastal cities, like Rio de Janeiro and Recife, will be affected by the expected rise in sea levels.  A 4°C warming could lead to a sea level rise of more than 60cm by the end of the century, flooding low-lying areas.

Peru also contains a sizeable chunk of the Amazon rainforest, but it is an Andean country, and warming of  2°C could  cause 90% of its glaciers to disappear, bringing massive water shortages to Lima (where it never rains) and other cities during the dry season, and to agriculture.  When it comes to climate change impacts on fisheries, Peru is listed as one of the world’s most vulnerable countries.

Its climate target of a 20% reduction below business-as-usual by 2030, or 30% with financial help, is seen as “medium” by CAT.

It says: “The expansion of the palm oil industry, agriculture, illegal logging and informal mining are major drivers of deforestation in the Andean-Amazon countries like Peru, where emissions from deforestation are projected to soar at a rate not seen before in the country’s history, from 92.6 MtCO2e in 2010 to 159 MtCO2e in 2030.”

“MtCO2e” means “million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent”. Carbon dioxide equivalency is a simplified way to put emissions of various GHGs on a common footing by expressing them in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide that would have the same global warming effect (usually over a century).

Amazonia at risk

“With its current deforestation rates, it is difficult to see how Peru is going to meet its climate target, especially its 2021 zero deforestation goal”, said Juan Pablo Osornio, of Ecofys, another CAT member.

CAT says the Amazon is poised by 2030 to become one of the 11 regions in the world worst affected by deforestation and forest degradation.

Chile, whose target is a 30% reduction of GHG emissions-intensity of GDP below 2007 levels by 2030, and rated by CAT as “inadequate”, also faces glacial melt and water shortages from under 2°C of warming, but its prospects are not quite as extreme as Peru’s.

Argentina has submitted a target of reducing GHG emissions, including land use, by15% below business-as-usual by 2030, or 16% by 2030 excluding forest and land issues. This is equivalent to 129-131% above its 1990 emission levels and 50-52% above those in 2010.  CAT says this is “inadequate”.

“For a country with such large emissions, and facing quite extreme impacts from global warming, it is disappointing to see such an inadequate effort,” said Dr Rocha.

“The world needs real ambition for Paris, and it would be  a very important symbol if these countries were able to increase their climate action by the time we get to Paris.”

Argentina has also reserved the right to adjust its target, adding a high level of uncertainty to its contribution to the Paris agreement.

This is in spite of the forecast that Argentina could face average temperature increases much higher than the global average. “For example, average temperatures in a 2°C world will [in Argentina] be 0.5°C higher and, in a 4°C world, are likely to be two degrees higher – 6°C,” said Bill Hare, chief executive of Climate Analytics.

“Global warming for Argentina, a country heavily dependent on agriculture, is likely to reduce crop yields and water availability. By 2030, the energy, agriculture and cattle-ranching sectors will account for more than 87% of the country’s total emissions, with huge growth (35%) from the agricultural sector between now and 2030.

“These four South American climate targets are collectively disappointing. With this region extremely vulnerable to climate impacts and many already being observed, now would be the time to really ramp up policies and ambition.”

“Now is not the time to simply put forward no more than what is already being done or planned. The world needs real ambition for Paris, and it would be  a very important symbol if these countries were able to increase their climate action by the time we get to Paris.” – Climate News Network

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