Home » South America’s Scorching Spring Has Arrived
Climate Action Policies News South America

South America’s Scorching Spring Has Arrived

In the Hot Seat

When wildfires and record-breaking heat rocked the United States and Europe in recent months, it was still winter in the Southern Hemisphere. No matter: Parts of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, and Paraguay still clocked temperatures of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in July and August. Early this week, spring reared its ugly head, scorching much of the continent and thrusting parts of Bolivia and Brazil into all-time high temperatures—for any month of the year.

In part, scientists said, the heat can be attributed to the ongoing El Niño weather pattern. But the main factor behind it is undoubtedly human-caused global warming, climatologist Karina Bruno Lima of Brazil’s Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul told the Guardian.

In several parts of Latin America, this year’s extreme heat has already caused economic disruption and posed health risks. Farmers in Brazil, the world’s largest producer of coffee and soybeans, say the heat threatens to disrupt their crop yields. Farther north, unusually low water levels in the Panama Canal have prompted operators to limit canal transits and require ships to lighten their loads in order to safely sail through. The heat has also put people at higher risk of strokes and heart attacks, health authorities warned.

Later in the week, South American temperatures dropped from their record-breaking levels, which offered some short-term relief. But overall, as the climate continues to change, “the tendency is for this to get worse,” Lima said.

The business and health consequences of 2023’s extreme temperatures have so far not prompted a matching level of climate ambition from the world’s governments, in the eyes of longtime observers.

Last week’s United Nations Climate Ambition Summit was meant to highlight countries and private groups that had recently increased their efforts in fighting climate change. Based on that criteria, the world’s biggest polluters—the United States and China—were not invited to speak. The United Kingdom’s announcement of delaying some green targets the morning of the meeting prompted “barely concealed rage [and] deep disappointment” among U.N. officials, diplomats, and delegates, longtime climate watcher Ed King posted on Twitter. The event “was more notable for the absentees than groundbreaking commitments,” Matteo Civillini and Joe Lo wrote in Climate Home News.

Several countries from Latin America and the Caribbean were among those celebrated for their new commitments. This month, Brazil announced a more ambitious national emissions reduction target—undoing the backpedaling of the Jair Bolsonaro administration—and was thus allowed to speak at the summit. So too were Colombia, which last month signed on as a “friend” of a global alliance to phase out fossil fuel production, and Barbados, which has become a leader in advocating for climate finance reform on behalf of developing countries. Additionally, both Colombia and Panama announced last week that they joined a pledge to phase out unabated coal-fired power plants by 2030.

Latin America’s second- and third-largest economies, Mexico and Argentina, did not make the speaker invite list, as current governments in both have embraced fossil fuel production while failing to announce major new climate targets. Upcoming elections could bring change: In Mexico, the ruling party’s candidate for next year’s presidential election is a climate scientist, and the opposition candidate has vocally advocated for shifting to renewables. In Argentina, however, prospects look different: The front-runner for its upcoming presidential election, Javier Milei, has called climate change a “socialist lie.”

As for whether South America’s scorching spring—and likely scorching summer—will boost its commitments to climate action, that will be on display at COP28, the U.N. climate change summit to be held in Dubai later this year.

Source: Froign Policy