In the run up to the Madrid-based COP25 international climate talks set to begin in early December, former Director of the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s Energy and Environment program, Rebecca Bertram, conducted a series of interviews with Latin American officials and activists. In Part 1 of this series, Bertram met with Marlon Escoto, Presidential Delegate for Climate Change in Honduras to discuss the state of the nation’s preparedness, their needs and their hopes for the COP.
Seeking international support
Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, and among the most sensitive to climate change. Especially vulnerable is the country’s agricultural sector, which accounts for 14 percent of GDP and in which some 40 percent of the population works. Nationwide the strain of water scarcity and higher temperatures have greatly impacted productivity. Though the nation has committed itself to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent by 2030 — compared to a business-as-usual scenario — this remains contingent on favorable international finance conditions. Having contributed so little to what is causing climate change, like many other Latin American countries, Honduras is dealing with increasing devastation while being incapable of properly addressing the crisis alone.
Rebecca Bertram: Why has Honduras appointed a Presidential Delegate for Climate Change?
Marlon Escoto: The office of the Presidential Delegate for Climate Change was created in 2015 following the Paris climate agreement. The aim of our work is to build a link between the international level – that is to say our international climate commitments – and our national institutions, our private sector as well as our local population. We spend much of our time communicating and educating our public on why a country like Honduras, responsible for only 0.1 percent of global carbon emissions, has to act on climate change.
What are the major challenges in Honduras’ climate change struggles?
The biggest challenge for us is to find an answer regarding how to make climate change a crosscutting issue across our policies and form an integral part of our economic development. Honduras is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change, and it affects our population disproportionally due to our high social inequality. So our main challenge will be how to include all parts of society in the fight against it and make climate an issue of survival, including for those rural populations that have very poor access to public services.
Why should this be so difficult?
The concept of climate change is difficult to grasp, including for many decision-makers. We have faced some difficulty in showing how it impacts our productive sector and investments. However, I believe that we have a real opportunity here to communicate that climate change does not just create chaos, but perhaps new economic opportunities. But this requires a change in our basic culture.
What are you doing to bring this change about?
We have to internalize climate change in all our decision-making processes by redefining our models of production and investing. We must convince our public institutions of this new approach while working with investors to show them that integrating climate change aspects in their strategies will subsequently help them to avoid climate related problems in the future. They need to see the economic benefit of investing differently in order to create new win-win situations.
What examples can you describe?
Currently we are still in our “preparatory phase.” This began in 2015 and will go on through next year. In this time, we have worked to integrate climate change into our formal education system. Going forward we will engage in an international exchange with other countries to improve our efforts in this respect. But we also need to think about how we include those who are not part of our formal education system.
What else has changed during this preparatory phase, particularly in the agricultural sector?
Our agricultural sector is the most affected by climate change. Climate and food security are directly related. When harvests decrease and people lose their livelihoods they will migrate. So the sector requires longer-term assistance programs. Additionally, we need to make greater use of available information technologies that help farmers adapt to and better foresee the change in weather patterns. So far, we have been unable to offer this assistance.
Beyond agriculture, we need to support the tourism, infrastructure and productive industries as well.
Essentially, Honduras still needs to fully understand the climate change phenomenon. In 1998 we were hit by the devastating hurricane Mitch; it killed more than 10,000 people and generated our first climate refugees. Back then we did not understand the connection between extreme weather events and climate change. We need to better invest in understanding the risks ahead. Only then can we improve the way we face the growing number of weather extremes.
How have international climate finance and donors helped to promote this understanding?
Before the year 2015, we found few international cooperation projects with a clear climate change focus. During our preparatory phase, we are working on developing the necessary framework for international development projects to have a climate component for post-2020. Beginning in 2020, it will be obligatory for all development projects in Honduras to include a climate change provision. In general, we would like our public institutions to refrain from implementing climate projects without international backing.
Are you seeing a regional approach to fighting climate change?
Most of our international cooperation projects have a regional focus. For example, we currently have a climate change project in the border region between Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Unfortunately, Central America is currently divided up in three separate groups under the Paris climate agreement, so the region does not speak with the same voice on the international level. This is definitely one of the shortcomings of the Paris agreement because if you compare Honduras to Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, we all share the same level of vulnerability to climate change.
We also are engaged in a number of bilateral climate dialogues with our neighbors. For example, with Guatemala we collaborate on constructing a carbon market. With the Dominican Republic, we have a joint project strengthening our climate change education efforts.
What are Honduras’ hopes for the COP25 in Madrid?
Honduras is a poor country and we depend on a functioning international climate finance mechanism as well as carbon markets. Among the biggest questions for are which countries will provide money and which countries will receive it–and how will these transactions be regulated? Favorable financial discussions in Madrid, along with the necessary international support, would allow us to continue to improve our national climate efforts in Honduras next year.