ECPA to Paris – What COP21 Could Mean for Latin America

Mattie J. E. Rush, Climate and Energy

What a week for climate and energy!

We at the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA) Senior Fellows Program have been anticipating the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris (COP21) all year. As you may know, world leaders, decision-makers, businesses, and activists have gathered in Paris for COP21, running from November 30 – December 11. The event has been the subject of high media scrutiny, as a select group decides the future of our planet for the rest of us.

The ECPA Senior Fellows program is an initiative that President Obama established in 2009 to address climate change and energy issues throughout the Western Hemisphere. Since our establishment, our fellows have completed a total of 69 trips to 19 different countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. With COP21 coming to a close, we would like to share some of the significant developments of these meetings regarding Latin America and the Caribbean.

As I continue watching along with the rest of the world, I cannot help but wonder if COP21 will achieve its goal of obtaining “a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.”  Thus far, we at Partners of the Americas have hope, as many significant promises have been made regarding Latin America countries (LAC) and climate change.

Internal armed conflict has raged in Colombia for years, but Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, said last week that the end is near. This has a huge impact on the country’s environment; if conflicts do indeed desist, drug plantations will be replaced with sustainable crops, and peace and environmental protection will be that much more securable. Without stability, the country likely won’t be able to effectively combat climate change. Despite the hardships, commitments from Colombia include a 20 percent carbon dioxide emission reduction in comparison to the current projected levels for the year 2030. This is significant for a country that is currently battling such severe internal struggles as guerilla warfare.

The first day of COP21 proved that certain countries arrived in Paris ready to make a statement about the planet’s climate; Germany, Norway, and the UK signed a $5 billion pledge to combat tropical deforestation globally over the next five years. The pledge is known as, ”Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD-plus)” under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Of that $5 billion, $100 million will go toward Colombia to reduce deforestation in the Amazon. Another $114 million is going toward Brazil’s Amazon Fund. It is commitments like these that keep our hope for COP21 alive here at Partners, commitments that we hope to see imitated by the rest of the Paris attendees in their level of commitment and impact.   

We were happy to hear Mexico announce that it, too, is focused on reducing deforestation. Mexico’s aim is to entirely eliminate deforestation nationwide by 2030, a success that Partners will be rooting for along the way. The country also announced a $23 billion dollar pledge to cut its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 22 percent, and its black carbon soot by 51 percent, by 2030. 

The countries of Central America announced their wish to have Central America labeled as an "especially vulnerable region" regarding climate change effects. Heavy rains and extended periods of drought are a common in Central America, and extreme climate incidents have caused farmers and indigenous communities to lose their crops. Furthermore, greater than 5 million people are currently considered food insecure, facing hunger regularly. If Central America is recognized as "vulnerable," developed countries will provide support and compensation to address these issues.

Latin American and Caribbean countries have suffered some of the most “extreme weather disasters,” they have emitted a fraction of the total amount of global CO2 emissions. Yet, Honduras has pledged to reduce CO2 emissions by 15 percent by 2030, even though it emits less than 0.1 percent of global GHG emissions. Guatemala has also pledged significant reductions. The country aims to reduce GHG emissions 11.2 percent by 2030, with an additional 10.4 percent pledged if proper financial and technical assistance is received. Similar reduction commitments have been pledged by Chile, Paraguay, Peru and other LACs.

As the events of the day wrapped up, and attendees and visitors flocked Paris’ streets, the Eiffel Tower became alight with one simple and powerful message – “100% possible” and beneath that, “100% Pura Vida.” In Costa Rica, “Pura Vida” is the national slogan, which directly translates to “Pure Life.” The message on the Eiffel Tower (the first of many projected throughout the event) was presumably a tip-of-the-hat to Costa Rica for its incredible “record stretch this year running on 100 percent renewable energy — 255 days, according to the presidency.”

It is Costa Rica’s hope to become carbon neutral by 2085 and establish itself as “a ‘laboratory’ for de-carbonizing the economy.” Although this year was highly successful for Costa Rica in terms of its energy consumption, there is more work to be done. By 2030, the country aims to have completed its development for 100 percent renewable energy. And to that, we salute Costa Rica – here’s to a Pura Vida!

The events are not over in Paris. With so much discussed and still more to accomplish, the next two days will be crucial to the success of COP21 and the future of global climate change. Please join us in following the remaining events, and ask yourself what you and your community can do to help whatever agreement is reached in Paris succeed.