Latin America and the Caribbean at the forefront of climate action l Matilde Mordt

28 Oct 2016

 Many Latin American and the Caribbean countries will concentrate their climate actions in the agriculture sector, one of the main sources of emissions in the region. Photo: UNDP Cuba

Latin American and Caribbean countries have long been at the forefront in climate negotiations and have demonstrated their commitment to taking action. The region is diverse and hosts some of the top 10 global greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters, such as Brazil and Mexico, as well as Small Island Developing States, which are extremely vulnerable to climate change. Together, the region has put forward a wide array of proposals for action, ranging from reforestation to renewable energy to climate adaptation.

Not only are they varied, but they are ambitious. An analysis undertaken by UNDP of the cornerstones of the Paris Agreement - the Nationally Determined Contributions- shows that the commitment in the region is indeed strong. As of 21 October 2016, the 32 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (out of 33) that acceded to the Agreement have also signed it; 19 of them have submitted their instruments of ratification; and 18 of these have indicated that their previously “intended” contributions will now become formal climate targets, or NDCs.

The remaining country, Argentina, is reviewing its intended contribution “with a view to making it more ambitious,” in the words of the Argentinian Secretary of Climate Change. This is good news, as it is exactly what is expected by countries as they move forward on implementation: increasingly ambitious goals and routes for action.

The region’s ambitious approach to climate change is all the more remarkable when you consider that Latin America and the Caribbean is a relatively low carbon emitter, accounting for just 10 percent of global GHGs in 2012 according to the World Resources Institute´s Climate Analysis Indicators Tool. Despite this, all countries express their willingness to contribute to the reduction in emissions, within the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (i.e. each country, doing their contextually appropriate part).

In terms of where the emissions come from, an inventory in the region indicates that most come from energy, changes in land use and forestry, and the agriculture sectors. It is in these three areas that most countries in the region will concentrate their low-carbon actions.

Meanwhile, countries that anticipate greater vulnerability to extreme weather events or sea level rise are aiming for particularly strong targets, sending a message to the region and the world.

For instance, amongst the Small Island Developing States, Dominica intends to reduce its national emissions 44 percent by 2030 as compared to 2014; and the Bahamas aims to reduce its emissions 30 percent by 2030 as compared to 2002. Other countries in the region, such as Costa Rica and Uruguay, commit to gradually taper off emissions to become carbon sinks (e.g. forests) further into the century. Larger emitters are also showing the way: Brazil commits to reducing its 2005 emissions level by 37 percent by 2025, and indicates that it will do so whether or not it receives international support.  

Adaptation to climate change is also an absolute priority for the region, linked to the need to protect recent development gains as well as ensuring long-term economic and social viability. One priority area is - not surprisingly - water resources management, in a wide variety of dimensions such as availability, quality and access. Agriculture and the potential implications for food security is another dimension that concerns many countries in the region, as are impacts on human health. There is also attention to improved risk management so that human settlements and infrastructure are protected.

What are the costs of these actions and who will pay the bill? These are key questions still to be determined. Only a few countries have undertaken a process for defining the costs of the proposed mitigation or adaption measures in their targets. And where it has been done, it applies only to certain sectors or actions.

For example, the Dominican Republic estimated the costs of adaptation in the tourism and water resources sectors. Costs associated with other sectors or the overall total is still to be determined. Suriname acknowledges the potentially difficult choice between devoting enormous resources to adaptation actions versus relocating its coastal populations and rebuilding its economy in land.  Regardless of the sector or per country cost, there is consensus that the resources required to address climate change will be colossal and that difficult decisions will have to be made.

While almost all countries refer to a need for international financing in their commitments, most pledge two types of goals: unconditional and conditional, i.e. those that receive financial and capacity building support and those that do not. For the international community, for donors and for agencies like UNDP, stepping up to the plate to support these ‘conditional’ actions means more ambition and more impact on climate change.

As head of UNDP´s regional climate and disaster team in Latin America and the Caribbean, I welcome the decisive commitment of countries in the region to tackle climate change. To be able to implement these ambitious NDCs, countries need two things: access to climate finance and technical support. With more than 20 years of experience working with countries in the region, UNDP’s commitment is to support these national efforts and to scale up climate action and deliver concrete results.

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