This December in Paris, countries at the U.N. negotiations on climate change aim to reach a new agreement. The CELAC Summit represents an important opportunity to connect the region’s efforts to tackle poverty and inequality with a new kind of development, one which is more inclusive and sustainable. A particular challenge will be whether governments can increase per capita income while simultaneously reducing per capita emissions.
Latin America and the Caribbean are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change such as catastrophic floods and droughts which are already being felt across the region. These impacts are a serious challenge to hard-won development gains, and are deepening the divide between the rich and poor across the region, and threaten to halt and even reverse advances in health and education for the most vulnerable.
At the last U.N. climate change conference in Lima, Peru, Costa Rica as the current rotating president of CELAC made an unprecedented statement on behalf of the community. It emphasized Latin American countries’ shared vulnerability to climate impacts and the importance of adaptation for the region. It also reaffirmed CELAC’s commitment to the U.N. climate negotiations and their support for a legally binding agreement this year.
The CELAC statement in Lima is the result of an ongoing diplomatic effort by Brazil and Chile. The Brazil-Chile initiative focuses on establishing dialogue between Latin American and Caribbean countries on climate change in order to build trust and understanding based on common values and to strengthen the region's contribution to the U.N. climate negotiations.
The CELAC Summit can consolidate and build on Costa Rica’s statement in Lima by ensuring that the Summit’s final declaration and communiques to be adopted by leaders this week include language on climate change. It can also take a step further and consider the creation of a specific initiative on climate. This initiative could focus on less politically sensitive issues which all countries could agree upon, such as a focus on enhancing regional cooperation on adapting to climate impacts and boosting renewable energy including solar, wind, and geothermal.
The combination of specific references to climate change in the Summit’s final texts and the launch of an initiative could have important benefits.
The inclusion of language on climate change can encourage the region to play a more coordinated and effective role at the U.N. climate negotiations to support an ambitious and equitable outcome this year.
Latin America rarely speaks with one voice on climate change or adopts common positions. Instead, countries from the region are part of a dizzying array of groups. These divisions at the U.N. climate talks are a reflection of the broader differences in foreign policies and regional integration projects in the region.
An initiative could improve cooperation and have real benefits for building the region’s response to climate change with a focus on adaptation and renewable energy. This in turn can help to build trust and a common sense of purpose which could have a positive knock-on effect for the region’s role at the U.N. climate talks.
As one of the most recent regional integration projects in Latin America founded in 2011, CELAC is yet to establish a permanent secretariat, though there may be some progress on that front this week in Costa Rica.
The summit can connect the region’s efforts to tackle poverty with a new kind of more inclusive and sustainable development. By adopting a new approach which attempts to tackle climate change and poverty simultaneously, CELAC can encourage Latin America to play a more constructive role at the U.N. climate negotiations while improving efforts to build prosperity.