Last October, the Kenyan long-distance runner, Eliud Kipchoge, did what many had said was impossible. In Prater Park, Vienna, he ran the fastest marathon ever becoming the first person in recorded history to break the two-hour barrier clocking in at 1:59:40.
This incredible feat reminds us that the world has its own herculean task to achieve: Limiting global heating to well below 2 degrees Celsius as called for by the Paris Agreement. Mr. Kipchoge’s achievement, which required months of intense preparations including a high-altitude training regime in Kenya to lay the foundations for success, similarly shows the power of having a clear goal, which can direct the policies and tools to reach it.
To achieve the Paris goal will require reaching net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050, entailing a massive global transformation. The good news is that the transition to net-zero emissions is technically possible and can bring many economic and development opportunities across multiple sectors including energy, transport, forestry and agriculture. An essential step to get on the right path will be for countries to design and implement long-term decarbonization strategies and plans.
Support for these plans is picking up speed. In February 2019, Costa Rica was the first Latin American and Caribbean nation to announce a plan to become an emission free economy by 2050 focusing on 10 areas such as electric mobility and nature-based solutions including reforestation. Chile followed suite in June announcing it is aiming to become carbon neutral by 2050. In September 2019 at the UN Climate Action Summit, 21 LAC countries, alongside many others from around the world, also announced that they are working towards achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.
The IDB’s collaboration with Costa Rica and other LAC countries including Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru through the Deep Decarbonization Pathways for Latin America and the Caribbean project (DDPLAC) is already demonstrating the formidable potential of these long-term strategies for enabling decision-makers to engage with multiple stakeholders around a clear direction of travel towards achieving net-zero emissions.
The DDPLAC project, which supports academia and think tanks in six LAC countries to develop decarbonisation pathways is led by the Inter-American Development Bank, in partnership with the 2050 Pathways Platform and the French Development Agency, with technical coordination provided by the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations.
Equipped with these long-term strategies, countries can anticipate and manage trade-offs, identify the policy packages and investments choices, particularly for long-lived infrastructure, needed to achieve decarbonization as well as an appropriate sequence of actions for a just and inclusive transition.
The long-term decarbonization strategies can also provide greater clarity and boost confidence for investors in the low-carbon economy. The timing is ideal given the costs of renewable electricity and electric mobility are dropping fast with solar and wind already the cheapest options in many LAC countries.
Done right, the transition could bring one million new jobs to the region by 2030 and generate benefits worth several percentage points of GDP through avoided productivity loss in congestion and health impacts from pollution. Electrifying the transport sector in Costa Rica, for instance, could avoid such costs up to an estimated 3.8% of GDP.
Aiming for net-zero emissions by 2050, which would also require deep decarbonization by 2030 to get on the right track, can also help to reduce exposure to climate risks and the potential for asset stranding. If LAC countries ratcheted up the level of ambition of their national climate commitments (NDCs) for 2030 in line with the net-zero emission goal, the region could save USD 90 billion in stranded assets, and USD 100 billion in investments costs, just in the power sector.
As the 2020 milestone to submit enhanced national climate change plans to meet the Paris Agreement’s goals approaches, countries now need to visualize both short-term and longer-term actions that will help them transition in a beneficial and just manner towards a decarbonized economy. As Mr. Kipchoge has shown us, a clear goal and plan to execute it are essential.
Photo credit: Lisi Niesner