At IDB/INTAL we have analyzed the different chapters of the papal encyclical Laudato Si’ in the light of the challenges that regional integration is currently facing. To do so, we asked more than 30 experts from different fields to put forward concrete ideas inspired by Pope Francis’s philosophical guidelines. The outcome is a publication that is in many ways unique: it provides in-depth discussions of many of the key points that Pope Francis says are essential if we are to move beyond today’s throwaway culture and prevent humanity from becoming extinct. It engages with these ideas from a Latin American perspective, based on solid technical criteria.
Nobel laureates, global leaders, academics from Latin America and the world, and members of civil society suggest ways that we can redouble our efforts to defend the environment. The publication groups these ideas into four core areas: the section on glocal (global+local) governance looks at how difficult it is to reach broad consensuses and what we stand to gain by doing so; the section on sustainable trade examines the juncture between production and fair trade; the section on integral ecology examines the multiple socio-economic and technological areas where care for nature can make a difference; and finally, the section on environmental humanism covers issues such as social inclusion and equality, in keeping with Pope Francis’s argument that “we are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.”
Levels of environmental awareness are high among the people of Latin America, which is an essential starting point when analyzing this problem. The point, therefore, is to bring this awareness in line with the policymakers’ decision-making processes, in dialogue with the scientific community.
There is widespread consensus that global pollution is causing unjust damage and harm in the world’s poorest countries because the more advanced economies are the greatest polluters. Climate change is having a severe impact on developing countries due to the importance of agriculture there, which is one of the mainstays of Latin America’s economies: 14% of the agricultural output is at risk of being lost due to droughts and floods if global temperatures increase by 3°C.
Increased rainfall is expected to cause the region’s farmers losses of up to US$59 billion, while poverty rates will increase by 7 percentage points.
Productive, social, and environmental sustainability are inseparable from one another: the water footprint of our agricultural production is such that 15,000 liters of water are used to produce a single kilogram of beef. All the same, it will be difficult to solve the free rider problem and the issue of externalities without appropriate coordination, as the winner of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, Eric Maskin, suggests in our interview with him.
Global efforts have brought about significant progress on environmental matters. Through the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris and Marrakesh agreements, the world’s leaders have forged a path toward making production techniques sustainable, although this is entirely without obstacles. Carbon dioxide emissions have increased by more than 30% since Kyoto despite repeated global environmental summits.
We urgently need to redouble our efforts. According to the OECD, investment and public spending on the environment stands at less than 1% of GDP. It is fundamental to provide the population with incentives to change their behavior by promoting sustainable practices that reduce pollution. As Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said in response to the encyclical, “not all climate action is or should be motivated by economic incentives—there is also a moral imperative.”
We need to use better statistics and accountability systems and establish a new socio-economic paradigm that measures growth not only in traditional GDP terms but also takes the digital revolution and social and environmental cohesion into better account.
Today’s integration is far from being simply about economics and trade—more than ever before, integration is social, technological, cultural, and environmental. Environmental standards now form part of the negotiations for every trade or investment agreement: these help to reduce pollution but they also bring challenges for Latin American companies, which must incorporate new technologies that adapt to increasingly demanding global value chains.
One billion people in the world live on less than US$1.25 per day. Inclusive integration means that we need to remember, as Pope Francis argues, that “helping the poor financially must always be a provisional solution in the face of pressing needs. The broader objective should always be to allow them a dignified life through work.”
We have a creative challenge ahead of us if we are to somehow reset the conditional cash transfer system. In Latin America, this represents an investment of less than 1% of the GDP yet reaches 25% of the region’s inhabitants and has contributed to closing the equality gap, as is reflected by the 5-point drop in the Gini coefficient over the last decade. Without these initiatives, which in some countries are financed through a tax on fossil fuels, poverty rates would be 13% higher.
However, we need to go further and expand practices of solidarity within Latin America through second-generation systems that link technological literacy with care for the environment, thus sowing strategic seeds that will foster the digital economy and our export diversification.
As the Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Monsignor Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, argued in the first article in the new publication, “this ‘ecological conversion’ encompasses ecological equilibrium, social justice, and spiritual responsibility, and it calls for immediate action.”
Just as technology and the growing automation of production may be a threat to the world of work, innovation also opens up new horizons. Uncertainties coexist with opportunities and entrepreneurial attitudes that we must foster to favor positive mutations.
Automation has brought progress in areas where manual labor was extremely hazardous—in these fields, technology has reduced or eliminated risks to human life. Yet while high-risk or unhealthy jobs may be replaced, new sectors of the economy may expand and contribute to building bridges between the different generations.
Latin America’s early integration into new global value chains in the renewable energy sector will be another way of adding value and generating economies of scale around the region’s natural comparative advantages. The technical potential for nonpolluting energies in Latin America is 20 times greater than the region’s predicted demand, which suggests a latent export capacity.
In his article in the publication, globally renowned economist Lord Nicholas Stern (London School of Economics) pointed out that the cost of solar panels has come down by 90% in just 10 years, making the use of clean energy much more accessible. An environmental conversion based on a “double dividend” would allow us to close the environmental and inequality gaps by boosting green jobs in the still fertile fields of renewable energy, transportation, certification, e-commerce, custom design, or community agriculture that is globally integrated via digital platforms.
Winning the fight against pollution could prove to be the ace up our sleeve. This is why humanism is so important, as is the invitation to rethink the institutional urban fabric. Houses, neighborhoods, cities, and ecosystems are complimentary spaces that need solid institutions to protect them on the path to a balanced form of development.
“Start by doing what is necessary, then do what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” Inspired by this maxim of Saint Francis of Assisi, humanity has set itself the goal of saving a planet that is threatened by environmental damage and climate change. The papal encyclical Laudato Si’ has proved to be a touchstone for this mission and a source of inspiration for all people, regardless of their religious beliefs.
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