A year on from deadly floods in Colombia and Peru, how is LatAm addressing climate change?

By
Thursday, March 29, 2018

Latin America was hit heavily by natural disasters related to climate change during 2017, particularly in March, when a series of floods in Peru left nearly 100 dead and nearly 300,000 homeless, and April, when heavy rains caused a landslide that killed over 360 people in the Colombian city of Mocoa.

Following these catastrophes and other disasters around the region, Latin American governments decided to intensify their efforts to face and mitigate the effects of global warming.

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In the case of Colombia and Chile, both countries unveiled nationwide policies last year to adapt their infrastructure to the effects of climate change and fulfill their commitments to the Paris climate accord of 2015.

Meanwhile, Peru started an US$8bn reconstruction program  to deal with the aftermath of last year's floods.

According to a March 15 report from the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Latin America and the Caribbean produce only 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, yet it is a region that is particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change.

In this regard, the commission stated that the region could lose between 1.4% and 4.3% of GDP during the second half of this century if global temperatures rise 2.5°C, while adaptation measures would only cost between 0.29% and 0.37% of GDP per year until 2050.

On a similar note, the World Bank warned in a March 19 study that Latin America's "internal climate migrants" could reach 17mn, or 2.6% of the regional population, as climate changes begins to affect local infrastructure, water availability and crop productivity.

"These trends, alongside the emergence of 'hotspots' of climate in- and out-migration, will have major implications for climate-sensitive sectors and for the adequacy of urban infrastructure and social support systems in both rural and urban areas," the report states.

LOCAL VERSUS REGIONAL

One of the main questions that remains over the region's actions to address climate change is the necessity for a coordinated policy among all countries.

On this issue Maryann Ramírez, conservation manager for non-profit organization The Nature Conservancy in Chile, told BNamericas that regional efforts to combat climate change have the problem of being limited in scope, as they only cover indicators such as temperature or greenhouse emissions.

"You have to remember that ecosystems are greatly different, therefore solutions are different. You can set common goals, such as lowering temperatures, but when it comes to water access you have to see it from the point of view of river basins, and there the solutions have to be localized," she explains.

Another problem that arises with these agreements is the speed with which they are implemented. Fernando Miralles, a hydrologist from the University of Maryland and water consultant for the Inter-American Bank (IDB), told BNamericas that "in a certain way [regional coordination] is starting to be done, but unfortunately human beings move more slowly than natural phenomena."

To this he adds that "Latin America's problem is that, we start doing something, then we stop and then we're left waiting until the next emergency, that's not sustainable."

EVALUATING GOVERNMENT ACTIONS

A year on from the disasters in Peru and Colombia, and six years after Mexico adopted the first general climate change law in Latin America, Ramírez says that is still "too soon" to carry out a comprehensible evaluation of governments' actions.

"Everything that has to do with climate change and adaptation are long-term structures and actions. You could say that it's good that measures are being taken, but it's important to generate indicators that can tell you how things are advancing in the next five or 10 years. Those indicators have to be defined now," she says.

Miralles, meanwhile, points out that the IDB has been working alongside Colombia on its national climate change plans, and says that "they need to make a better integration of the economic evaluations with the physical area. But overall it's going in the right direction."

However, he also admits that these efforts are vulnerable to political upheavals, such as the recent resignation of Pedro Pablo Kuczynski as president of Peru, a country that is struggling to advance on the reconstruction of flood-ravaged areas.

"On one hand, Peru's progressive policies could be slowed because of the political scenario that it is experiencing right now," he said, warning that "many times, bad things have to happen in order to speed us up."