It was believed that 2020 was to be a landmark years for environmental action before the Covid-19 pandemic caused widespread disruption. 2021 was to be the year when much-needed progress was made on climate change, biodiversity loss, and delayed conferences were finally made. It hasn’t always been that simple.
After lockdowns, emissions and environmental degradation have rebounded. However, there are still challenges in finding solutions at all levels of government and grassroots. However, there have been positive developments. As the year draws to a close we take a look back and compile the most important environmental stories from Latin America & the Caribbean that Dilogo Chino reported on in 2021.
Green progress slows down due to covid recovery
Many saw 2021 as a promised land after the drastic changes and setbacks that occurred in 2020. However, recovery has been hampered all over the world by the adverse financial consequences of the enduring Pandemic that has shifted government priorities and impacted progress towards net-zero economies.
A May report by Oxford University and UN found that Latin America had significantly underspent green recovery funds. Only 2.2% of stimulus funds were dedicated to environmentally sustainable projects, which is significantly lower than the global average 19%.
Experts stress the importance of long-term sustainability investments, which include biodiversity protection, for the countries of Latin America.
Unfortunately, greenhouse gas emissions were one area that saw recovery in 2021. The Climate Transparency Report, which was published in October, showed that emissions rose across G20 countries after pandemic disruption in 2020. It also included members from Latin America, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico.
The projected 4% rebounding of CO2 emissions after a drop of 6% in 2020 was not surprising. It was also necessary, given that many economies had come crashing to a standstill last year. However the report highlighted many missed opportunities in green recovery spending. The G20 nations reportedly contributed nearly US$300 billion to the sector between January 2020 to August 2021, ahead of the COP26 conference on climate change.
However, there were some positive developments in climate finance in 2021. Uruguay plans to issue a sovereign green bond tied to its climate targets to help fund sustainable initiatives and boost climate action. A further $12.5 billion was issued this year after more than US$16 million in green, sustainable, social bonds were issued throughout Latin America and Caribbean in 2020.
Stuttering energy transitions
The pandemic has posed financial challenges to Latin American energy transitions. But that’s just one obstacle. The task is enormous. The region’s installed energy capacity is 6.5%. However, wind and solar power account for approximately 75% of primary energy. This presents a significant challenge to decarbonisation.
We reported in June on the major Latin American emitters who continue to produce fossil fuels despite global shifts and calls to phase them out. Chile passed a bill to close its coal-fired power plants by 2025. This was ahead of the previous goal, 2040. However it was met with concern about its feasibility as well as the possibility of swapping one fossil fuel for diesel.
When he takes office next January, Gabriel Boric, 35, will make energy a top priority. The country’s 12-year-old mega-drought continued through 2021. Climate change further threatens the country’s ability to rely on hydropower resources for almost 30% of its energy. This has led to energy shortages.
In September, the Chinese president Xi Jinping announced to the UN General Assembly that China would cease building and financing new coal-fired power stations overseas. This could be a significant announcement for developing countries’ energy transitions. While China’s involvement is limited in Latin American coal power, the announcement that it will increase support for green and low carbon development could provide additional momentum for the shift to renewables.
We published an interactive map in October that showed all Latin America’s non-hydro renewable energy projects. It also included planned and installed capacity. This map is a guide for the region’s transition and highlights areas that need to be improved.
One of the more surprising energy stories of 2021 was a Chinese government clampdown against bitcoin. This saw the cryptocurrency’s energy-intensive mining operations shift from China to the US and Canada, as well as Latin America. There was also cheap electricity supply in Venezuelan and Paraguay which attracted facilities.
The most attention-grabbing crypto headlines of this year were however focused on El Salvador and its president Nayib Bukele. The country became the first to recognize bitcoin as legal currency in September. This left its citizens confused and the president making claims about how the volcanoes could be used to power its mining processes.
IPCC challenges, COP promises
August saw the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change publish their damning Sixth Assessment Report on Climate Change (AR6). It identified particular vulnerabilities and challenges in Latin America. The IPCC predicted that the region would continue to heat at rates faster than the global average. They also found that South Atlantic sea level has risen at a rate that is higher than the global mean over the past three decades. This trend is expected to continue, increasing flooding risk in low-lying regions.
The report was published in the hope that it would be a wake up call ahead of a series crucial conferences. This includes COP26, which is the UN’s delayed conference on climate change, which will be held in Glasgow in November.
At COP26, leaders from Latin American countries announced new climate commitments, including long-term strategies for decarbonisation. They also signed up to a variety of international agreements, including The Glasgow Leaders Declaration on Forest and Land Use. This declaration pledging to end deforestation in 2030. Other countries, including Colombia, Panama, Colombia, and Costa Rica, announced new marine protected area (MPAs) and plans to link their marine reserves to protect one of the richest areas of ocean biodiversity.
However, many campaigners and negotiators were disappointed with the outcome of COP26. Latin America still faces a long list of tasks after the conference. As with other developing countries, they are dissatisfied at the slow progress on key issues. They continue to call for more funding from developed nations for mitigation, adaptation, loss, and damages. As with all countries, they need to develop stronger long term strategies and make greater commitments before next year’s COP27 in Egypt.
The similarly delayed are available elsewhere The UN biodiversity conference, COP15, finally happened this OctoberThe first of its two meetings was held in Kunming, China. But it seemed largely preparatory. The summit resulted in a joint declaration and a pledge by President Xi for a US$230million biodiversity conservation fund to the developing world. Although it may have helped to get the ball rolling on financing biodiversity conservation that Latin American and other countries desperately need, there is still much work to be done in boosting commitment ahead of the conference’s second meeting in person (hopefully) in 2022.
Escaz enters in force in a darkyear for defenders
The historic Escaz Agreement, which was ratified by 12 Latin American countries and the Caribbean, became one of the most important environmental developments in 2021. Its framework could help to protect environmental defenders from life-threatening attacks in the region, guarantee access and encourage public participation in environmental decision-making.
Escazs protections, and their effective execution, are more important than ever. We reported on May’s progress and prospects in Mexico regarding the agreements process. In Mexico, six land and environmental defenders were killed in the first quarter of the year. Global Witness’s September annual report revealed that Latin America remains the most dangerous place for environmental defenders. It was found that almost three quarters of the 227 frontline activist murders recorded worldwide in 2020 were in Latin America, with seven of the top ten countries experiencing the most attacks.
Despite these sobering statistics, many countries in the region that have signed to the agreement since 2018 are still refusing to ratify it. Since his election in July, Pedro Castillo, the Peruvian president, has not shown any signs of moving his country closer towards ratifying it. Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro has not shown any signs of moving his country closer to ratification. His nations may ratify the treaty after next October’s elections. This is a story that will be a key story in Latin America in 2022.
Climate litigation on the rise
Environment defense, which is not on the frontline, had a better Year in the Courts. There has been a noticeable rise in climate litigation around the globeMany, including in Latin America or the Caribbean. Guyana is home to offshore oil discoveries that have attracted Chinese and US investors. Two Guyana residents brought a lawsuit against ExxonMobils operations. This is the first major constitutional challenge in the Caribbean. It alleges that ExxonMobils violates citizens’ right to a safe, healthy environment.
In Ecuador, a group made up of Amazonian indigenous people sued a local branch of one of China’s largest oil firms over the effects of flaring. It was the first major climate change lawsuit in the country. They lost, but appealed the decision. However, Ecuadorian courts later in the year ruled against the national mining company. Violation of the rights and nature. It was a landmark ruling and sets a promising precedent to protect biodiversity in the country and beyond as the region heads into the 2022.