After Paris: “For El Salvador, this is a matter of survival”, Jorge Rodríguez

After Paris: “For El Salvador, this is a matter of survival”, Jorge Rodríguez

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Date: 2nd May 2016
Type: Feature
Tags: climate vulnerability, greenhouse gas emissions, specific financing mechanisms, temperature, UNFCCC, sustainable water management

On her return from the Paris climate talks (COP21) last December, El Salvador's Minister of Environment Lina Pohl seemed satisfied that the new agreement embraces old demands of the Central American region and other vulnerable countries, writes CDKN’s Miren Gutierrez. Among these: the fact that the agreement is legally binding, and that it includes efforts to maintain temperatures below 1.5C of warming; the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities; and an explicit distinction between adaptation, and loss and damage. Countries vulnerable to climate change seized the moment at the start of the UN climate talks in Paris by challenging Europe, the U.S. and China to increase their aspirations and establish a long-term temperature goal of 1.5C, rather than the 2C, of warming. The Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities (CBDR–RC) is a principle within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that recognises the dissimilar capabilities and responsibilities of countries facing climate change. Before the Paris Agreement, the issue of loss and damage had been previously treated as a sub-category of adaptation.

In this interview, Jorge Rodríguez, country representative, offers a view on the future of El Salvador´s climate change commitments:

The Paris Agreement created an ambitious mandate for the global community. Does it change the national conversation in El Salvador about action on climate change? If so, how?

In Paris, El Salvador presented qualitative contributions related to its mitigation plans. The Ministry of Environment is expected to start work on its quantitative contributions this year. For the Government of El Salvador, the issue of the Intended Nationally Determined Contribution is very important because it is a way of putting the issue on the table at a national level. Their strategy is to establish the contributions of the country, to have them ratified by Congress, and from there on, to apply the commitments to different sectors.

As you said, El Salvador submitted its INDC – what will it take to get from ‘intended’ to ‘implemented’? What are the big opportunities and challenges?

El Salvador is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change. Besides, it is a country that has failed to grow economically for the past 20 years (the GDP growth rate is similar to the population growth rate). In this context, decisions about how to employ our resources generate a lot of socio-political conflict and tension, and this has become the biggest challenge El Salvador is facing right now.

On the one hand, climate change and weather-related disasters are generating great losses at social and economic levels in El Salvador, as well seriously affecting key sectors, such as agriculture and infrastructure. On the other hand, opportunities are being created as well, since solutions to this quandary can be found in green growth, with the possibility also to access climate finance: this way both economic development and a reduction of vulnerability would be produced.

The Paris Agreement calls for limiting average global temperature rise well below 2C, as close to 1.5C as possible. El Salvador's emissions are very low, what hope is there to see economic growth and human development with low emissions in the specific case of El Salvador? Concretely how do you go about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, addressing food security and economic development, and climate change, as well as sustainably increasing food productivity?

El Salvador’s motivation is not fighting against global warming per se; this is a matter of survival. The increase in average temperatures in this country already exceeds 1.5 C. Most ecosystems, as well as the soil, are already degraded. We are also experiencing problems with water availability, along with droughts and extreme rainfall, which are causing havoc in the country's economy.

In this regard, El Salvador does not have a commitment with the world, but a commitment with itself to reduce its vulnerability to climate change. That is why an approach to mitigation based on adaptation has been assimilated.

Under the Bonn Challenge[1], the Minister of Environment pledged to restore one million degraded hectares. In a 24,000 km2-country, this is more than a relevant dimension. With this initiative, the idea is to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases, but really its main purposes are bolstering our water resources, restoring soils so they regain their productive capacity and generating spaces that are safer for the people living in them, among other benefits.

If you check most INDCs from developing countries their emission reduction targets are subject to technology development, international climate finance and capacity building. What would happen if the means of implementation does not flow? 

While international support is important, El Salvador is taking steps as far as its own resources allow it. Some examples include the creation, at an institutional level, of a space for interinstitutional coordination, called Office of Environmental Sustainability and Vulnerability. This highlights how high this matter is in the political agenda. There are other initiatives, for instance, to create funds to encourage the restoration of ecosystems and landscapes, to which the private sector is contributing. The government is changing the regulatory framework as well in order to facilitate these measures.

El Salvador is a highly vulnerable country that has suffered the human and economic impact of a string of tropical storms in the past few years… Meanwhile, the SDGs have many climate-related components, as well as a dedicated climate goal. What are some of the ways that the SDGs will influence the planning and practice of development in El Salvador in the coming years?

The SDGs are already beginning to be incorporated into the planning processes of different areas. This is a process that is just beginning, and I cannot say that it is widely established. It is expected to gather more speed in the coming years. One of the important effects is envisioning is that, unlike the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals), the SDGs have a more holistic approach and reflect interconnections within different issues. In this sense, they are likely to foster joint initiatives, both at nationally and at regional levels.


References and further reading:

Read more about CDKN's work in the country on the El Salvador page (in English or Spanish)

El Salvador is satisfied with the results of the universal climate change agreement in Paris (in Spanish)

Environmental sustainability and vulnerability cabinet (in Spanish)

Image: maize and beans for sale, El Salvador, courtesy Neil Palmer, CIAT.


[1] The Bonn Challenge is a global aspiration to restore 150 million hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded lands by 2020.

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