Latin America witnessed the birth of modern environmental policy. The Rio Earth Summit in June 1992 resulted in important legally binding agreements, including the Framework Convention on Climate Change and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

Emissions from energy and industrial activities are rising in most countries but have plateaued in Brazil, host of the summit in Rio de Janeiro. Brazil is a leader in exploiting hydro power, but while the Amazon forests are important for absorbing CO2 emissions, forest cover is being cut down.

Forests are important stores of carbon – between 2010 and 2016 about 12 per cent of global CO2 emissions were absorbed by the Amazon alone. But more than a fifth of the Amazon forests has already been felled.

The region’s six major countries – Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru and Brazil – have made pledges to the Bonn Challenge, a global effort to bring 150m hectares of deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2020 and 350m hectares by 2030. However, all six, except Chile, have lost forest cover since 1990, with Argentina losing over 20 per cent.

Brazilian power generation is primarily hydro power, making it low carbon, despite potential local ecosystem degradation. However, a major fuel across the region is natural gas, which produces carbon dioxide when burned in power stations. And coal accounts for 37 per cent of Chile’s generation.

Government targets and improving economics mean renewables capacity is increasing across the six economies. Although wind power installation in Brazil peaked in 2015, the fall has been more than offset with rising solar projects. Chile and especially Mexico are also increasing solar capacity as costs of onshore, offshore and solar power reduce.

Man-made global warming occurs when greenhouse-gas emissions are released into the atmosphere as a result of socio-economic activities, especially burning fossil fuels for energy. All six countries warmed over the 20 years to 2015. But while Argentina’s average temperatures rose by around 0.3°C, Peru’s increase was small.

Global warming exacerbates extreme weather events such as droughts, high temperatures and wildfires that bring social and economic risks, including disruption to agriculture. Floods are most common in Colombia and storms in Mexico. The USD16.6 billion cost of damage in Mexico between 2009 and 2018 was 60 per cent higher than in Brazil, despite a 38 per cent smaller population, but more Brazilians – 10 million - were affected.

Countries’ potential to respond to climate vulnerability depends on whether they have the financial wellbeing and institutional quality to address climate risks. Chile stands out on both counts.

However, potential is one thing, having a plan to decarbonise is another. So while Chile scores well on government effectiveness, its emissions-reduction policy is less impressive, whereas Mexico and Brazil have relatively strong policy commitments, but may be unable to enact it.

The dependence of several Latin American economies on commodities – mining in Chile and Peru, oil in Colombia – can increase pressures on environmental protection. Mining can damage land and water resources.

Agro-commodities are also important, especially for Brazil, the world’s largest producer of coffee and sugar. But agriculture requires land, which often means using forested land.

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