Latin Americans forge ahead with CO2 reduction plans

MEXICO CITY -- Climate change legislation is blazing a path across Latin America in what analysts say is one of the most promising trends on the horizon for action against global warming.

Over the past year, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Colombia, Chile, Bolivia and Peru have all either passed or announced an intent to legislate major new policies to cut greenhouse gas emissions and cope with the impacts of climate-sparked weather disasters.

The spark, lawmakers and others agreed, was lit after Mexico approved landmark legislation in 2012. That bill -- the first national climate law by a developing country -- mandates cutting emissions 30 percent below business-as-usual levels by the end of this decade.

"The initial piece of the domino was Mexico," said Andrés Avila Akerberg, who leads the Americas chapter for GLOBE International, which hosted the World Summit of Legislators here over the weekend.

"I witnessed it personally," he said, recounting a trip he made with Mexican legislators to Lima, where Peruvian lawmakers had asked to hear about their neighbor's experience. Now, he said, "there are positive things happening all over the region."


Latin America is very much in the spotlight this year. Peru will host the 20th Conference of the Parties to the U.N. climate convention (COP 20) in December, which is seen as a key steppingstone to a new global agreement to be settled in Paris in 2015.

Meanwhile, a group of Latin American countries -- including most of the ones that have advanced domestic laws -- are carving out a progressive agenda in the negotiations that includes demanding strong action from developing as well as developed nations.

Chile proposes a carbon tax

Peru is now in a similar situation to the one Mexico faced in 2010. That's when, preparing to host a major U.N. climate change conference and knowing the eyes of the environmental world would be upon their country, Mexican lawmakers began advancing a domestic law.

First Vice President Marisol Espinoza Cruz, who led a 10-person delegation from Peru to the GLOBE summit, said her country is committed to being a leader. She said she had no doubt that her Peru, responsible for 0.04 percent of emissions, will approve a mitigation target.

"Of course we will," Espinoza said through a translator. "We are trying to find the necessary votes."

Elsewhere in the region:

  • In Chile, newly elected President Michelle Bachelet has vowed to create Latin America's second-largest carbon tax after Mexico. The plan includes a $5 per metric ton of CO2 tax on thermal power plants.
  • Representatives from Colombia this week announced that the country will present a national climate change law in September. The law is expected to include sectoral emissions goals, a national adaptation plan and forest protection plans. Said GLOBE Colombia President Mauricio Umaña, "We don't have much emissions, but we want to be an example to the region and the world."
  • A bill was introduced in Costa Rica's Legislature late last year to create a framework to develop mitigation and adaptation policies. That bill has faced criticism from environmental groups, and its fate is unclear.
  • El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras over the past year have approved national strategies to help steer their nations through the worst impacts of climate change and to coordinate responses to disasters.

Political stability helps

Precisely what, beyond the example of Mexico, is fueling legislation across the region is unclear. Latin America relies heavily on oil for energy use but is less dependent on coal than other parts of the world and already has a strong renewable energy base. At the same time, GLOBE International's Avila noted, political stability and economic growth have allowed environmental groups to take on more active roles.

"With political stability, you can concentrate on these topics," he said.

Lawmakers this week said they want to see the trend in Latin America replicate itself around the world.

Parliamentarians from more than 80 countries passed a resolution vowing to strengthen national climate laws and take a more active role in the negotiations for the 2015 deal. Unlike the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which set a target for industrialized nations and then let countries figure out how they would meet their goals, the new deal is shaping up to be a compilation of domestic emissions plans wrapped in a U.N. bow.

Whether the various national plans will add up to enough cuts to avoid a catastrophic rise in global temperatures is a serious concern. But advocates of domestic action, from U.N. climate czar Christiana Figueres on down, say the only way to get there is by enacting more policies.

"Advancing legislation between now and 2015 is absolutely key for building the foundation for a deal in Paris," said Terry Townshend, deputy secretary-general of GLOBE. "The more countries that understand the risks and the costs of inaction ... the more likely it is that the leaders can go into the negotiations in 2015 with more confidence and more ambition."

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