Without announcing new commitments, governments in Latin America have sought to unify their positions on climate policy two months before UN summit COP26 in Glasgow. At a high-level virtual event hosted by Argentina this week, presidents and ministers highlighted the impacts of the climate crisis on the region and called for more funding from developed countries and financial institutions. to deal with it.
Representatives from Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, Barbados, Ecuador, Paraguay, Dominican Republic, United States and United Kingdom, host of COP26, participated To the event. Brazil and Mexico, the region’s two main carbon emitters, were notable absentees.
Argentine President Alberto Fernández called for “a new development paradigm” and closer ties between Latin American countries. This will require more “environmental multilateralism” and a just transition which does not “cover protectionism and widen the planet’s ditches”, possibly in reference to a European tax on goods with a strong environmental footprint.
“We are challenged by the urgency of climate ambition and the need to think about innovative mechanisms to better rebuild ourselves”, said Fernández, adding; “We need environmental and social justice. This is what the development of our region must aim for. Lessons learned from the pandemic must be applied to climate change.
Share of Latin America in global greenhouse gas emissions, although this figure is set to increase
Latin America accounts for 5% of global emissions, most of which come from the energy sector, agriculture and land use change. But the proportion is increasing as countries continue to develop fossil fuels. Reversing this trend will require more ambitious commitments than those already made.
The region will be one of the hardest hit by climate change, according to a recent UN report. 2020 was one of the three warmest years Central America and the Caribbean have ever seen, and the second warmest in South America, causing droughts, heat waves and flooding.
“This event represents the multilateral spirit we need. We must act together to break the deadlock. Many countries in the region are showing leadership in reducing their emissions and adapting to climate change,” said the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres at the event.
The urgency of climate finance for Latin America
The common denominator of the presidents’ speeches was the need to increase funding to reduce emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change. There were also calls for sovereign debt relief as countries’ spending increased during the pandemic.
Latin America’s GDP fell 7.7% last year and will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPALC). As elsewhere in the world, countries have been urged to seize the crisis as an opportunity to start a green recovery.
Debt-for-climate action swaps, payment mechanisms for ecosystem services and the concept of environmental debt are essential to emerge from this crisis
However, the region appears to be backtracking. Last year, 33 countries in the region allocated $ 318 billion in fiscal and stimulus measures to mitigate the economic effects of the pandemic, of which only 2.2% can be classified as “green,” according to a recent report. of ONU. This figure is well below the world average.
“Debt-for-climate action swaps, payment mechanisms for ecosystem services and the concept of environmental debt are key to getting out of this crisis,” Fernández said. “We need credit agencies to commit 50% of their loan portfolios to environmental actions. “
Likewise, Colombian President Iván Duque called for more innovative financing tools from lending agencies and for creditors to write off countries’ debts when they reach their climate goals. He also suggested creating a Latin American regional carbon market.
Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado said: “We have to go into debt to deal with the consequences of climate change, which continues to increase. We are in a perverse cycle and now we have the pandemic on top of that. issuers and they have to do their part.
Latin American presidents and ministers also discussed the level of ambition of their country’s climate plans, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), at the helm of COP26. Environmental organizations had hoped for more ambitious commitments, but they were not made.
The 2015 Paris Agreement aims to limit global warming to less than 2 ° C, preferably 1.5 ° C, by the end of this century. To achieve this, greenhouse gas emissions must peak as quickly as possible and reach zero by 2050. Today, the vast majority of climate plans in the region are not online with these goals.
Despite Argentina’s support for fossil fuels, Fernández said the country promotes sustainable transport and renewable energy and works to eradicate illegal deforestation. Duque reaffirmed Colombia’s recent goal of a 51% reduction of emissions by 2030 and referred to the country’s efforts to reforest and boost electromobility.
“We want to see the reality of these announcements. The presidents talked about things that look very good but in practice are not happening,” said Enrique Maurtua Konstantinidis, senior climate policy adviser at Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (FARN) from Argentina.
Emissions-free savings are technically possible in Latin America, says a report by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), but requires greater generation of electricity from renewable sources, electrification of industry and transportation, and energy efficiency, among other areas.
The region would save up to $ 621 billion per year if the energy and transportation sectors achieve emissions neutrality by 2050, while generating 7.7 million new jobs, according to a report by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
Costa Rica remains the only Latin American country with a formal long-term decarbonization strategy, which includes the energy sector. Other Latin American countries such as Chile and Argentina could present their respective plans to COP26.
María Laura Rojas, executive director of Colombian NGO Transforma, echoed calls from Latin American governments for more and better climate finance for mitigation and adaptation, and the need for unity. “The event is an important political signal on the need for Latin America to better coordinate its participation in multilateral spaces”, she declared.