Latin America may be a fragmented continent at UN talks, but countries have much in common given their climate vulnerability and potential for clean energy expansion
By Guy Edwards, Kari Malkki and Victoria Hoffmeister
This week an unprecedented number of Latin American leaders will travel to Paris for the United Nations climate change talks.
Alongside an estimated 120 heads of state, presidents from Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru will lend their support to the creation of a new global agreement on climate change.
Some Latin American presidents are very aware that a strong global deal is critical for their country’s future as uncontrolled global emissions could lead to dangerously high temperatures this century, which could suffocate their development prospects.
They are also increasingly framing a new agreement as means to generate opportunities for low carbon development and reducing the risks from climate impacts.
While the region does not negotiate as a single bloc at the UN climate change talks, Latin American countries do sometimes push a common agenda.
They are committed to reaching a legally binding agreement that sets the world on a path toward limiting global average temperatures increases to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius.
Given the region’s vulnerability to climate impacts such as storms, droughts and floods, they are also pushing for greater focus on adaptation.
They are calling for developed countries to do more to reduce their own emissions and provide developing countries with the technological know-how and financial support to increase climate resilience.
Latin American countries are vocally calling for wealthy countries to demonstrate how they will provide developing nations with $100 billion per year starting from 2020.
As of now, nearly all Latin American countries have submitted their national climate pledges or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).
It is hoped that the INDCs can be used as a strategic tool to set Latin American countries on a cleaner path toward low-emission sustainable development, while building resilience to climate impacts.
Although countries have generally been proactive in their preparation of the INDCs, observers suggest most of the region’s contributions are not sufficiently ambitious and could be undermined by policies in other sectors such as energy or mining.
A number of Latin American countries back a long-term mitigation goal including Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and Costa Rica. The aim of a long-term goal is to reduce emissions enough to keep us below 1.5 or 2C.
Some of these countries differ on the exact details such as whether the goal should be for 2050 or 2100, while others including Bolivia, Argentina and Venezuela currently prefer a more flexible goal without specific dates or targets.
A new agreement matters
An ambitious, fair and equitable agreement can send a strong message to investors and policymakers that the transition to a low-emission, resilient future is necessary, feasible and beneficial.
Latin America is well-positioned to capitalize on this opportunity especially on renewable energy which can help attract investment, create jobs and decrease pollution and pressure on vulnerable ecosystems.
The region is now considered as one of the great frontiers for clean energy investment.
The 2015 Global Climatescope Report which ranks 55 emerging markets for their ability to attract capital for clean energy projects includes four Latin American countries Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Uruguay in the top 10 overall rankings.
It describes how these countries are attracting record amounts of clean energy investment and building more wind, solar, and other renewable power generation than ever before.
Some have argued that climate action in developing countries is too costly yet the evidence suggests that it can be an engine for better growth.
Latin American countries renewable energy policies and targets must be scaled up to capitalize on its staggering renewable energy potential and the growing levels of international investment.
Crucially, scheduled fossil fuel investments must be revised in light of these advances.
Latin America is very vulnerable to climate impacts which are already being felt. For example, this year’s drought in Brazil – the worst on record – led to power blackouts and water rationing for millions of households.
The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) estimates that the economic costs of climate change could be between 1.5 percent and 5 percent of the region’s GDP.
The Inter-American Development Bank says damages in Latin America resulting from a 2 degree global temperature increase over pre-industrial temperatures will likely approach $100 billion a year by 2050.
Latin America will not be able to build a prosperous and secure future for its citizens without a global climate agreement that aims to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 or 2 degrees. As a result, adaptation measures in the region will need to be given a considerable boost.
The Paris negotiations offer Latin American governments an invaluable opportunity to communicate with non-state actors about why a new climate agreement and the INDCs matter.
They can only succeed if citizens and the private sector perceive them to be beneficial and credible. Governments must showcase the existing and potential benefits of climate actions such as investments in renewable energy or reduced air pollution.
During this difficult economic downturn, Latin America requires pioneering private sector actors to back a strong climate agenda which can help spur growth, investment and job creation.
Many Latin American citizens are concerned about climate impacts and can help evaluate progress on countries’ INDCs and provide a long-term vision of sustainable development which goes beyond short election cycles.
A new global agreement is in Latin America’s best interests and can help support a shift toward low emission sustainable development while increasing resilience.
Latin American presidents in Paris must focus on the opportunities and proactively support an ambitious, just and equitable global deal. Their region’s future prosperity may well depend on it.
The authors are members of Brown University’s Climate and Development Lab. The opinions expressed in this piece are the sole responsibility of the authors.