UN talks host Chile ramps up climate ambition – but is it enough?

SANTIAGO, (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Chile’s new climate change plan, unveiled by President Sebastian Pinera last week, puts the host of this year’s U.N. climate conference on track to play its part in meeting globally agreed goals to limit warming of the planet, researchers said.

But green-leaning politicians and activists in the South American nation called on the government to bring forward its deadlines for closing coal-fired power plants.

On Tuesday, Pinera unveiled a climate action plan that would shut all coal power plants by 2040, and target carbon neutrality by 2050, meaning the country would emit no more heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions than it can absorb in its forests.

“One of the greatest dangers we confront as humanity is global warming and climate change,” said the president.

Eight coal-fired power plants will be closed down in the next five years, he announced.

Coal produces almost twice the amount of carbon dioxide as natural gas when burned.

By 2050, all economic sectors – including agriculture, waste and industrial processes – should become carbon-neutral, the plan said.

Chile’s forests absorbed 36% of national emissions in 2013, and the 2050 net-zero goal would depend on their contribution to the carbon accounting.

In December, 20,000 to 30,000 delegates, including world leaders, are expected in Santiago for the annual U.N. climate talks, where governments will be urged to ramp up pledges to reduce emissions under the Paris climate change accord.

Research consortium Climate Action Tracker (CAT) told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that if Chile’s decarbonisation plan became an official commitment under the Paris Agreement, it would be compatible with the most ambitious goal to curb warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7F) above pre-industrial times.

The Paris pact, adopted by nearly 200 nations, set a goal to limit global temperature rise to “well below” 2C (3.6F), and to “pursue efforts” for 1.5C.

But still-rising global emissions are currently on track to fuel at least 3C of warming, climate scientists say.

In the build-up to the Paris conference where the climate accord was agreed in 2015, Chile committed to reduce the intensity of its emissions relative to GDP by 30% by 2030 from 2007 levels.

This target was rated “highly insufficient” by CAT.

Moreover, under that plan, CAT calculated that Chile’s emissions would actually rise 41% by 2030 compared to 2010 levels as the country left itself space for economic growth.

Environment Minister Carolina Schmidt described the unveiling of Chile’s more ambitious plan this week as “an enormous landmark in the transformation needed throughout the world for sustainable development and carbon neutrality”.

MELTING GLACIERS

But not all politicians are satisfied.

In late May, opposition leader Catalina Perez proposed a “climate emergency” declaration to the organising committee for the “COP25” U.N. climate change conference.

“It went badly,” she said afterwards, with fellow members unable to reach consensus.

Meanwhile, the effects of global warming are becoming more evident in the Andean nation.

“We have to learn to live with climate change,” a windswept Pinera said a week ago, as he visited the southern Bio Bio region, which had been hit by highly unusual tornadoes. “It has come to stay.”

Scientists are still investigating the influence of climate change on the severity and frequency of tornadoes.

Chile is currently affected by a multi-year drought and creeping deserts, which are shifting fruit production to the more temperate south.

The country is home to 82% of Andean glaciers, nearly all of which are in retreat, threatening water supplies.

Flooding, heatwaves and devastating forest fires are other impacts already being experienced – and which scientists predict will worsen as the planet heats up.

On Wednesday’s World Environment Day, Perez’s Democratic Revolution Party joined 52 civil society groups in a letter urging Pinera to deepen commitments to tackling climate change.

Signatories included Extinction Rebellion Chile, Greenpeace Chile and the international youth movement of children skipping school to protest about climate inaction, “Fridays for Future”.

“We hope COP25 will be remembered by future generations as the moment that the planet’s luck changed,” it concluded.

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