Patagonia worst-hit by climate shifts

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Buenos Aires Herald, Argentina

In Argentina, climate change is being felt most directly in the Patagonia region, where the average temperature has risen one degree Celsius over the past 50 years — the highest in the country, where the average increase during the period has been half a degree.

This is just one example of how climate change is already starting to become evident across the country, including more frequent and intense rains, droughts, heat waves and floods.

As Argentina is set to participate in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Lima that begins today, a new report by the Environment Secretariat warns that the effects of a warming planet are likely to worsen over the next few years.

Expectations are high that countries will be able to lay the foundation in Lima for an effective, new and universal climate change agreement to be signed in Paris next year to replace the ill-fated Kyoto Protocol. But domestically, experts say Argentina has been largely missing in action and has failed to provide a clear strategy to combat the global problem.

“Argentina hasn’t done its homework on climate change and has a cynical view about the issue. There’s no national strategy and other countries of the region like Uruguay and Chile have done much more,” Soledad Aguilar, international environmental law expert and head of FLACSO climate change career, told the Herald.

The Environment Secretariat last week released the first results of an investigation into the domestic effects of climate change that it is forced to carry out by being a signatory to the UNFCCC.

The report revealed that annual rainfall has increased nationwide, with eastern provinces being the most affected with a 10 percent increase over the last half-century. Most of the country saw fewer days of frost while the number of days with heat waves and tropical temperatures increased, particularly in the northern and eastern provinces.

Extreme weather events have also become more frequent and intense across the country.

“Argentina is witnessing the effects of climate change with a real impact on society. Floods have become more frequent and diseases that used to be restricted only to certain areas, like dengue, are spreading,” Diego Moreno, the head of Vida Silvestre NGO, told the Herald. “The economy is also being affected as agricultural performance has worsened and cattle ranchers are being affected by floods and strong storms.”

 

Effects to continue

The effects of climate change are only going to get worse.

The government’s Environmental authority expects that in the next 25 years the average temperature will continue increasing. Northeastern provinces are likely to be the worst hit with an increase in temperatures of around 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Experts agreed the government’s pessimistic scenario is accurate, but emphasized the country needs to quickly devise and stick to a national strategy to combat climate change. Argentina has so far focused on adapting to climate change rather than to combat the phenomenon.

“Climate change isn’t an important issue for the government. It has argued that developed countries are the ones that should be taking action,” Daniel Ryan, climate change expert with the Environment and Natural Resources Foundation (FARN), told the Herald. “Argentina can keep saying that but it will experience the effects of climate change anyway.”

The government’s recently appointed director for climate change, Laura Juárez, doesn’t agree with the experts and says the federal government has implemented several initiatives to tackle global warming.

“One of Argentina’s strong points is the Forest Law. Even though it has been subject to mistakes and it needs to be amended, it’s positive legislation. We have also carried out an inventory of greenhouse gases and use energy-efficiency criteria in housing programmes. We want all provinces to have climate change in their agenda,” Juárez said.

The country’s CO2 emissions amount to 4.5 metric tons per capita and have been growing since 2002, when the figure clocked in at 3.2 metric tons, according to World Bank data. Argentina ranks as the 77th highest emitter in the world out of 157 countries—but its per capita emissions are higher than other countries of the region, including Chile (4.2), Mexico (3.8) and Brazil (2.2 percent).

Still, it marks a drop in the global bucket, with the country’s CO2 emissions representing merely 0.54 percent of the world’s total.

Peru gets ready

Starting today, representatives of nearly 200 governments will gather in Lima for the largest UN climate change summit.

Countries are expected to agree on a deal that would set the goal to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius from the pre-industrial age. To reach this goal, countries would have to cut emissions between 40 to 70 percent before 2050.

“Whatever happens in Peru will set the foundation for the Paris summit in 2015. It’s a great opportunity for all countries to move forward with an effort to stop climate change,” Mauro Fernández, a member of Greenpeace’s Weather and Energy campaign, told the Herald. “Argentina could be one of the leaders in Lima considering its potential in renewable energy sources.”