By Gerardo Honty
The recently released report from the US Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) [i] confirms long-announced forecasts for climate change. Since 1997 there have been 17 of the 18 warmest years on the planet and 2014 was the last to break all records.
The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere continues to increase and has already stood at 397.2 ppm and the average temperature in 2014 was the highest in the last 135 years for which records are kept. Europe and Mexico had their warmest year since the temperature was measured and various regions of the world reached historical records.
The oceans also had their record and the global average of sea surface temperature reached the highest mark in history in 2014, raising the global mean sea level by 67mm compared to the annual average of 1993, when satellite monitoring began.
The Arctic and Greenland ice sheets as well as the glacial masses continue to shrink and climatic anomalies throughout the world are multiplying: unusual rainfall and droughts, floods and tropical cyclones among others.
In our region, most of 2014 was characterized by the increase in the temperature of the Pacific Ocean that influenced the climate of all of South America. The annual mean temperature was predominantly above normal in the region with anomalies between + 0.5 ° C and + 1.5 ° C.
In Brazil, average temperatures were higher than normal for most of the year. During the months of January and February the city of São Paulo experienced its warmest summer since 1943. The city of Rio de Janeiro registered its highest temperature record, reaching 40.6 ° C on February 3.
In Colombia, temperatures were above normal for most of the year, with maximum temperatures of up to 5 ° C above average. Similarly, in Ecuador, the average temperature for 2014 was on average above normal, with anomalies between + 0.5 ° and + 1.5 ° C.
In the Southern Cone, the average temperature was between + 0.4 ° C and + 0.6 ° C above normal. Overall, 2014 was the second hottest year for Argentina and Uruguay since 1961. The hottest year for Argentina had been 2012 (+ 0.74 ° C) and 2001 for Uruguay (+ 0.6 ° C). Temperatures above normal were also recorded in Chile, with anomalies of + 0.26 ° C. after an extremely warm December 2013.
The regional response
In this context, the countries of the region - and of the world - are preparing to sign a long-term agreement in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a level that allows, at least, not to exceed 2 ° C of temperature increase with respect to the average of the pre-industrial era [ii].
For this, the United Nations Climate Change Convention has invited the countries of the world to present their National Contributions [iii], that is, what is the reduction effort that each one is willing to make to achieve the objective.
But most countries are a bit lazy -or distracted by other problems- and have not yet thought about this issue: the Convention has received only 22 contributions to date [iv] and the commitments they express are completely insufficient to achieve the objective.
In Latin America in particular, the only country that has submitted its National Contribution is Mexico. Chile, Peru and Colombia have announced their intention but have not yet made it official before the United Nations. There is still no news of the rest of the more than 40 countries that make up the Latin American and Caribbean region. Some have not even decided whether or not to submit their contributions.
The data collected by the climatological institutions worldwide - such as those presented at the beginning of this article - are more dramatic year after year. And what is worse, they confirm the forecasts announced several years ago, so it is to be assumed that they are correct when they predict considerably more adverse events in the future.
In this scenario, the political inaction of the countries of the region is increasingly incomprehensible. The argument that there are "others" more responsible no longer holds. Not because it is false, but because it leads to a wrong strategy. Trying to force the big polluters to make bigger commitments has so far only left us facing dead ends.
It has already been more than proven that mitigation investments are much more profitable than future damage repair expenses. On this basis, the Latin American countries could change their strategy and bet that ambitious National Contributions will shake up the drowsiness of the negotiations a bit and enable a more ambitious agreement.
Until this happens, each country will be complicit in the failure of Paris. And although, as always happens, some blame the other, it will be evident that each one did their own thing to build this dead end.
The "ecological debt" exists. What doubt is there? But sometimes bad debt litigation costs more than the debt itself. In this case, insisting on the “historical responsibility” of others can result in a much greater debt with future Latin American generations.
The deadline for submitting National Contributions is September 30. Let us hope that our governments leave some inheritance in place of new and amplified ecological debts.