October began with good news: a group of Latin American countries promised to make their economies cleaner through climate contributions, and to take key steps in constructing societies less vulnerable to climate impacts.
These national contributions will be at the heart of a new global agreement, to be signed this December at the COP21 international climate summit in Paris. For this reason, its content will be crucial for all countries.
Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Peru, among other visionaries of the region, comprehend that effective climate change response means renewable energy, but also more security for their people and businesses. The national climate contributions – known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) – were presented before the United Nations as a part of the Paris climate agreement, and include promises of concrete climate change adaptation. This is one of the biggest pieces of news this year.
Why is this so important? Because if climate risks are not managed, they will affect all of society. The Latin American INDCs suggest that these countries are starting to take the idea of adaptation seriously, and are seeking to put innovative, ambitious, and inclusive measures into practice to reduce national vulnerabilities. This is a new signal for businesses and citizens: Latin America wants to be more resilient in a low carbon future.
These climate contributions will affect all of society, thus placing them beyond the traditional ‘environmental box’ where we put climate change. Well implemented, these adaptation strategies will improve urban lives, protect agricultural and industrial productivity, and even be crucial in reducing regional poverty.
The commitment of these nations should not be surprising: Mexico and the Independent Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC) – a group of seven countries including Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Peru – last year signed a manifesto supporting more adaptation in climate policies, particularly aimed at the new Paris agreement, so that not all attention is centered on the mitigation of greenhouse gases.
These national documents provide a handhold for translating good intentions into local politics, and where concerned citizens, organizations, businesses, and local governments can join with their own actions.
What exactly are they proposing?
These nations have explicitly made traditional developmental priorities: sustaining economic growth and improving the living conditions of the 25% of Latin Americans below the poverty line. What is now being addressed is the fact that the only way to accomplish this in the 21st century will be by anticipating climate impacts and planning a response.
Mexico, the first country in Latin America and one of the first in the world to present their climate contribution, puts an emphasis on reducing climate impacts in the poorest communities. This is crucial for two reasons: those with fewer resources are more vulnerable, and Mexico is the only Latin American country that has failed to reduce poverty levels.
For these reasons, the country will focus on local work and will improve adaptive capacities in at least 50% of its municipalities classified as "most vulnerable", including early alert systems and risk management.
Crucial to this are forests, which anchor ecosystems and provide growth opportunities for communities. Mexico wants to attain a 2030 target of 0% deforestation, a goal that has a strong positive synergy with its mitigation actions.
Chile already has a plan for its forestry and agricultural sectors, and another for the biodiversity sector. As part of its INDC it hopes to define plans for fish and aquaculture, health, cities, water resources, infrastructure, tourism, and energy. Additionally it seeks to develop a clear methodology of progress indications and measurements, given that it is a complex process to quantify.
"We already have a National Adaptation Plan, and it defines that by 2018 we will have nine plans for the given priority sectors in terms of vulnerability," said Paola Vasconi of Adapt-Chile.
In Chile’s case it is fundamental that they already have a National Plan, which still needs to be drawn up in other countries.
What is Peru planning? A hybrid target that combines quantitative and qualitative elements and which is founded on four main objectives: reducing the number of citizens harmed and affected by climate impacts (at least 50%), reducing the vulnerable population (25%), reducing relapse into poverty due to climate change, and reducing GDP loss from extreme climate events (50%).
To do this, its INDC focuses on central sectors: agriculture, cities, fisheries, forests, health, and water.
"All at once it contains cross-cutting actions in risk management, infrastructure (that they call ‘climate proofing’), the reduction of poverty, and generation of more innovative schemes for private action," María Elena Gutiérrez, researcher at Libélula, explained during the webinar. The final document also includes an action on gender and multiculturalism.
The agricultural sector will rely heavily on the strengthening of institutional climate plans across the country, more education on the subject, and a national system of indicators to verify progress or setbacks. In addition, the plan puts emphasis on ten agricultural unions and six central sectors of the economy, and specifies the importance of key ecosystems like watersheds, wetlands, and forests. They are poised to create more than 2.5 million hectares of newly protected areas.
"The wetlands provide the water that 85% of Colombians consume, so it is a very strategic ecosystem for us," explained Carolina Garcia of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Colombia.
The Costa Rican contribution relies on the concept of climate action, with one of the two most important axes being the strengthening of national climate resilience. The country has historically based its climate commitments in mitigation (the country emits around 0.02% of the global emissions), so now this strong focus on adaptation in its national contribution is a good move.
The country promises to create its own National Adaptation Plan as well as a National Policy on Disaster Risk Management 2016-2030, so as to be better prepared before any climate impacts. Such adaptation planning is unprecedented for the country and reinforces the regional trend of governments taking climate challenges seriously.
Whatever happens in Paris, these five Latin American countries and others in the region will move towards a more integrated response in the face of the 21st century’s main challenge: building a clean and resilient society, with room for economic growth and protection of biodiversity. The path is set for civil society to claim the implementation of these measures and to propose their own complementary initiatives.