Highway to Hell: What the Climate Crisis Means for Latin America

A- A A+

With the 27th Conference of the Parties in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt coming to an end, many questions arise regarding the urgency of taking concrete actions in relation to climate change and its consequences all over the world with a specific focus on Latin America and the Global South.

“We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator”. This is the phrase by which Antonio Guterres addressed last week the beginning of the COP27. But what does this mean for the region that is historically not the main responsible for climate change but the one mainly affected?

The world today is highly vulnerable to droughts, diseases, flooding, declining agricultural productivity, and ecological disruption caused by climate change. It is the cumulative impact of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by each and every state in the international community that is responsible for the phenomenon. However, just as each state’s contribution varies, its consequences will similarly impact societies and communities disproportionately. Moreover, those who are most affected are those who contributed least to the problem, thus adding serious ethical and justice issues to this already vastly complicated crisis.

The main consequences of climate change include sea-level rise and higher thermal temperatures; increase in extreme weather events including droughts, heat waves and floods, and increase in tropical cyclones. However, climate change will also have more localized consequences that will affect people on a day-to-day basis, such as health issues, impacts on food and water availability, changes in cultivation patterns, pests and the generation of pandemics, since many of the root causes of climate change also increase the risk of this type of epidemics.

Consequently, climate change can be defined as a dice composed with multiple faces, each of them constructed with other pressing issues such as the fight against Human Rights violations and gender-based discrimination and violence.

Throwing the Dice: Climate Change & Human Rights

There is an evident and undeniable interdependence and interrelatedness between Human Rights and climate change. This means that the right to life, water, food, health, adequate housing, freedom of movement, displacement, self- determination, culture and equality, as well as procedural rights are at risk of being undermined as a result of the adverse consequences of the crisis of climate change. And they have an even harsher effect on specific groups such as women and girls, indigenous people, youth, refugees and internally displaced people and those with physical or mental disability/ies – all of whom, therefore, should be more represented in climate change discussions such as the Conference of the Parties.

Having this connection, states not taking action regarding climate change represent a clear violation of Human Rights since they have an obligation to take positive measures to protect the rights of their citizens, and not simply refrain from violating them.

Nowadays, the right to life, food, development, self-determination, water and sanitation, and adequate housing, is being denied to millions of people because of climate change. This means that today, people are already suffering as a result of climate change, which is the consequence of the decisions taken – or rather, non-taken – by previous generations, since many people have underestimated the effects of climate change.

But such a way of thinking is something that Latin America does not have the capacity to afford if it wants to protect the livelihood of its people, even if its emissions are not as high as those made by the developed countries. For instance, in countries like Argentina, climate change will impact crop productivity, its primary source of income, and put additional pressure on its water resources, with droughts causing water demand to increase by up to 11.1% by 2050 – even in a low carbon scenario.

But how can this region have a low carbon scenario as its main priority while simultaneously having to address other economic, political, and social crises such as food insecurity and fight to develop and lift its people out of poverty?

In simple words, our rights and basic survival as human beings are at stake; especially for regions like Latin America, where there is a lack of resources to fund investments in clean energy technology to reduce emissions or even adapt to climate change in the way that it is needed today, and whose debt has been increasing since 2010 – first worsening because of the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and now because of the tightening of global financial conditions.

Results of the COP27: A Climate Solidarity Pact, or a Collective Suicide Pact?

Like Guterres stated, climate change is on a different timeline and a different scale. It is the defining issue of our age and the central challenge of our century. And since this challenge represents a global problem, it requires global solutions, being this the reason why events such as the Conference of the Parties represent a massive opportunity to address the mentioned situations. But what has been the ending outcome of the meetings at Sharm El-Sheikh?

In the first draft of a potential decision, a deep regret is expressed concerning the developed countries who have the most financially and technologically advanced capabilities to lead in reducing their emissions, but continue to fall short in doing so. This regret is also because they are taking inadequate and unambitious goals to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, while continuing to emit and disproportionately consume the global carbon budget.

As per the developing countries, the draft establishes that they can be helped to enhance their mitigation ambition by the provision of support from the developed countries.

Regarding the Human Rights debate, it recognizes that climate change is a common concern for humankind, having to respect, promote and consider Human Rights at all times ensuring non-discrimination, gender equality, and promotion of women and girls’ empowerment and intergenerational equity, being at the same time sensitive and responsive to those disproportionately affected by climate change.

It also acknowledges the challenge of developing countries, like those located in Latin America, when trying to address climate change while simultaneously suffering from a global food crisis that exacerbates the impacts of climate change, in particular in developing countries.

But is recognizing these situations and encouraging the parties to act on them enough to change courses and leave the highway to hell? Or is this only a mere repetition of the goals established in last year’s COP Climate Pact? Such questions will remain mostly unanswered while we wait for the final results of this year’s COP, but from what we can so far see, the efforts are not enough.

The enormity of the challenge of addressing climate change and the many edges of the dice can make us daunted, but that cannot stop us. Ignoring the problem and non-action will only lead to even graver consequences. The best time to act against climate change was over 50 years ago; the second-best time is now.

For up-to-date information on the COP27 results, please visit the Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (COP 27) official website.