What Does the Paris Agreement Hold for Latin America? Challenges and Opportunities

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

It is undeniable that this agreement is vital for the planet. The agreement lays the foundations to create more resilient communities and economies and helps mobilize new investment in key sectors such as clean energy, which in turn will help mitigate climate change and bring important local benefits.

While the region accounts for only 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, much of its territory is exposed to higher temperatures. Given this, representatives from several countries-Peru standing out-assumed a proactive role during the negotiations preceding the agreement. The leadership of these countries was key for moving the discussions to build bridges between developing and developed countries, expressing willingness to take action and reiterating that the region is also part of the climate solution.

Latin America is now in fact a source of climate solutions. There are currently numerous examples of measures that address greenhouse gas emissions: Bogota’s rapid bus system, green mortgages in Mexico and Costa Rica’s payment system for environmental services. This agreement will therefore, allow the deployment of similar solutions, which will in turn have the ability to respond to the region’s needs on sustainable development.

According to the agreement reached in Paris in December 2015, the fronts that affect Latin America and that will drive the implementation of new sustainable practices, are:

Emission reductions to deepen over time. The agreement establishes a mechanism by which countries should reassess and deepen their climate commitments every five years. For Latin America this is a critical step in the fight against climate change. According to the NGO Germanwatch, between 1995 and 2014, three countries in the region ranked among the 10 countries that had experienced stronger extreme weather, Honduras being the most affected. Andean countries are also highly vulnerable to the effects of melting glaciers. The World Bank estimated that if temperatures increased more than two degrees Celsius, more than 90 percent of the glaciers will unfreeze.

A new commitment to adaptation. In a region where 61 percent of its people recognize that climate change is the most serious global threat, and about 600 million people reside in areas that depend on economic sectors such as agriculture, fishing and tourism and are highly vulnerable to change climate, this component is key. The Agreement makes adaptation and the urgency of identifying and funding responses to the impacts of climate change a priority. The Paris Pact states that by 2025, countries should agree to a target of at least USD100 million a year that rich countries provide to poor nations in their fight against climate change.

Transition to low carbon economies. The pact will facilitate the mobilization of new investments in the energy sector. Latin America, with its abundant renewable resources, is considered a very attractive region for clean energy investment. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, 4 of the 10 countries with the greatest potential for investment in clean energy are in Latin America: Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Uruguay. Overall, in 2014 these four countries saw a total of USD23 billion in clean energy investments.

An increase in these investments means more jobs, improvements in public health and savings in energy costs. A study by the New Climate Institute reveals that Chile could save USD5, 300 million each year on fossil fuels, avoid 1,500 air pollution-related deaths- in Santiago only -and create 11,000 green jobs, by transitioning to one hundred percent renewable energy.

This historic agreement is binding, as countries are required to monitor and improve their contributions to reducing greenhouse gases every five years. The stated goal is to ensure that the global average temperature is stabilized “well below” 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, and strive for it not to rise more than 1.5 degrees. There is time until April 2017 to ratify this treaty, and as long as 55 percent of the countries consent-and that the sum of their emissions is equivalent to 55 percent of all global greenhouse gases-the agreement shall take effect on 2020.

While there is a consensus that this Agreement will pave the way to a more hopeful future, it also poses several challenges for the region, whose vulnerability to climate change and limited resources is undeniable.