Faced with the climate crisis: Have initiative or suffer adaptation

19 2021 August
Mauren esquivel

19th August 2021. In recent days the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC for its acronym in English) presented his sixth report on the science of climate change. This report, prepared by 234 scientists from 66 countries, carries as its main message a warning: the world will reach or exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming in the next two decades as a result of human activity. And that heating it will generate a greater frequency and intensity of meteorological phenomena such as droughts, heat waves, storms, cold fronts, forest fires, hurricanes, etc. endangering millions of people around the world.

El document mentions that there are possibilities to avoid this scenario but it will require extreme changes in greenhouse gas emissions, or what is the same, extreme changes in the way we generate our energy, in the way we transport ourselves, or even in what we eat. In other words, scientists recommend an extreme and rapid transformation process to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century, and not exceed that mark of the 1.5 degrees Celsius, which had already been established as a trademark in the Paris Agreement. In practically 10 years global emissions have to be cut in half to move in the right direction.

El challenge is monumental, as we need to change our technology strategically, to reduce emissions without affecting both social and economic indicators. Let us remember that the climate crisis is not an environmental problem, it is a human crisis product of our dependence in technologies that are based on the use of fossil fuels, and that like all technological change will be generate negative costs and externalities that impact people's quality of life in the short term.  

And is that when the data is analyzed at the global level, there is a high correlation between greenhouse gas emissions and per capita gross domestic product, there is practically a rate of transformation of emissions of this type of gases into income. Although of course the performance of the countries is diverse, because while Panama and Costa Rica are more efficient in transforming their greenhouse gas emissions into per capita income, other countries such as Bolivia and Paraguay are less efficient in this transformation. The key to adapting to a greenhouse gas reduction model such as the one suggested by the IPCC will be to increase this efficiency as much as possible in the next decade, understanding that the development of countries must be decoupled from the emission of effect gases. greenhouse.

Graph 1. Graph of GDP per capita adjusted by purchase parity against Greenhouse Gas Emissions per capita, 2019 data.

Source: Own calculations with data from the World Bank and Climate Watch.

But when the trajectories of Emissions of greenhouse gases from 1980 to 2018 in the region, it can be seen that all countries increased them and maintained a growing trend, particularly Guatemala, which went from 13.30 metric tons of CO2 equivalent (MTCO2e) to 35.40 MTCO2ey leads the region in terms of this indicator. In contrast, El Salvador has barely doubled its emissions in this period of time, going from 6.65 MTCO2ea 13.00 MTCO2and. While Nicaragua went from 8.27 to 19.30 MTCO2and; Honduras from 8.47 to 17.90; Costa Rica from 6.35 to 17.80 MTCO2and; and Panama from 6.95 to 16.50 MTCO2e from 1980 to 2018. So our activities are increasingly closely related to greenhouse gas emissions.

It can certainly be said that what our countries contribute at a global level has a very small impact. And it's true, metric tons of CO2 equivalent that China emits per year is 13000 MTCO2e, a thousand times more than those of El Salvador. What's more, India issues 2,980 MTCO2e practically the same amount as all of Latin America with 2,998 MTCO2and. But that does not mean that we will not be affected by the decisions of the large issuers; If anything has been learned during the COVID-19 crisis, it is that the level of interconnection that countries have around the world is so high that when a virus emerges in China, tourists can stop coming to Central American beaches.

Graph 2. Metric tons of CO2 equivalent in selected countries.

Source: Own calculations with data from Social Progress Imperative and Climate Watch.

And in that sense, we have two lines of action left: 1) to work on building resilience in the region to mitigate the social and economic impacts of the climatic phenomena that will increase in the coming years; and 2) implement strategies to decarbonize our economies, not thinking that we are going to save the world with them, but rather that they will serve to adapt more quickly to technological, social, and economic changes than the rest of the world and our main trading partners and tourists are going to perform. In the end, for the region the question is about taking the initiative and adapting while keeping control of the changes; or being a follower and suffering a forced adaptation with high social and economic costs because we take time to see global trends and changes.