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Ecosystems and resilience to climate change

Ecosystems and resilience to climate change

In different regions of the planet the effects and impacts of climate change are already evident (ocean acidification, retreat of glaciers, extreme droughts, torrential rains, floods, environmental disasters, etc.). But neither the lengthy 5th IPCC report [1] nor other very serious studies that confirm this, along with the commitments and goals of the Paris Agreement (COP 21 of 2015)[2], accelerate the measures and concrete actions of the international community, in particular of the industrialized and emerging countries of the G-20 that concentrate the highest global GHG emissions (79%). [3]

While the future remains uncertain and at greater risk for the most vulnerable population, civil society will continue to march and demand that those most responsible for this crisis break with the old paradigms and economic interests that prevent changes and delay urgent actions against climate change.

Global economy and development versus environmental and climate crisis

Against scientific consensus and citizen common sense, climate denialism and political stubbornness persist in power, along with the unlawful interests of the multinational corporations responsible for this crisis. Thus, the global regressive tendency of the society-nature relationship is deepened, whose causes of origin are multiple, two that are concurrent stand out: 1) the ideology of absolute supremacy of humanity over nature; and 2) the development paradigm based on the extraction of natural resources imposed by the global economic system.

The idea of ​​neoliberal economic progressivism based on the simplistic argument of the positive trade-environment relationship must be demystified, because the assumption that free trade is the engine of growth and therefore of environmental care is dysfunctional. Trade is not an end in itself from which economic growth is mechanically energized, environmental improvements and development are achieved. Rather, the unequal distribution of income is the variable that affects the link between the level of per capita income and environmental quality, with inequality being the main negative factor on the environment.[4]

Those who argue -in the long term- of the positive trade-environment relationship, argue that greater technological development and trade between countries, north-south, promotes transfer processes that shorten stages in the technological progress of the countries; But this technological progress is not always linear and ascending, it is also complex and contradictory, because it is subject to various variables and risks if regulatory policies, insertion plans and control of technology quality standards are not applied in each productive sector. Thus, not only advanced technologies are transferred but also inherent environmental risks. It is a global phenomenon whereby countries where there are fewer environmental regulations are used as environmental garbage dumps for waste and polluting technologies in countries with higher environmental regulations.[5] The large global ecological debt generated mainly by industrialized and emerging countries is therefore no accident.

According to the IPCC, recent GHG emissions caused by human action: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and other pollutants, are the highest in history and climate changes already have widespread impacts on the human and natural systems, affecting and violating the rights of millions of people, especially the poorest. That is why the goals of the Paris Agreement, which begins in 2020, when the Kyoto Protocol ends [6], already require real changes and urgent measures from countries to cut their emissions by half by 2030 and limit warming at 1.5 ° C. [7] Because if urgent action is not taken, it is estimated that the global temperature increase trend could reach an average of 3.2 ° C. Which would be very serious.

The false dilemma of progress and modernity at the cost of nature: resilient ecosystems at risk

It is important to understand that warming and climate change are complex phenomena on a global and local scale, reflecting the multiple interactions as society-nature and the complex underlying relationships of mutual causality. Hence the great importance of maintaining resilient ecosystems to guarantee the life of the planet.

From the ecosystem approach, resilience is defined as "The degree to which a system recovers or returns to its previous state before the action of a stimulus." It is the response capacity that natural ecosystems have in the face of changes produced by external factors or agents.[8] But this The natural mechanism of dynamic equilibrium and the resilience of ecosystems has been altered over time, as human action has been greater and its economic activities have become more technical, intensified and expanded, at the cost of greater extraction of natural resources, to satisfy the demands of growth and development, the consumerist lifestyles of the societies of the countries.

The researcher Enrique Leff[9] analyzes in this regard that one of the most important factors in the imbalance of ecosystems is the process of capitalist accumulation, because its rationality induces the destabilization of the natural dynamics of ecosystems, by exerting greater economic pressure on natural resources and the environment. But even when there is a natural response of ecosystems to these imbalances, it depends on two qualities: i) their resilience against external disturbances; and ii) its state of conservation and health in relation to its state of equilibrium.

Human activities can indeed generate negative environmental impacts of such magnitude on natural resources and ecosystems, the damage of which can be irreversible. We see it in renewable natural resources such as water, forests, biodiversity, agricultural land and others, whose regeneration cycles are much slower than their extraction rates; therefore, depending on the degree of human intervention, they can become non-renewable resources. Especially if we relate them to the performance of extractive activities (mining, oil, gas, timber, etc.), whose techno-productive processes can -in fact- negatively impact the carrying capacity of ecosystems and affect their degree of resilience, stability and sustainability. This is what happens in Latin America and other regions given the increasing contamination of water sources and the loss of biodiversity resources, primary forests and soils due to extractive activities, in accordance with deregulatory -or factual- policies of the governments of the countries. , which go beyond their constitutional and regulatory frameworks (even the most advanced).

The most complex and diversified ecosystems have greater stability, regeneration capacity and different dynamic mechanisms of balance, compared to the simplest ecosystems: the most artificial (anthropized). Therefore, the resilience of an ecosystem is much greater the lower its degree of anthropization and it will be much lower the higher the degree of anthropization it has. That is why the imbalances caused by human action have not been able to be reversed -at all- by nature. The degree of impact on resilient ecosystems will be greater as extractive development models continue to prioritize economic growth and greater extraction of the natural stock, regardless of its finiteness. TOYes, the environmental cost due to progressive deterioration and / or loss of the natural resource or ecosystem is very high in the trade-growth relationship, even if it is a very profitable activity, because the damage could not be compensated - unless replaced - affecting global environmental sustainability.

Faced with the question of whether losing nature is the unavoidable cost of progress and modernity, other approaches and worldviews of the world derived from indigenous peoples from different regions of the world, based on their millenary cultures and their resilient ways of life, their principles are ignored. , adaptive knowledge and practices, especially their respect for the relationship between society and nature transmitted by successive generations; and that, contrary to the logic of modernity and global lifestyles, they offer us endogenous development alternatives that today are insufficiently recognized and valued by formal science. [10]

Resilient social and environmental movements now for a sustainable future

Faced with the environmental and climate crisis, it is urgent to transcend the indifference and complicity of inept politicians, of the economic and corporate technocracy that remains in power with its positivist narrative about the cycles of the global economy and its plundering model of nature (which today they try to cover with a “green” discourse on environmental matters).

The Environmental imbalances caused by human action have not been reversed according to the mechanisms of natural regulation and resilience of ecosystems. And with Economic globalization confirms the greater negative impact of extractive activities on ecosystems, accentuating greater imbalances (regressions) in the interaction of social and natural systems. Hence the need to question the hegemonic system, from a conceptual, principled and active level, but, above all, emphasizing the human dimension and the fundamental rights of peoples, in the - not recognized - rights of nature, with the imperative of forge changes in favor of recovering society-nature harmony.

It may be a utopia to pretend the construction of a different development paradigm, if we do not begin to question and demand profound changes in the systemic structures of the prevailing political and economic power: to break with its perverse circle of power, because that is where the essence of the problem lies; And because changing the rationale for profit at the expense of nature will not be easy for the forces defending the status quo. Changing it requires much more than solidarity aid and has to do - fundamentally - with a fundamental change in politics, in the lifestyles and development of countries, with the responsibilities that we have to assume from our field of action, from micro to micro. macro. Knowing how to project ourselves beyond the political calculation, but above all to assume a new attitude and coherent stance, a critical and resilient thinking for action, because neither the uncertainty due to the climate crisis nor the environmental conflict nor social injustice will disappear by themselves.

The multiple social manifestations of young people, university and college students, workers and unions, producers, indigenous peoples and civil society in general, which is growing and which has already been expressed through innumerable marches and networks, movements, groups of wills and organizations in various parts of the world is a clear expression of social resilience, participatory democracy, that citizen patience has run out in the face of injustice, ineffectiveness and that old paradigms are breaking down. Progress is thus made with persistence and hope to demand justice, profound changes - with greater responsibility and coherence - from political decision-makers, institutions and from all those who defend immobility. In that sense, "let's be realistic, let's demand the impossible" (we remember the famous phrase of the philosopher Herbert Marcuse, who marked the protest mark of the French spring of the student movement of May 1968). The challenges are therefore enormous as the consciences and wills for the change that are already adding up.


By Walter Chamochumbi
Eclosio Advisor (formerly ADG), Andean Region Program.

[1] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, known by the acronym in English IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

[2] The Paris Agreement was negotiated by 195 member countries, during the Conference of the Parties (COP 21 of 2015), within the framework of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that establishes measures for the reduction of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, through a plan to limit warming well below 2 ° C (an average closer to 1.5 ° C). Its application is expected in 2020, after the Kyoto Protocol is in force. The agreement was adopted on 12/12/2015 and opened for signature on 04/22/2016.

[3] Greenhouse Gases (GHG). See ”Brown to green. The G20 Transition to a Low Carbon Economy-2018 ”. Climate Transparency (https://www.climate-transparency.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Brown-to-Green-Report-2018_Espa%C3%B1ol.pdf)

[4] Those who defend the positive effect of the trade-growth relationship on the environment are based on the hypothesis of the Kuznets Environmental Curve (CAK), which measures the emission of some polluting gases into the atmosphere: they find that pollution it increases with economic growth up to a certain level of income (limit) and then falls. But it has been shown with CO2 - one of the most important GHGs of global warming - which does not conform to the behavior of the inverted “U” of reducing pollution in the industrialized countries with the highest growth, but rather the opposite. Hence the consensus of the invalid CAK. (In the article "Costs of the trade-environment relationship: capital crisis and genesis of a global antinomy", by Walter Chamochumbi, Lima, 2008, published in EcoPortal (http://www.EcoPortal.net).

[5] This trend is called "Hypothesis of the pollution havens", Gitli and Hernández (2002). (Ibid.)

[6] The protocol is part of the UNFCCC and was created to reduce GHG emissions that cause global warming. adopted on 12/11/1997 in Kyoto, Japan, entering into force until 02/16/2005. In November 2009, 187 states ratified it. The United States never ratified it despite being one of the largest GHG emitters. The history of non-compliance with the protocol has been repeated and therefore considered a failure.

[7] The US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, together with the denialist statements of its President Trump, similar to those of Russia, Brazil and other political leaders, well reflect the contradictions and the double discourse of the countries of the G-20 (USA, China, Germany, England, Canada, Australia, Japan, India, Argentina, Brazil, France, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Italy, South Africa, etc.) versus the CC: on one side, with its commitment to sustainable development and to combat CC, reduce its GHG emissions and support the development of renewable energies; while, on the other hand, they finance or subsidize fossil fuel projects (oil, gas and coal) or agrofuel projects and extensive livestock farming in primary forest areas.

[8] "Resilience in Sustainable Development: some theoretical considerations in the social and environmental field", article by Walter Chamochumbi (2005) ... in EcoPortal (http://www.EcoPortal.net).

[9] "Ecology and Capital: towards an environmental perspective of development", author Enrique Leff (1986), pub. Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico. (Quoted in Walter Chamochumbi (2005). (Ibid.)

[10] Indigenous peoples gained knowledge of the structure, composition and functioning of ecosystems. Thus, they progressively tested resilient forms and adaptations to survive (eg agrocentric cultures in high Andean or tropical Andean areas, which adapted to the environment, modified ecosystems, domesticated plants-trees, animals and biodiversity, becoming complex agroecosystems. ( Ibid)

Video: Wildfire, climate change and forest resilience research (October 2020).