Thursday, 26 March 2009 09:45

CEPAL fires warning shot over region’s knee-jerk response to climate change Featured

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A report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL) argues that even though the region is one of the most vulnerable in the world to climate change, its approach to adaptation is impulsive.

Regional governments must adapt to the economic, social and environmental impact of climate change and adopt a strategic approach towards developing a low carbon economy.

Improving adaptation requires making efforts to protect the structure of public finance, the stability of the private sector and economic performance. The region should also gear itself up for changes associated with the response of developed countries to their needs of mitigation in trade and investment.

Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) countries are already carrying out studies on the economy and climate change, which will provide greater certainty about the magnitude of adaptation costs and the potential gains of mitigation.

Yet the 2009 climate change negotiations taking place in Copenhagen to sign a post-Kyoto treaty are fast approaching and it is unclear whether LAC governments will be able to formulate strong negotiating positions given these climate-economic studies are not even ready.

A number of regional bodies – the World Bank, CEPAL and the Inter-American Development Bank – are leading the drive for action on climate change in LAC through attempting to strengthen the capacity of governments to grapple with climate change and energy related issues.

This work is vital given the slim resources available at the national and regional levels. National climate change offices and environment ministries would scarcely exist without external funding. Whereas the 2008 report on MERCOSUR’s activities does not even mention climate change and the Andean Community admits that its strategy on climate change has still not materialized.

To combat this disequilibrium between the growing resources and expertise on global warming on the one hand and a lack of political will on the other, greater collaboration between organizations such as CEPAL and regional governments is urgently needed to strengthen LAC’s hand at the negotiations.

This collaboration should focus on the creation of a LAC climate change strategy drawing on the existing synergies and opportunities endorsed by governments and regional organizations.

Although throwing LAC countries into one basket is unhelpful given the asymmetries and differences between them, there are a number of areas in common: it is the most urbanised region; reliant on exporting primary goods and agricultural products; a strong record on renewable energy; abundant forest reserves and an interest in reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation; and a rapidly expanding middle class interspersed with persistent inequality.

A failure to collaborate further will ensure LAC governments have little choice but to resort to reactionary negotiating positions in Copenhagen this December. To take advantage of the mitigation opportunities and to effectively adapt while benefiting the region, a measured and complementary strategy on climate change is needed straight away.
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Guy Edwards

Guy Edwards is a Research Fellow at the Center for Environmental Studies, Brown University, where he manages a research project on the politics of climate change in Latin America. Along with co-author, Professor Timmons Roberts, he is currently writing a book on Latin American leadership on climate change for MIT Press. He has also written various academic papers, policy briefs and op-eds for a number of different publications. As co-founder of Intercambio Climático and formerly co-editor of the website, Guy has worked closely with the Latin American Platform on Climate and the Latin American office of the Climate and Development Knowledge Network. He has also worked for the Overseas Development Institute, the consultancy River Path Associates and as the resident manager of the Huaorani Ecolodge in the Ecuadorian Amazon.