Latin American countries wanted a strong outcome from the Paris conference. Although countries from the region differed on what should be in the agreement, they agree that their region is incredibly vulnerable to climate change and that climate impacts are already being felt. There has been a recent shift away from the idea that climate change is a problem for the future to something that today’s policymakers must confront. Latin American citizens are also the most concerned about global warming in the world compared to citizens of other regions. The Paris Agreement is a potential game-change for the region to chart a new path toward building more prosperous and resilient low-carbon and sustainable economies.
What new challenges does the agreement present for the region?
Latin America is responsible for just under 10% of global emissions. Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Venezuela are the region’s main emitters. Though Latin America is not a big global emitter, its energy sector emissions, including power generation and transport, are rising quickly as energy demand and private vehicle ownership shoot up. So Latin America does have an important role to play in reducing global emissions. Latin American national climate plans or INDCs [Intended Nationally Determined Contributions] submitted this year to the UN are currently not sufficiently ambitious. For the most part, they are not consistent with holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius, which is a central part of the agreement. The new agreement can serve as a wakeup call for the international community, including Latin America, to reconsider their climate plans and scale up ambition.
What might be some new opportunities for the region?
The Paris Agreement charts a new direction of travel for the global response to climate change. The signal to policymakers and investors is that we need to transition rapidly away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy. This type of climate action can be a catalyst for better growth, not a brake. Some Latin American countries are starting to view climate action and development as mutually beneficial goals and are well positioned to capitalize on some of the opportunities, particularly clean energy. The region is already considered one of the great frontiers for clean-energy investment, and now with the Paris Agreement the case can be made even more forcibly about the potential benefits of focusing on clean energy to create jobs, attract investment and improve air quality. Countries’ renewable-energy policies and targets could be increased to capitalize on this potential; and scheduled fossil-fuel investments should be revised. The Paris Agreement also has very important elements on adaptation to climate impacts, which is a top priority for Latin America. The design and implementation of national adaptation plans presents a huge opportunity to allow countries to gain a better understanding of their vulnerability to climate risks, so they can build resilience.
Rich countries once again promised to meet the US$100 billion goal for financing developing countries’ efforts to reduce their emissions and adapt to climate impacts. How does Latin America fit into this?
As a middle-income region, Latin America is in a tough spot. These nations are not a priority for global climate finance compared with small island states and the least developed countries. Climate finance in Latin America is very concentrated in Brazil and Mexico, which receive the bulk, followed by Chile, Colombia and Peru. Mitigation projects also receive considerably more funding than adaptation efforts. The Green Climate Fund (GCF), which is under the control of the UN climate convention, is intended to be the primary vehicle to finance developing countries’ mitigation and adaptation efforts. Two of the GCF’s first eight projects approved in 2015 are in Latin America: in Peru there is a project for building resilience of wetlands and
a regional-level project for energy-efficiency green bonds. Five Latin American countries—Colombia, Peru, Panama, Chile and Mexico—have made funding pledges to the GCF. The role of the Inter-American Development Bank as well as national banks will be crucial, especially during this period of slower growth. South-South cooperation will also be critical: Brazil has been working with its Amazonian neighbors on rainforest protection, and Mexico is cooperating with its Central American partners to improve adaptation and resilience. Developed countries need to step up their level of financial support, but countries in the region will also need to do more themselves, for instance by eliminating perverse fossil-fuel subsidies to free up budgetary resources for sustainable-development projects.
Policymakers should attempt to communicate the Paris Agreement in 2016 to citizens, focusing on the benefits of climate action and improving resilience. Cities, civil society and the private sector will be essential to ensure the agreement is acted on at home and to push governments to make their INDCs more ambitious. Inclusive and participatory conversations at the national level need to take place in 2016 linking the Paris Agreement with national climate and development plans and the Sustainable Development Goals.
The EcoAméricas December 2015 issue is available here behind a paywall.