The World Bank considers mountain ecosystems in the Andes to be one of four climate hotspots in Latin America alongside the coral biome in the Caribbean, wetlands in the Gulf of Mexico and the Amazon basin. These hotspots are comprised of ecosystems that are severely affected by the impacts of climate change. They are considered crucial areas for adaptation and remind us why reducing global emissions is so important. They also carry significant economic costs ensuring that policy-makers will do everybody an incredible injustice if they fail to act now. The following video in Spanish with English subtitles, highlight show a disappearing glacier in the Peruvian Andes affects rural communities: [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0qDc4hXUSY[/youtube]
The World Bank's Special Envoy for Climate Change, Andrew Steer, told the Americas Conference that the region is at the forefront of climate change efforts in the lead-up to Cancun's COP16 summit later this year. [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6S_rI3fc8k&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]
On the 3rd August Ecuador and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) signed an agreement creating a trust fund to develop the pioneering Yasuní-ITT Initiative. The Initiative continues to attract attention and signing the agreement awarded it a generous dollop of legitimacy on the world stage. Yet, the political situation in Ecuador, particularly the tensions between government and civil society, global finances and oil demand, make the future of the Initiative difficult to predict.
CEPAL and the Germany government have successfully concluded negotiations to extend their cooperation programme until 2012. Agreement was reached on a cooperation programme involving an additional € 3.5 million to carry out a new programme, "Promoting sustainable development and social cohesion in Latin America and the Caribbean: Investing in regional public goods". The programme is set to begin in 2010 and will overlap with the programme currently underway, "Towards a sustainable and equitable globalization". During the meeting, both parties expressed their satisfaction at the positive evolution of their joint work and pledged to work on the following issues within the new programme which runs from 2010-2012: climate change; sustainable energy and energy efficiency; renewing the fiscal covenant; cooperation and integration: investing in regional public goods; and an open fund for emerging issues.

The Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL), Alicia Bárcena, has warned of the serious consequences if the world fails to tackle climate change in tandem with grappling with the financial crisis.

A delay in action to address climate change could have serious consequences, especially for the most vulnerable regions and countries in the world, such as Latin America.

Bárcena stressed the importance of securing a universal consensus in Copenhagen in December 2009 on new commitments to reduce emissions.

"We cannot detain our efforts to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions at the levels proposed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, at around 450 to 500 parts per million," she said.

CEPAL has suggested preparing a regional agenda on energy policy for the short and medium run that may include improving energy security, promoting energy savings and efficiency, diversifying energy sources, and promoting social equality in the access and consumption of energy.

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.
Paddling against the tide of conventional reporting on the main issues currently hamstringing US-Latin American relations, Andres Oppenheimer, reports on a new energy cooperation deal allegedly being cooked up by President Obama.
Last week, Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton elevated the idea to a maximum regional priority during her confirmation hearings. In her opening statement, when she got to Latin America - almost at the end of her foreign policy priorities - her most specific proposal was "taking up the president-elect's call for a new Energy Partnership of the Americas."
The exciting part of this idea is that it could give US-Latin American relations a much needed boost. Latin American governments have been on the sharp end of US diplomacy, as the Bush administration failed to give sufficient attention to the region, and when it did, its knee-jerk policies on illegal immigrants and drugs have created nothing but resentment and frustration.
"There is free trade fatigue and anti-drug fatigue in Latin America,'' a senior staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee told me. ``Energy opens a new path to relations with the hemisphere and is consistent with the president-elect's overall energy and climate change objectives."
If President Obama is serious about tackling climate change and energy insecurity, fostering closer relations with Latin American leaders should be a top priority. A number of Latin American countries are trailblazing on climate change and renewable energy and the new president would do well to acknowledge this progress and step up the dialogue on these issues. As early as 2002, renewable energy sources already made up over a quarter of the total energy supply in Latin America and the Caribbean, making the European target of 20% renewables by 2020 in comparison seem rather modest. Given the US President’s foreign policy priorities elsewhere, Latin America may fail even to appear on the radar. However, if Obama really wants to get the ball rolling on climate change and energy insecurity, attending the 5th Summit of the Americas with the aim of creating a regional energy partnership would be a great place to start.
Tuesday, 28 October 2008 11:20

DFID jumps ship as tides rise in Latin America

Written by
Over the next two years, the UK’s Department for International Development will be closing its regional offices in Bolivia and Nicaragua. These regional hubs provide the focal point for most of DFID’s work in Latin America. Yet as persistent levels of poverty and high inequality converge with the growing threats posed by climate change, DFID’s evacuation from Latin America could not have come at a worst time.

Although many countries in the region are now considered to be in the Middle Income category, poverty in Latin America remains stubbornly persistent. Out of a population of 550 million, roughly 49 million live on a dollar a day and over 14.7 million are chronically poor ensuring their suffering and often easily preventable deaths seldom go noticed.

The majority of Latin America’s poor now live in cities where the impact of climate change and lack of development fuse to create a hostile environment of food insecurity and water scarcity, exacerbated by rising sea levels and a greater frequency of hurricanes.

Development experts argue that unless strategies to tackle climate change can be mainstreamed into development processes; any chance of success will be severely undermined. This is why DFID’s untimely exit is misguided.

DFID projects in Latin America, such as those working with regional organisations on governance issues, have been very successful. But just as they have begun to yield results, they are being shut down.

At the same time, DFID has been expanding it work on climate change. A new DFID report outlines the prospect for providing £50 million for research on climate change and poverty in Latin America and Asia.

DFID should therefore, combine the development success stories in Latin America with its growing capacity on climate change by maintaining a strong presence in Latin America.

Without it, DFID will struggle to successfully channel its expertise on low carbon growth and adaptation to climate change into Latin American policy making and to civil society. It is in a better position to liaise between regional organisations than any of its UK NGO partners, and could better coordinate these NGOs with Latin American regional organisations.

As the effects of climate change disrupt the lives of Latin America’s poorest and most vulnerable, the need for experienced development practitioners in Latin America may actually be increasing. Prioritises elsewhere may appear to be of greater urgency, but DFID staff themselves would concede that the job in Latin America is far from over. With climate change becoming ever more critical, it might just be beginning.