In recent days, over a million people across Latin American cities hit the streets for International Women’s Day. These marches over violence against women and strict abortion controls are part of wider unrest rejecting huge inequality and scant opportunities.
Women are also among the most vulnerable to climate change impacts, which are getting worse. In Chile, a 10-year long drought has left almost half a million people with no direct access to water. The forced relocation of the venue of the UN climate talks from Santiago to Madrid last year shows that the social and climate crises cannot be tackled separately.
Latin American leaders risk another challenging decade unless they develop a joint response to the climate and inequality crises. A vision that puts people and nature first and delivers quality jobs, investment and public services could be the basis for the region’s next growth story.
2020 is a critical year for Latin America to confront inequality and the climate crisis
There can be no question that this is urgently required. Many Latin Americans citizens are furious. The region is the world’s most unequal and extreme poverty has crept up as average regional growth has languished for several years. The trust of voters is waning: The proportion of Latin Americans dissatisfied with how democracy works has surged from 51% in 2009 to 71% in 2018, according to a survey by Latinobarómetro.
The global average temperature has already risen by one degree Celsius and the resulting impacts are unconscionable. Hurricane Dorian left a trail of misery and destruction last year across The Bahamas with damages estimated at USD 3.4 billion. Extreme climate impacts disproportionately affect the most vulnerable and could lead to 17 million people in the region being forced to migrate by 2050.
2020 offers Latin American leaders critical opportunities to get on track. This year countries are still expected to present new pledges, which limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius. This entails significantly increasing current pledges by making emissions cuts of 45% by 2030 and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.
Plans in the short, medium- and long-term to reduce emissions and build resilience to climate impacts are essential. Twenty-one countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, including Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico, have announced that they are working towards achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. Costa Rica is already implementing its decarbonization plan and making excellent progress.
Aiming net-zero emissions is about embracing new opportunities and reducing risks
Leaders in the region could do more to signal to investors and citizens that combining the goal to reach net-zero emissions with social objectives and a just transition is paramount. They should also feel greater confidence that protecting nature and decarbonizing our societies is not a burden but rather an opportunity and a prerequisite for building prosperity for everyone.
Renewable energy appears unstoppable. Last year, Latin America’s renewable energy investment reached record levels at USD 18.1 billion. From 2012-2018, renewable energy was the second best performing sector in the region after the automobile industry for attracting foreign investment beating fossil fuels.
In Colombia, a carbon tax on fossil fuels has generated more than USD 250 million in revenue with more than a quarter going to stem deforestation. And in Ecuador, energy subsidies reform could save the government a billion dollars per year, help poor households and decrease air pollution.
Green bonds are also taking off: The market reached USD 13.6 billion with Chile leading with the first sovereign green bond in the Americas for USD 1.4 billion, which will help to finance sustainable infrastructure projects.
Investors are starting to address the financial risks linked to the climate crisis. In Latin America, a failure to take these risks seriously and increase climate action could have major implications. Implementing current emission reduction plans and updating them in 2030 to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, would create USD 90 billion worth of stranded assets in the region’s power sector alone. The Inter-American Development Bank says that long-term decarbonization strategies are indispensable to support governments to prioritize a just transition and avoid these risks.
Latin America stands at a pivotal moment with the need to tackle the social and climate crises together growing daily. The solutions to build something that transforms the lives of millions hungry for change are here. It is a now or never moment to seize them.
Dr. Monica Araya is Director of Costa Rica Limpia; Dr. Amal-Lee Amin is Director of Climate Change, at CDC, the UK’s development finance institution and formerly chief of the Climate Change Division at the IDB.
Photo credit: Bruno Kelly/Reuters