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CLIMATE CHANGE: Latin America Could Show the Way

Ramesh Jaura

POZNAN, Dec 10 2008 (IPS) - The World Bank has urged the international community to look to Latin America, the world’s most bio-diverse region, for innovative solutions to avert a climate crisis.

Of the world’s ten most bio-diverse countries, five are in the Latin American region: Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, and Peru. These are also five of the 15 countries whose fauna is most threatened with extinction.

Harshly criticised by 148 organisations from around the world for being a climate polluter, the World Bank released its flagship report on Latin America and the Caribbean Wednesday at the United Nations (UN) conference on climate change in the Polish city of Poznan.

The Latin American region is in a position to lead middle income countries in reducing emissions from deforestation, breaking the impasse on hydropower development, improving energy efficiency, and transforming urban transport, says the World Bank report.

The study explores how the region is exposed to climate change and what it can do to avert its effects, both unilaterally and with the incentives of a global climate agreement to be negotiated next year in Copenhagen by the United Nations (UN).

“The approach championed by Latin America will not only help tackle climate change but help create millions of new jobs in the low carbon economy,” says Katherine Sierra, World Bank vice-president for sustainable development, in a statement circulated by the World Bank.

“Lessons from the region will be invaluable for our global efforts to finance climate change action in developing countries with new instruments like the 6.1 billion dollar Climate Investment Funds,” she adds.

The Climate Investment Funds (CIFs) launched by the World Bank are, however, considered by some to be detrimental to the climate talks under the umbrella of the UN.

In a joint statement Dec. 9, leading non-governmental organisations (NGOs) said the CIFs “compete for funding with already established UN adaptation and technology funds, promote dirty industries like coal as clean energy, and force developing countries to pay for the industrialised world’s pollution by providing loans for them to adapt to the climate crisis they did not create.”

Rather than treating the provision of climate financing as binding obligations by industrialised countries to developing countries under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the CIFs are designed within a fundamentally unequal aid framework of donor and recipient, the NGOs said.

“This is particularly odious given the large historical ecological debt owed by industrialised countries to developing countries,” they said. “Though the CIFs have been described as new sources of funding by the World Bank, G8 governments have made clear that they are considered as part of official development assistance (ODA), and thus are not new and additional.”

In another statement forwarded by the World Bank to IPS, Laura Tuck, the director for sustainable development in Latin America and the Caribbean acknowledges that “increased investments in green technologies are not going to be an easy sell.”

However, she underlines that “there is growing support from businesses, government and civil society for the idea that the crisis itself provides an opportunity to create incentives for a low carbon development path.”

Titled ‘Low Carbon, High Growth: Latin American Responses to Climate Change’, the World Bank report says: “The region is suffering the impact of climate change; however, it is not a main source of emissions that are driving global warming, thanks to its clean energy matrix and its innovative policies to promote low carbon growth.”

“Latin America produces only about six percent of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, or 12 percent of emissions from all sources, including deforestation and agriculture,” says the report, written by World Bank economists Augusto de la Torre, Pablo Fajnzylber and John Nash.

The report points to new technologies and approaches the region has piloted to reduce emissions:

– Mexico’s 2007 national strategy on climate change adopts long-term, non-binding targets. In the energy sector, the strategy identifies a total mitigation potential of 107 million tonnes of greenhouse gasses by 2014, a 21 percent reduction from business as usual over the next six years.

– Brazil is moving towards energy independence through the expansion of alternative energy sources such as hydroelectricity, ethanol and biodiesel. Its sugar-based ethanol production is financially and environmentally sustainable without diverting land from food crops.

– Public and environmentally friendly public transport policies demonstrated by Curitiba (Brazil) and expanded in Bogota (Colombia) are now under way in dozens of cities in the region.

– Costa Rica has received worldwide recognition for its efforts to place a financial value on preserving ecosystems, through several initiatives on “payments for ecosystems services.”

– Argentina is moving forward with renewable energy in rural areas, which provides affordable and reliable electricity to communities and has an impact on productivity and jobs.

Despite these innovations, Latin America has been moving to a higher carbon growth path. Based on current trends, from 2005-2030 the projected growth of per capita CO2 energy emissions in the region is 33 percent (above the world average of 24 percent), the report says.

“If the region moves ‘ahead of the pack’ it could take advantage of international cost-sharing mechanisms for deploying low-carbon technologies and build new comparative advantages,” says Pablo Fajnzylber.

The report emphasises that good adaptation to climate change is an indispensable part of good development policies and that action is needed from all countries.

“Latin America has demonstrated a consistent commitment to fight climate change beyond political cycles. Now is the time when the region can act as a leader within developing nations in articulating constructive global solutions. If governments make the right short-term decisions, it could mean significant progress towards a more sustainable market economy,” says co-author John Nash.

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