In This Issue: the climate crisis in Central America, UNDP’s report on El Salvador, the energy transition, open access readings and event recaps…
Our newsletter is back. In 2022, our dedicated team will continue providing carefully curated information and analyses about climate change and sustainability in Latin America to help you stay up-to-date on climate policy issues in the region. As usual, this policy newsletter will be sent out on a bi-weekly basis and will cover climate change and sustainability policy throughout Latin America. We also have plans to deliver shorter updates on specific topics, such as the water crisis, climate and gender, and food security in Central America.
As the worst of the Covid-19 crisis abates, the climate crisis in Central America is coming into sharper relief. In this issue, we turn our attention to two recent sets of reports, one by The Dialogue, a think tank in Washington, DC, and one by the United Nations Environment Program (UNDP). Both synthetize elements of the current climate crisis in Central America, climate projections according to contemporary data, and pathways both Central American societies and the international community can pursue to develop successful adaptation strategies to climate change.
At the regional level, two policy briefs by The Dialogue seek to underline the Central American climate crisis and influence US policy in the region (see the link below). For the US, the migrant crisis from Central America has become an increasingly disruptive factor in foreign policy and recent (and future) presidential electoral cycles. Reducing migration from Central America is the rare policy area where both Republicans and Democrats find tacit agreement, albeit for different ideological reasons. Where they disagree is in the approach to control the migrant flow: whereas Republicans seek to impose draconian methods and policy to stop the migration, Democrats have been more open to using foreign aid as a long-term investment to reduce migration. The influx of aid to the region ebbs and flows with each change of administration in the US. After an ambitious plan to invest a billion dollars (which failed to fully materialize) during the Obama administration, Republicans shut off the foreign aid valve upon taking the White House. New aid commitments by the Biden administration are, for the first time, explicitly targeting climate change in a new strategy to address the root causes of migration.
It is in this context that The Dialogue has developed an analysis of the climate threats in Central America that are expected to exacerbate migration to the US-Mexico border and a set of policy recommendations for the efficient use of US aid to reduce migration from the region. The briefs identify several acute climate threats to agriculture, energy and infrastructure, and to vulnerable populations. Policy recommendations for the US government as it seeks to target root causes of migration from Central America include more support for resilient agricultural practices; support for small-scale agricultural workers; support for agricultural associations, indigenous organizations, and community-based groups; support capacity building in the public sector; and support for clean water programs.
For a specific, country-level policy analysis of the crisis and adaptation pathways, we highlight the UNDP’s Human Development reports for Central American countries. Human Development reports are produced periodically, both globally and at the country-level, with a different thematic focus for each country. For 2022, the UNDP has already published the report pertaining to El Salvador, which has a strong focus on the climate crisis, scenarios for the future, and adaptation strategies. Reports for the two other Northern Triangle countries (Guatemala and Honduras) are planned for publication later in 2022 (we will provide coverage of those reports as well). What we find unique about the UNDP’s Human Development report is its broad critique of the historical trajectory of ecological management that has led the country to its current condition of acute vulnerability. While historians have looked at the human-ecology nexus in El Salvador from various perspectives (see, for example, the 1971 classic El Salvador. Landscape and Society by David Browning), it is rare to find such an overview in a policy report. The report was published in the context of the bicentennial of Salvadoran independence and it identifies, as many Salvadoran intellectuals have in the past, the single-crop agricultural export model, a colonial practice perpetuated by local landowning elites, as one of the root causes of unequal land distribution and ecological deterioration in El Salvador. Even after the exhaustion of the agricultural export model and transition to an import, consumerist model sustained by migrants’ remittances, access to, and control of, land and its resources, according to the UNDP, still play a key role in capital accumulation, in particular for the sugar cane industry. Moreover, the interconnected issues of overpopulation, poor city planning and ecological stewardship, and conflicts over access to both land and resources are increasing at the pace of the climate crisis. These and other contradictions in the economic model and cultural values vis-à-vis human-nature relations will only deteriorate what is an already over-exploited landscape. The climate crisis in El Salvador is dire: water, food availability, health, and vulnerable populations are already threatened directly by climate change. In spite of several plans developed by the civil sector and previous governments, the current administration has shown scant interest (or even awareness) in mounting a comprehensive national emergency plan for adaptation and mitigation to climate change. The challenges facing the enactment of an adaptation agenda in the country, according to the UNDP, include achieving a reversal of the already extensive environmental degradation, reduction of social vulnerabilities, and promotion of resiliency to future extreme weather events. The strategies proposed by the report to achieve these goals are already part of the UN’s Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals, such as investments in education and a transition to sustainable economic approaches; other suggestions include adoption of a circular economy model and access to international climate financing. Here’s where the report may be showing its shortcomings, however: the circular economy model, which relies on the old paradigm of perpetual growth, has been enthusiastically adopted by the private sector in Latin America as a way to, ultimately, greenwash their ecological footprint; at the same time, international climate financing has proved elusive as rich countries have renegued in their commitments and small countries like El Salvador lack the technical capacity to access such funds. Absent a more profound transformation in the economic model, enactment of a truly progressive fiscal reform (which the private sector has staunchly resisted for decades) that can finance a robust climate resilience agenda, and a cultural shift in attitudes towards human-nature and human-non-human relations, the country will continue to spiral down a path of constant climate crisis. In 2022, we will continue exploring and developing knowledge from a climate justice perspective at Region360 to support efforts by local actors in the Northern Triangle to bring about adaptation and mitigation frameworks to climate change.
The Editorial Team | Region360.org
Additional Events and Reports:
Three articles below, focusing on hydrogen, natural gas, and lithium, provide an in-depth look at the energy transition in Latin America. As usual, we encourage you to watch the recordings of past events in our event recap section and to download the open access literature we hand-picked for you in this issue.