This year the United Nations celebrates its 75th anniversary. By the next time a similar anniversary comes around it will be 2095. We cannot wait that long to see whether the world has successfully limited global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius and halted the collapse of biodiversity. We need strong action now.
The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility of many of our natural and social systems not least the situation of millions of informal workers in Latin America and the Caribbean who were stuck between staying at home and losing their jobs or risk going to work and getting ill.
The UN General Assembly focused on Covid-19, the Sustainable Development Goals, inequality and the climate emergency. This agenda shows how deeply country priorities and the global agenda are connected. The good news is that countries can harness the global agenda to support a sustainable recovery at home while in turn this approach can help achieve the global goals.
The climate and ecological emergencies are not waiting for the pandemic to go away
The human cost of the pandemic is immense. To date, there have been over 310,000 deaths in Latin America and the Caribbean alone. The economic fallout could push 45 million more people into poverty this year combined with the loss of 17 million formal and 23 million informal jobs.
While emissions dropped significantly following worldwide lockdowns, they are almost back to pre-pandemic levels showing that confronting the climate and ecological emergencies cannot wait.
2016-2020 is expected to be the hottest period on record. Made worse by climate change, wildfires across the western United States have burned 2.7 million hectares. In Brazil’s Pantanal, the world’s largest area of wetlands, wildfires have razed an area bigger than New York City following severe drought. And in Argentina, wildfires have burnt more than 120,000 hectares and affected 11 provinces.
Climate change and ecological threats are also driving mass migration. Natural disasters, water stress and food insecurity could cause the displacement of an estimated 1.2 billion people by 2050.
This destructive relationship with the climate and nature is endangering our health. The novel coronavirus likely jumped from wildlife reflecting a disturbing trend with emerging diseases having quadrupled over the last 50 years largely due to habitat fragmentation, climate change and land-use.
The UN’s Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 reports that we are losing biodiversity at an unprecedented rate while pressures on species and ecosystems intensify. An estimated 1 million species are now threatened with extinction unless deforestation, overexploitation and climate change are drastically reduced. LAC faces the highest loss of species and habitats, which affects the provision of natural resources that contribute to livelihoods and ecosystem services that are essential for human survival.
To confront these interconnected problems, countries need a sustainable recovery
The pandemic is a wake-up call for all of us to prioritize a recovery, which puts people and nature first. In the case of LAC, a sustainable recovery should protect lives, reduce inequality, create jobs and strengthen the system against future pandemics and climate disasters.
The region needs to develop a shovel-ready pipeline of sustainable infrastructure projects that are labor-intensive and help get people back to work quickly. These projects include expanding renewable energy, makings buildings greener, boosting clean public transport and using nature-based solutions.
The evidence supports this approach. Recovery packages consistent with climate goals can lead to effective multipliers including job creation, more investment and innovation as well significant co-benefits such as greater social inclusion and less pollution.
A new IDB and ILO study shows that the transition to a net-zero emission economy could create 15 million net new jobs in LAC by 2030 in sectors such as agriculture and plant-based food production, renewable energy, construction, and manufacturing.
Developing sustainable transport such as promoting electric vehicles and completing existing high-speed railway projects in countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico have an investment potential of USD 2.6 trillion by 2030.
Holding 40% of the world’s biodiversity, LAC can also capitalize on its natural endowment. Nature-based solutions such as mangrove restoration can help to generate income, leverage private sector investment and protect critical ecosystems. Investments in natural capital can also create jobs quickly. These investments can create nearly 40 jobs per USD 1 million invested over 10 times that from investments in fossil fuels.
What is LAC doing to support a sustainable recovery and achieve the global goals?
Various LAC countries are looking at a sustainable recovery to rescue their economies and lay the groundwork for a more sustainable and inclusive future while contributing to achieving global climate and biodiversity goals.
Chile’s Minister of Environment and COP25 president, Carolina Schmidt, has said that updating national climate plans was a not a distraction to the pandemic but a guide to a sustainable recovery. Earlier this year, Chile announced a more ambitious Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) and plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 highlighting the need to tackle COVID-19 and move towards sustainable and inclusive development simultaneously.
In 2019, Costa Rica launched the region’s first national decarbonization plan to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. It is now using that plan to drive the recovery from the pandemic through advancing electric public transport and nature-based solutions in agriculture.
Jamaica was the first Caribbean nation to submit an updated NDC this year, which includes a shift to cleaner energy to reduce air pollution and protect lives. The country is moving towards an economy-wide target by bringing emissions from land-use change and forestry within its NDC for the first time. With the island’s tourism sector having been battered by the pandemic, adaptation and enhancing resilience are central components of climate plans.
Suriname has also stepped up with a revised NDC as well. Suriname’s NDC emphasizes the need for economic growth and diversification while building resilience against climate impacts. Its new NDC pledges to increase the goal for renewable electricity generation from 25% to 35% and maintain 93% forest cover.
The IDB’s experience working in the region on the NDCs and long-term decarbonization strategies demonstrates that development banks can play a crucial role in advancing decarbonization and national development priorities via policy design, stakeholder engagement and leveraging funding.
Despite facing enormous difficulties with the pandemic, LAC countries continue to advance with their commitments to protect the climate and biodiversity. Their own experiences, backed up by a growing body of evidence from around the world, show that action on these issues can be a sound investment for building a more sustainable and inclusive future.
Under the Paris Agreement, 2020 is the year for countries to submit their revised NDCs. Various LAC countries and others around the world are showing real leadership on the road to COP26 by linking a sustainable recovery with global climate and biodiversity goals. Advancing them together can be a win-win for all.
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Photo credit: Andrea García Salinas