Decoding the Red Code for Humanity.
CZ Good evening, everyone. It’s a pleasure to be with all of you again in this Sachamama Talks space. For those who don’t know me, my name is Carlos Zegarra. I am part of an environmental organization called Sachamama. And every month, at the end of the month, we gather to share a specific topic with you.
Today, we are going to talk about the IPCC report, the sixth report from the IPCC that addresses the current state of climate change and how it impacts all of us. I am thrilled because I have someone I greatly admire with me for this conversation. I consider her a dear friend, and she will share with us a bit about this report.
The objective of this conversation is to have an organic discussion, to explore these topics that are new in this report compared to previous ones. And how this report affects all of us in our present time, regardless of where we are as citizens.
So today, I am joined by Verónica Arias. She is an incredible woman who has been committed to the environment and climate change throughout her life. She is a lawyer, holds a master’s degree in environmental affairs, has been leading The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Ecuador, and is part of the CC35 team. Today, she has taken the time to share this topic with us. Additionally, she is one of the hundred most recognized Latinas for leading the fight against climate change in 2021.
I want to welcome Verónica Arias. Vero, it’s a pleasure to be with you. Thank you so much for joining us.
VA – Thank you very much, dear Charlie, and thanks to Sachamama and the SachamamaTalks program, which I find very important at this moment. It’s crucial to speak to the public, to reach as many people as possible with these topics that need to be known and acted upon. To understand, we need to comprehend what is happening in order to take urgent actions and corrections. Urgent actions because we are already experiencing a climate emergency.
CZ – I completely agree, and as I was sharing with the listeners, the goal is to unpack this sixth IPCC report (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) to understand what it’s about, how it impacts us, and what we can do today. So, to frame the conversation for those who are not very familiar, maybe we can start by explaining what the IPCC is, Vero.
VA – Of course, I’d be happy to tell you that since 1992, when the most important international summits on certification, biodiversity, and climate change, called the Rio Conventions, took place, there have been many agreements regarding biodiversity and the extinction crisis we are leading the planet towards. However, there was no consensus, particularly among scientists, regarding what was happening with climate change because there wasn’t sufficient evidence regarding the changes occurring in terms of climate change.
In that Convention, the IPCC, which stands for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, was created. Over the decades, information has been collected, and evidence has been gathered to present increasingly compelling reports about what is happening in relation to climate change. While it is true that the planet has experienced different ice ages, unlike the previous Pleistocene period, most scientists agree that we are now living in an anthropocentric era. What does this mean? It means that human beings are responsible for the defects of climate change. Why responsible? Because the amount of emissions we are generating, whether through transportation, improper waste management, changes in land use for increased agriculture and livestock, or the world’s growing population, means that we are emitting a significant amount of gases, especially pollutants like CO2. These gases create a layer of pollution in the atmosphere, known as the greenhouse effect, leading to global warming. Global warming precisely alters ecosystems and climates, which is what we refer to as climate change. It’s as simple as that for us to understand what is happening.
CZ – Perfect. And as I understand it, this is purely a scientific report. There are no biases or contributions from any other sectors of society. It is science speaking to us and scientifically telling us what we are observing.
VA – Exactly. It’s a report where more than 200 scientists evaluated how global warming will change the world in the coming decades after examining over 14,000 scientific articles, Charlie, and compiling over 3,949 pages. These articles come from different parts of the world, and they all agree that there is already a change in temperature and associated effects of climate change worldwide. We’re talking about floods, wildfires, heatwaves, glacial retreat, sea level rise, and more. Simultaneously, while this report is released, we see in the news what is happening across the globe. This confirms what scientists have been saying about the temperature increase, and if we continue with business as usual or make no significant efforts to change, the planet would reach a temperature rise of 1.5 degrees or even 2 degrees by 2040, not even by 2050, but within twenty years. That is the most alarming aspect. We are in a red alert, not an orange or yellow alert, but a red one.
CZ – And you know, I realized that, unlike previous reports, something that stood out to me is that, correct me if I’m wrong, they are telling us what scientists have been saying for the past three decades, right? That our planet is warming, and each decade is hotter than the previous one since we started keeping records. But what I did notice is that the language used in this report is much more assertive. In the past, especially in scientific circles, they have been more conservative in how they present their findings.
There is no high level of confidence, but now it’s like they are saying irrevocably that this is what is happening, and it is impacting all sectors. In other words, there is no room for playing anymore. It’s not as harsh as we may want to see it. This was happening. We are responsible, and as you mentioned, our planet is warming faster than we had anticipated—ten years faster by 2040 instead of the projected 2050 for 1.5 degrees. And these projections, tell us a little about the international effort made with the Paris Agreement because I believe this was the main objective of the Paris Agreement. So, tell me about the Paris Agreement, how it functions, who is part of the agreement, what it aims to achieve, and where the agreement stands in relation to what we are seeing in this sixth IPCC report.
VA – I want to go back a bit to comment on what you just mentioned. It is very true that over the decades, those of us who have been warning about this issue, those who have been aligned with science and following the agreements developed in the negotiations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Biodiversity and Climate Change, have faced disagreements with scientists. Controversially, many scientists disagreed because there are significant interests behind the scenes that prevented these criteria from being accepted, and it was simply claimed that there was no climate change or that it wasn’t scientifically proven until there was undeniable certainty. These warnings have been issued for a long time, and I want to mention that one of the fundamental principles in environmental matters is the precautionary principle. It states that all international treaties should adopt the precautionary principle, which is enshrined in legislation, stating that certainty or scientific uncertainty is not required to take action. However, we have not paid attention to this principle. If we had followed it 30 or 40 years ago, what we are experiencing now would not have happened. We are now suffering the consequences of not heeding the warnings.
Regarding that, the Paris Agreement in 2015 was when all nations of the world finally reached an agreement. Just imagine the negotiations that took place before the Paris Agreement. With the Kyoto Protocol, every country had to report their emissions and be transparent, but many countries, including major emitters like the United States, China, India, and Russia, did not want to comply. So, to include them, the agreement had to be signed by all nations and be voluntary. The voluntary report is known as the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Each country, such as the United States, Ecuador, India, etc., states its contribution to reducing emissions. However, the problem here is that when it’s voluntary, countries simply do what they can. So, you have two blocks: developed countries whose emissions contributions are enormous.
Clearly, they are the major contributors to what has been happening since the Industrial Revolution in 1850, while the developing countries contribute less than 1%, mainly due to deforestation and similar practices, but they are not the major emitters. By making it a voluntary matter, the Paris Agreement basically incentivizes nations to be highly ambitious in their commitments. The problem is that by 2020, updated emission reductions had to be submitted, showing how ambitious countries were. Unfortunately, there is bad news. We haven’t been as ambitious, and we have only reached 50% of what should have been achieved to reduce emissions and become carbon neutral by 2050. With this news, what is currently happening is that we won’t meet these commitments, and the temperature increase will become imminent and much faster. The scenario is not encouraging. However, there is hope that in November at COP26 in Glasgow, some countries will increase their ambition and commit to reducing emissions by at least half. Unfortunately, the negotiations within the G20, where the most important nations are represented, haven’t taken that big step, and I believe that will be the bad news for November.
That being said, Charlie, the scenarios are not very encouraging, and I believe this is where the citizens need to act and exert pressure on national and local governments, as well as on ourselves, because we also play a significant role in the solution. I would like to discuss this further with you after we talk about the governments and the role they play. Undoubtedly, an ambitious commitment to achieving carbon neutrality is necessary. There is even a promotion of a treaty on the non-proliferation of fossil fuels, which would be wonderful if cities and countries around the world would sign it. This means no more use of fossil fuels and transitioning to clean technology and clean energy. It goes against all interests, including those of major multinational corporations and many countries that still depend on oil. It requires a 180-degree turnaround, which is not easy. Transition processes need to be created, but I don’t know if we have time for those transition processes because we didn’t act earlier. So, what remains for us is to simply turn off the engines and say that fossil fuel emissions stop here; otherwise, things will go from bad to worse.
CZ – Look, I think what you’re telling us has two sides to the coin, right? It is discouraging that this is happening and that major world powers are not fully supporting this issue. But on the other hand, what we experienced, for example, what we are still living through with this pandemic and the COVID problem, also showed us that it is possible, it is possible. First, it is possible to mobilize and organize a community around a topic if we give it the necessary priority and if we, as humanity, work together. Agreements can be reached, and things can move as quickly as needed. Personally, that is one of the lessons I have taken from this pandemic. But on the other hand, as you mentioned, who knows if these conversations and agreements will truly achieve the goals we need to reach to stop this pollution, to stop how we are impacting our planet on so many levels. When you say it’s time to pay, I believe that. I was actually talking to a colleague the other day, and we were discussing the need for an upgrade, a change of mindset for all of us at the human level because there is no other way.
On the one hand, as you mentioned, we need to transition to renewable energies, and we need to restructure our industrial processes. But on the other hand, as individuals, we also need to restructure how we relate to the Earth. While laws and regulations are necessary to reach our goals, the behavior of humanity, of each individual, will also be a priority in achieving these targets. If we don’t change as citizens, as individuals, it will be very difficult to achieve the systemic changes we are seeking.
VA – Absolutely, and that’s why I always ask myself if it’s all lost or if there is hope. And I always believe that we should bet on hope but with an opportunity to act. We are the ones who can stop the situation. Governments have a definite role to play; they must implement urgent policies to reduce fossil fuels and cut emissions. That is a duty, and it must be done. On the other hand, there are clear targets. Scientists say that we could reduce emissions by half by the middle of the century, meaning by 2030 we should achieve that. It’s just around the corner, almost eight years from now. Let’s see if we can do it and reach
zero emissions by 2050. That’s the only way we can stop the temperature increase. Now, reaching net zero by 2050 as quickly as possible means transitioning overnight to clean technology, capturing carbon emissions through forest conservation, and absorbing them by planting trees. Cities need to undergo extensive greening. These are actions and nature-based solutions. What we have done is destroy nature, and now we need to invest in gray infrastructure to stop the oceans, to halt the seas, when mangroves, for example, are a beautiful solution to preserve and act as natural barriers. They even withstand tsunamis; it has been proven. We’re talking about urban infrastructure, for instance, where a tree can lower the temperature by one or two degrees. Just sitting under a tree provides a refreshing sensation. If our cities are completely greened, we can face heatwaves. If we conserve protected areas, extend protected marine areas, we will safeguard the future food security of our planet because biodiversity resides there, it maintains water production, and provides ecosystem services like pure oxygen from the air. In other words, we should return to nature or maintain and restore what remains. That’s why the United Nations declared this decade as the restoration decade. The COVID pandemic was a harsh and painful experience, but it taught us many lessons. Among them was solidarity and the realization that with discipline, we can accomplish things. So, here I ask myself and mention that each one of us has a role to play. Governments have their roles, but as citizens, we shouldn’t wait for others or the government to act. Each one of us can undoubtedly be a catalyst for change. Every small contribution adds up, and it’s about embracing the idea of being an imperfect environmentalist. I mention being an imperfect environmentalist because I believe people see environmentalists as part of an exclusive club or only reserved for vegetarians.
And I don’t want to be a vegetarian or, you know, you’re very perfectionist because you recycle this and that, and you go plant this and that, and I’m not like that. So, the key point is that all of us can be environmentalists to some extent without reaching perfection. And this is not about being at a higher level of human consciousness, but through daily actions that we can all take, right? It means planting a tree, transitioning to clean technology, using public transportation, saving water, saving energy, consuming responsibly by being mindful of what we watch and consume. We should check the labels, consume more local products, avoid plastic items, and eventually reduce meat consumption. I’m not saying we all need to become vegetarians because there’s also an environmental footprint there, but definitely reducing meat consumption to two times a week and cleaning up beaches. We see countries that do it and are responsible for their stretch of coastline. Meanwhile, we dispose of whatever we want in rivers and on beaches, and we have about six floating plastic islands across the planet. So, we’re talking about everyday things in our daily interaction with nature. Avoid pouring used cooking oil down the drain or sink. I don’t know if they do it in the United States, Charlie, but in our Latin American countries, they definitely do, and we see that every liter of oil poured down the drain contaminates a million liters of our rivers’ water, which is why around 80% of our rivers are polluted. These are all things we may not be aware of, but with the wonderful information we have on the Internet, there are tips for everyone, and they’re super simple. So, yes, we can make a significant difference and not wait for someone else or the government to do it. Each one of us can make that change.
CZ – Absolutely, Vero, and I think a big part of this process we’re talking about is not blaming others but truly looking at oneself and seeing how I can improve within my own life, within my own processes to live in more harmony, more balance with nature. It’s about understanding that it’s not a matter of either nature or us; we are nature, and its health is our health, its well-being is our well-being. Where it thrives and flourishes, we thrive and flourish as well. Moreover, I believe we are realizing this more now when you mentioned governments and everything that needs to happen. There has also been a mental shift in how we perceive ecosystem services and their economic value. It’s no longer about cutting down a tree, selling it, and that’s it, it’s done, and I burned it and that’s the end of the tree. It’s about understanding how much it costs me compared to how much that tree planted there will benefit me. It could be a quarter of an ecotourism spot, it could reduce the heat island effect, it could provide medicines from the forests that we have so many of in Latin America. So, I think that is also changing, and it’s a very practical way to shift this conversation. We’re not protecting nature just because we’re good people, but we’re protecting it because of the value it holds. Ideally, it shouldn’t be like that because we should protect it simply because we are nature. However, for these powerful forces that are against this, we’re protecting it for the sake of protection, but we’re also protecting it because of the values and significance it has in terms of the economy for our countries and our citizens. We’re seeing this in Latin America, and some countries like Costa Rica have done a great job in managing their lands, taking care of them, and seeing the positive outcomes it has for the entire economy and population of the country. We’re already witnessing that.
I attended a conference a couple of weeks ago where they were discussing the economic value of sharks and whales, the difference between a live whale and a dead whale, a live shark and a dead shark. And honestly, for people who, like you said, don’t see themselves as these perfect environmentalists, this is a very practical way to engage in those conversations and to convey the message. It helps to ground the discussion and say, “But we’re talking about the fact that, on one hand, this is a matter of humanity, consciousness, empathy, but on the other hand, it’s also a matter of survival, economy, and prosperity.” So, I believe that is a very individual process that everyone needs to embark on. And I think we’re seeing it more in terms of humanity. People are delving deeper because our planet is showing us in so many ways that it’s undergoing transformations – the fires in Greece, the increasingly bigger and more frequent storms here in the United States, the droughts. All of these, even if you don’t believe in them, the impact is so clear. It primarily affects those who are less prepared to combat it, but there will come a time when it will affect all of us, right? And that’s when it might be too late. Hopefully, we won’t wait until that happens to wake up a little more and have empathy for those who are already suffering from these consequences.
It’s a matter of empathy, don’t you think, Vero? The issue is that we see it happening so much, but as long as it doesn’t affect us personally, we think it’s okay, and we’ll only act when it does. Is that the nature of human beings? Hopefully not!
VA – Well, I believe that human beings learn the hard way, don’t they? Unfortunately, that’s how it goes. Maybe we wouldn’t be human if we learned from good experiences. I think very few people have the virtue of learning just because they’re told things and following the rules for the sake of it, not because they had a personal experience. We see this with our children, don’t we? A parent tells them, “Look, it’s going to happen to you,” but the child insists on doing it until they get electrocuted and learn the lesson that way. Sadly, that’s how it is. But the problem here is that we don’t have time to learn anymore; instead, we need to make the right decisions. In life, we’re presented with crossroads where we can choose one path or another. I believe that now, more than ever, we’re being shown which path to take. And if we refuse to listen and deviate from that path, then we’re simply foolish! We don’t want to understand when they’re telling us, “Look, here’s the way.” So, what you mentioned, Charlie, reminds me a lot of a meeting I had a long time ago with an indigenous person from Peru in front of the International Monetary Fund. I don’t want to create controversy with this, but they were presenting indicators of how much Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and the Latin American region had grown in terms of their income. And what this person said was that this worldview doesn’t correspond to us. They were measuring us based on the amount of natural resources we’re exploiting, but for us, we are a wealthy people when we have clean water, when we have forests, when those forests provide us with food. That’s wealth for us. Wealth means something completely different for you. Meanwhile, they are making us poor by exploiting these types of natural resources. So, it completely changes the perception of what wealth or poverty means for a country, and I believe that’s what needs to change in our way of thinking during the transition our countries must undergo.
And it’s about thinking from the perspective of natural capital, but natural capital not understood as economic capital, but rather how much value we have in a standing tree. How much economic value does a live whale or shark represent compared to a shark fin that is caught in Galapagos and taken to China, where it costs $200 or $300 for a dish, but a live shark represents over a million dollars? It attracts tourism because it provides ecosystem services, such as food chains, and it leads to countless other things that we can enumerate. But we fail to realize all of that. We need to start looking from the perspective of natural capital, which is becoming increasingly scarce. And as you know, in economics, the scarcer something is, the more expensive it becomes. So, our countries, and I speak for the Latin American region, are very rich in natural resources, and if we maintain them, we can negotiate and act as wealthy nations, not as developing countries as we currently do, where we are rather waiting for handouts, waiting for the big countries to give us, to guide us in cooperation and tell us the recipe for improving our GDP, when in fact we are already rich in natural resources. We can become the seedbeds and major providers for the planet if we preserve our natural resources. Therefore, from this perspective, I believe we need to change our mindset and make our negotiators and leaders see it this way.
And thirdly, to complement what you were saying about the rights of nature, it is very important, you see, in Ecuador we have it in our Constitution, and I believe Bolivia does as well, the issue of the rights of nature, and that signifies a different conception, because the rights of nature are no longer utilitarian for human beings, but rather they have the right to exist in and of themselves, and that right must be respected and valued independently, regardless of whether it serves human beings or not. Perhaps this is already a very advanced concept, not many nations understand it, and we ourselves have not fully grasped it conceptually to translate it into law, but that is also something we should consider, not only valuing nature based on how useful it is to us, but recognizing that nature itself has inherent value and can exist independently. In fact, human beings need nature, but nature does not need human beings. However, under another anthropocentric conception, which is human beings, we have been learning for years and centuries that we have to exploit, because that is the word for our well-being and our use, when we should actually be stewards and good caretakers of what nature has given us. Good stewardship, like a good head of the family, should ensure that your surroundings are well, that your children and your family are well, just as nature should be. So, it’s a concept of good stewardship.
CZ – Absolutely, Vero. And this is a bit of both, isn’t it? It’s a bit more rational, leaning towards the rational side of individuals, managing, changing the concepts of how we handle and perceive our resources, the issue of biocapacity in Latin America. But also, it’s neither one nor the other. It’s a blend, as you mentioned, with Ecuador and Bolivia, you are correct, where nature is recognized as what it is, a living being that breathes and sustains us, and therefore it must have its rights. It’s also that mixture of these two spaces that will lead us to where we need to go in a truly holistic way. Because as you mentioned, it’s not about continuing with the same vision of GDP or the traditional gross domestic product where we spend and exploit and exploit. Instead, it’s about reinventing the processes that have brought us to this point, and those points, such as how we view nature and incorporating its rights into the Constitution, those are seeds, seeds that are entering and penetrating individuals, and gradually they begin to change their mental models of how they perceive this issue.
Latin America is the source, it is the future. I believe there will come a point when all nations will start looking at Latin America as the source that will truly sustain the health and balance of the entire planet. What we need is for us to realize that ourselves, to become the guardians of that region in a more committed way.
VA – That’s right, that’s why we have to continue on this path, in this fight, no matter what. In the IPCC report, one of the most vulnerable regions, ironically, is the seedbed, but it is also one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change, especially Central America and the Caribbean, due to increased flooding and the impact of hurricanes, in particular. We are witnessing this, as well as the Andes mountain range. The Andes, with its high altitude and high mountain ecosystems, and the glaciers that have been melting for decades, will also have disastrous consequences for water supply. Bolivia, in fact, already has water supply problems, and high-altitude cities will also face this issue. That’s why it’s important for people and leaders to have a vision of what to do in the next twenty years. You see, twenty years ago, I had the opportunity to help establish the first water fund for Quito, along with other people, with the foresight to reforest the watersheds and preserve the páramos to ensure water supply in Quito until 2040. And this is undoubtedly being done, which is why Quito has a strong water supply, ensuring there won’t be any shortages until 2040 for the population’s needs. But the same cannot be said for other cities. It’s not happening elsewhere. Costa Rica had a fabulous vision fifty years ago when President Figueres said, “You know what? I’m not going to invest in the military; we’re going to invest in education and preserve our natural resources.” And it has been a state policy for fifty years. So people know that Costa Rica is the green Costa Rica, that it is a pioneer in transitioning to clean energy, promoting clean public transportation, effectively conserving its natural environments, and creating funds specifically for financing protected areas and expanding its marine protected areas, and so on. So, for any leader or candidate in Costa Rica, environmental issues are a crucial point of discussion regarding national policy, not just for the next ten or four years, but for the next fifty years. It’s a good example that we must continue and follow. We need to look at those examples. Unfortunately, it’s just a few, but hopefully, everyone, with this great lesson, we must keep fighting and advocating. Charlie, I congratulate you for that because it is essential to educate the citizens, not just to pressure governments, but to educate ourselves because people simply do not know. They perceive climate change as something distant, something ethereal that doesn’t concern them, but we have to make it relatable, easy to understand what’s happening and what each of us can do.
CZ – Thank you, Vero. I think we can wrap it up here. We’ve gone from discussing the report to understanding the personal and holistic implications of the changes that need to happen. And we’ve ended on an optimistic note, with examples like Costa Rica and Bhutan showing us that it is possible. It is possible to build models where nature and communities can coexist and thrive together. But as you said, it depends on each one of us. It depends on us looking at ourselves and individually evaluating how we can live more sustainably, in harmony with the earth. It doesn’t mean we have to do everything; no one is perfect. But what can we change here and there, gradually moving the wheel and creating change.
CZ – Vero, as I said at the beginning of this conversation, I feel extremely proud to have you as an advisor, as a friend. You are an example to follow, and your commitment and everything you have achieved are truly immense. I’m blown away by the work you do, and I’m very grateful that you took the time to join us here with everyone who follows us to discuss the topic of climate change and the IPCC report in a more down-to-earth manner. I thank you wholeheartedly, and I hope you have a beautiful day. Let’s continue the work.
VA – Thank you very much, Charlie, and to the whole team. I’m always here for you, ready to help however I can. Thank you.
CZ – You’ve heard from Verónica Arias. Thank you all very much. Let’s stay in touch, and let’s continue the conversation on social media. The important thing is to keep the conversation going, to keep exploring ways and solutions for how we can all make a change. Remember, at the end of the day, change begins with each one of us. This is another SachamamaTalks, and we look forward to seeing you in the next one, which will be great.