December 12, 2022
MANILA – El Chaltén, Argentina—It was an image that seemed frozen in time and space: a sprawling blue glacier – as far as the eye could see – stretching deep into the mountains of Patagonia.
Then, suddenly, the sound of a crack is heard, like distant thunder – and part of the glacier comes crashing down into the milky green lake below.
Seeing such a sight as our boat approached Perito Moreno Glacier, perhaps Argentina’s most famous glacier, I can’t help but think about the climate crisis and what it means for the world.
The vastness of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field (16,480 square kilometres) – of which the glacier is a part – means that such ice loss – known as “calving” in glaciology – would in itself mean nothing like doing part of a glacier’s life cycle. . A few years ago, it was reported that Perito Moreno himself was growing instead of shrinking: a phenomenon that is still not fully explained.
Either way, the reality is that, taken together, Patagonian glaciers are melting at one of the fastest rates on earth, contributing significantly to sea level rise. According to a 2019 study by Michael Zemp and his colleagues, the world loses 335 billion tons of ice each year, which corresponds to an annual rise in sea level of nearly one millimeter.
In Argentina – which (as its officials at the COP27 meetings in Egypt were quick to point out) contributes 0.7% of global greenhouse gas emissions – the impacts of climate change are already manifesting in the form unstable weather conditions, increased rainfall (and risk of flooding) in the north, and decreased rainfall (and risk of drought) in the south. The country has taken steps to reduce its own emissions, which come mainly from the energy sector (54%) and livestock (20.7%) with its more than 50 million head of cattle. However, highlighting the challenges facing a country facing a severe economic crisis, he also highlighted the importance of natural gas in their transición energética and defended its agriculture and livestock industries amid fears that lead to deforestation.
The Philippines faces a similar situation. As one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change, we have already seen the devastation wrought by ever-stronger typhoons and ever-heavier floods. And even though the country has been very active in climate leadership for decades (when I attended a workshop at Harvard in 2019, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and international mediator Professor Lawrence Susskind quoted our own Tony La Viña as an example of negotiation skills), our governments have been reluctant to make strong climate commitments, also citing our tiny contribution to global emissions.
In the wake of COP27, John Leo Algo of Living Laudato Si’ Philippines noted: “While the nation has the right to pursue development on its own terms, it is hypocritical for the Philippines, one of the most vulnerable to the climate crisis, to continue to support the use of the same fossil fuels that are clearly harming it in many ways.
Even if leaders on both sides of the Pacific are rightly demanding climate justice and respecting words like “climate action”, “mitigation” and “sustainability”, will they actually take action to protect places like Gran Chaco and Sibuyan? , Yungas and Palawan , destructive projects – and an equally destructive development paradigm?
Amid the sheer grandeur and beauty of Patagonia, concerns about the climate crisis and the environment can seem distant, and thoughts prompted by collapsing glaciers can prove fleeting. While taking the bus from El Calafate to El Chaltén – the “hiking capital of Argentina” – I saw wild guanacos grazing in the meadows, and only the snow-capped peaks in the background, behind which is the part local Chilean, could take my eyes off such scenes. Here in El Chaltén itself, Andean condors circle the peaks as I walked in the shadow of its famous monolithic peaks like Cerro Torre and Mount Fitzroy.
But nothing lasts forever, and the timelessness of such scenes is belied by science showing that their foundations are not enduring, with glaciers, guanacos and condors threatened with extinction. And the same can be said of the taken-for-granted comforts of our ways of life – even more so for those who are already marginalized, from the Mapuche of Gran Chaco and the “lumad” of Mindanao, to the urban poor of Buenos Aires. , Manila and elsewhere.
We need a policy that recognizes that our planet is as beautiful and as fragile as its glaciers.