Government officials and other climate stakeholders are gathered in Lima, Peru from December 1st to the 12th for the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) and the 10th session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP). Although previous host countries to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) events reflect various levels of environmental leadership, hosting a conference does come with an elevated responsibility to take action at home in regards to climate change mitigation and adaptation. Here is a look at Peru’s profile when it comes to climate change:
Peru is ranked 110th out of 178 countries in Yale University’s 2014 Environmental Performance Index. Numerous indicators make up the index, ranging from pesticide regulation to wastewater treatment, to change in carbon intensity trend. Peru performed well in the broad categories of biodiversity and habitat, air quality, and agriculture, but not so well in areas such as climate and energy, water resources, forests, and fisheries.
The Peruvian Amazon became a net emitter of carbon dioxide rather than oxygen for the first time in 2012, according to the most recent UNDP human development country report. Although this was mostly due to drought, there are huge concerns with Peru when it comes to climate change and especially due to deforestation. Peru’s problem with deforestation is bad and is largely is due to mining in the country. Illegal (and legal with the help of Chinese investments) mining often has devastating results including deforestation, mercury dumping, and polluted waterways. A linked issue, land rights of indigenous groups is also a major concern. In November the New York Times covered the release of a report titled Peru’s Deadly Environment and honoring four indigenous anti-logging campaigners killed this year (video here). Historically, indigenous groups have not been granted land rights and as demand for forest resources increase, land rights become more and more necessary. Necessary not only to protect these people and cultures, but also the environment. Unfortunately, the convoluted and interrelated problems of lack of land rights, mining, and deforestation are relatively common in developing and even developed countries, just with unique contexts.
In regard to feeling the effects of climate change, Peru has already lost 39% of its tropical glaciers due to a 0.7C temperature rise in the Andes between 1939 and 2006. Additional research shows that glacial ice in the Peruvian Andes that took at least 1,600 years to form has melted in just 25 years. Climate change will be felt in Peru before many other countries as it has four of the five geographical areas most vulnerable to climate change – ranging from fragile mountain ecosystems to low-lying coastal areas within its borders. Since the poor are hardest hit by climate change, poverty reduction and other developments achieved in the country during the past few decades are threatened.
Unfortunately, instead of passing legislation to reduce deforestation and other environmental concerns, the Peruvian government is trading in environmental protection in attempts to boost the country’s economy. In June 2014, in an “emergency measure” to address the country’s drop in economic growth, Peru passed legislation that fast-tracks environmental impact studies to a maximum period of 45 days, reduces fines by the country’s environmental regulator, and removes the Environment Ministry’s authority over protected areas. Environmental NGOs and organizations around the world have spoken out against the law, but pressure from mining companies to minimize environmental and other responsibilities is strong.
Although Peru’s Environmental Ministry has taken progressive steps to set an agenda on climate change (early in the game in 2003 Peru initiated a National Climate Change Strategy), laws such as the one passed this summer reduce Peru’s credibility to act on climate change, both as a party to the UNFCCC and also as a host country. Part of the responsibility of hosting the climate negotiations is promoting and encouraging international cooperation. It’s tricky to persuade other countries to contribute if a host country itself decides to sacrifice important environmental regulations for growth or is seen as not being committed to the cause. Just look at the last past two years COPs which were hosted in oil-rich Qatar and coal-dependent Poland.
As carbon levels in the atmosphere rise and the clock counts down our window to stay under a 2 degree Celsius temperature increase, the responsibility of all countries increases. Peru has the honor of hosting this year’s UNFCCC event, and with that honor comes the obligation to elevate action on climate change on both the domestic and global level.