Latin America is part of the climate solution

Foto Nivela NRDC Brown.jpg

With melting glaciers, extreme storms and unprecedented droughts, Latin America is on the front lines of climate change. Yet the region is also an innovator of low carbon efforts and in recent years several countries in the region have shown their willingness to act on climate with emission reduction goals, pledges to protect forests and renewable energy targets. With the new Lima Accord calling for climate action from all countries, it is essential for countries in the region to ensure the commitments  made as part of the international negotiations process are reflected in concrete actions on the ground that help achieve both climate and sustainable development goals.

At the COP in Lima we saw that Latin American countries are willing to be part of the solution. Countries from the region reiterated their existing targets, provide updates on their progress on mitigation and adaptation plans, and in some cases announced new efforts. For example, a coalition of eight nations (Mexico, Peru, Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, Costa Rica and El Salvador) pledged to restore 20 million hectares of degraded forests by 2020. Peru and Chile also signed an environmental cooperation agreement to strengthen capacities and develop policies aimed at meeting their respective international commitments. Latin American countries also announced contributions to the Green Climate Fund, the financial mechanism established to support mitigation and adaptation measures in developing countries. Peru and Colombia each pledged US$6 million and Mexico announced it would contribute US$10 million. In the lead up to the COP, Panama had also announced its own pledge of US$1 million. While these pledges are far from the largest contributions to the fund, they send a powerful message that all countries can – and must – take action.

This is no longer about whether a country is rich or poor, from the North or the South, or a high or low emitter. It’s about who is stepping up to help steer the world onto the right track. As Chilean President, Michelle Bachelet, noted during the high level segment of the COP, having comparatively low emissions is no impediment to being part of the solution.

International climate commitments must translate into national action

The good news is that efforts to reduce emissions – boosting clean energy, improving transportation, protecting forests – also contribute to creating cleaner, healthier, and more resilient communities. That’s why it’s so important for the climate leadership we’ve seen emerge from Latin America to translate into concrete actions on the ground and clear policy frameworks that enable a transition toward a low carbon future. For the region’s international climate efforts to converge with domestic efforts.

Photo credit – Monica Araya, Nivela

While we were in Lima, NRDC partnered with Brown University’s Climate and Development Lab and the climate think tank Nivela to co-host a side-event that explored this issue. The event brought together representatives from government, civil society, research institutions and business from across the region for an animated discussion on the need to ensure convergence between international and national climate efforts. The diverse panel included representatives from Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru (see here for a list of panelists and their affiliations) who focused on issues related to cities, energy, and forests. Here’s a few take aways from the event and you can also check out some highlights and pictures from the discussion at hashtag #LACC2020:

  • It is critical for Latin America’s cities to ensure social inclusion and sustainability are part of planning decisions, in particular when it comes to transportation. Latin America is one of the most urbanized regions in the world and panelists highlighted the need to find smart transportation solutions to reduce emissions, improve quality of life and strengthen social cohesion in its cities. One concrete step countries can take in this regard is to tackle emissions from the transportation sector. See here for more on a new NRDC report on how reducing diesel emissions in Latin America would yield both climate and public health benefits almost immediately.
  • Energy policies must be conducive to reducing emissions and helping to boost renewables and energy efficiency. The region as a whole is incredibly rich in renewable energy resources and there are great opportunities for boosting energy efficiency. However, energy systems require long-term planning and that’s why it critical for energy policies today to be in line with emission reduction and renewable energy targets. In the case of Mexico, the point was raised that the ongoing energy reform process has been slow to address renewables and uphold emission reduction targets, in an apparent disconnect between the country’s climate commitments and national policy. This is a key opportunity for Mexico that cannot be missed.
  • Latin America must continue to raise the bar on forest protection. Panelists noted positive efforts such as Peru’s commitment to protect 54 million hectares, Costa Rica’s forestry fund supported by a fossil fuel tax and Chiles’ forestry promotion law that helped reduce the country’s emissions. But there was also acknowledgment that more works remains to be done. Countries need to be more ambitious in protecting forests and do the hard work of resolving pending land titling gaps, tackling factors like illegal mining and logging, and working more closely with indigenous communities.
  • Diversity equals strength. Throughout the dialogue one common theme that emerged was that while challenges remain, Latin America can contribute significantly to climate change efforts and the diversity of the region is part of its strength. Panelists noted that it is in cities, communities, businesses and civil society were solutions are found and implemented. And indeed, we need all hands on deck.

There are tremendous opportunities to turn Latin America’s international climate commitments into action at home. To do this governments must work with businesses and civil society, in large and small cities,  with urban and rural communities and when necessary across borders. Ultimately, it’s important to remember that climate action in Latin America is about much more than emissions. Acting on climate in Latin America is fundamentally about what type of development path the region will follow. It’s about building the types of societies and communities the people in the region deserve and can achieve with the right types of choices on energy, transportation and natural resources.