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The Threat of Comfortable Inaction (And How to Avoid It)

By - Jul 23 2015

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Before a diverse audience at BusinessFrance in Paris, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) President Luis Alberto Moreno invoked the great Atlanticist John F. Kennedy: “There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.” Though as the United States’ 35th president Mr. Kennedy referred to different risks than those looming before us today, his message continues to resonate: inaction, in the face of complex development challenges, is not an option. Rather the only option is a very simple one indeed: action-oriented collaboration, specifically focused on identifying development gaps and confronting them not as challenges, but as opportunities.

It is a belief in this option that has guided the France-IDB relationship for decades. Transatlantic partners who have forged strong ties from across the pond, France has been a Bank group member for forty years, during which it has supported such priorities as the coffee value chain in Haiti, sustainable cities in Colombia, and more. Working through the IDB to contribute strategically to development in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), President Moreno’s France visit effectively ushered in further partnership, this time targeting LAC’s larger problem areas and seizing them as opportunities to uplift the region.

Through a new partnership agreement signed by President Moreno and the French Development Agency’s (AFD) Chief Executive Officer Anne Paugam, this expanded collaboration seeks to make a transformative impact in the region across the board. But specifically, the partners have highlighted gaps that stand to improve life in all corners of Latin America and the Caribbean by, among other things:

  1. Harnessing LAC’s infrastructure gap as an impetus for growth: LAC faces a dire infrastructure gap, and filling it requires an investment of about 5 percent of GDP or $300 billion over a long period. This means that the shortfall in regional infrastructure investment surpasses $150 billion per year. As IDB research holds that infrastructure investment can be a powerful catalyst for both short-term and long-term growth, France’s prioritization of infrastructure in this new wave of partnership will translate into more than better hardware: it will translate into stronger economies as well.
  2. Banding together to confront climate change effectively: This infrastructure gap is intimidating enough. But factor in the cost of addressing climate change? It becomes more staggering still, as the investments required for mitigation and adaption come to an estimated $30 or $40 billion annually, or 0.5 – 0.7 percent of GDP. The IDB is already investing heavily in this space, committing about $11 billion in the last three years and $4.4 billion in 2014 alone to support related initiatives. But climate change is simply too tantamount—and too crucial—an obstacle to be confronted by the Bank in isolation. With the Paris COP 21 Summit for Climate Change just around the corner, the stakes are higher now than ever before. The IDB eagerly anticipates the creation of the first universal and legally binding agreement to combat climate change effectively, and knows well that true and effective partnership is essential to making it work. That’s why France’s commitment to this development priority is so essential, as in supporting climate efforts in LAC and around the world it can contribute valuable resources, know-how, and leadership.
  3. Making emerging cities sustainable to enhance quality of life: LAC is the second most urbanized region on the planet, going from a 64% urbanization rate in 1980 to 79% in 2010. At current rates, 87% of the region’s population is expected to live in cities within the next few decades. This rapid pace of urbanization creates daunting challenges for municipalities and impacts their ability to effectively manage their citizens’ quality of life. By targeting LAC’s urban development as a priority moving forward, France stands to make this urban giant a gentle and livable one.
  4. Energizing the region to make strides for renewable and efficient energy globally: In the energy sphere, LAC boasts one of the cleanest matrices and most resource-abundant energy landscapes in the world. For instance, hydropower supplies 46 percent of LAC’s electricity, a figure that trumps the 16 percent global average. Yet only 38 percent of the region’s potential hydropower has been tapped. This presents a major opportunity for partners looking to invest in and uplift the LAC region. By pinpointing energy as an area for expanded collaboration, France stands not only to energize the region, but to make it a global model governments elsewhere can look to as they strive to improve renewable and efficient energy in their own countries.

France’s renewed commitment to these development priorities and others are a testament to its continued rejection of comfortable inaction. Despite improvement among certain development indicators in areas such as energy and education, they continue to identify gaps and seize them for not just the threats they pose, but also the possibility that lies within them. That, to us, is what action-oriented collaboration looks like.

 

 

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