Latin America’s Green Path Forward

Posted on 15 December 2009 by editor

Laura Tuck

Laura Tuck

By Laura Tuck*

COPENHAGEN (IPS/TerraViva) What happens at the global summit this week in Copenhagen is of utmost importance for Latin America and the Caribbean.

While expectations are that binding agreements on emission targets will probably not be signed until next year in Mexico City, there are many decisions – such as compensation for avoiding deforestation, technology transfers, financing of greenhouse gas reductions and adaptation to climate change – in play. The region has a stake in all of these and can play a critical role in reaching agreement on each.

Many Latin American and Caribbean countries have already made commitments to reduce their carbon footprints. The region’s two largest economies have led on climate policies, with Brazil focused on reducing deforestation, and Mexico on implementing its “Special Climate Change Program”, a comprehensive low-carbon development model.

Costa Rica, which has pledged to become the first carbon-neutral country in the world, is a global pioneer in paying landowners – from a gasoline tax fund – for forest conservation. Argentina’s renewable energy programs in rural areas provide electricity at low cost, while making a positive contribution to productivity and job creation.

These countries have taken steps to reduce emissions despite the fact that the region produces only 6 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, or 13 percent, when deforestation and agriculture are included. Latin America’s relatively low emissions are due in large part to a greater dependence on hydroelectricity over coal-fired plants.

The region’s power sector generates 40 percent less CO2 emissions per unit of energy – known as carbon intensity – than the world as a whole. Considering that these emissions are 74 percent less than those of China and India, and 50 percent less than the average for developing countries, the region is already at the forefront of low-carbon growth.

Yet, this situation is projected to change over the next 25 years, especially as its transport and industrial sectors grow. Taking actions now to move to even greater dependence on renewable energy will ensure its place among the world’s most climate-friendly regions.

As one of the world’s richest regions in biodiversity, and home to one-third of the world’s forest biomass, The Latin America and Caribbean region takes its responsibility for preserving and protecting the natural resources that help capture carbon and protect watersheds.

Last month, the Brazilian government announced that deforestation in the Amazon had hit its lowest point since monitoring began 21 years ago, with destruction slowing 45 percent compared to the year before.

One of the most likely outcomes of Copenhagen is a decision on how to compensate and encourage forest protection. For this region, it is a critical issue, considering that deforestation accounts for a large percentage of regional emissions, and countries such as Brazil and Guyana are key negotiators on these issues.

Studies across the region have identified many low carbon options, such as specific energy-efficiency and renewable energy technologies and urban transport or forestry programs, which can be undertaken at low or even no additional costs. In Mexico, for instance, local experts, with assistance from World Bank economists, have identified some 40 measures, such as the development of wind resources and improved vehicle inspections, which can deliver the greatest environmental bang for the economic buck.

The second major topic on the Copenhagen agenda is how the developed world will help developing countries finance the costs of adapting to the impacts of climate change. World Bank studies show that these costs could run between $16 and $19 billion per year by 2020.

Latin America and the Caribbean are already experiencing significant effects from climate change. In the Andes, for instance, tropical glaciers are melting at such a pace that some could simply be gone in 10 to 20 years. Aside from the impact on biodiversity – the eastern slopes of the Andes are the single most biologically diverse area in the world – glacier disappearance will have a tremendous economic impact on some of the region’s poorest residents.

The World Bank is supporting Latin America’s environmental efforts with loans totaling US$3.7 billion for the 2008-2009 period. But much more will be needed, to scale up adaptation efforts and also to finance the acquisition of technologies to curb emissions.

There is much on the line for Latin America in Copenhagen. Significant progress achieved there will go a long way toward the adoption of a legally binding treaty at the next global gathering, in Mexico in 2010. Such an outcome would be a major advance for the world and a tremendous symbol of the leadership shown by the region.

* Laura Tuck is World Bank Sector Director for Sustainable Development in the Latin America and Caribbean region.
(END/2009)

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