Climate Deal 2015

Which public policies will allow us to meet our goals before COP21?

At the 2nd Symposium on Climate Change and Decision Making, held last August in Montevideo, Uruguay, LatinClima’s Katiana Murillo spoke with Luis Miguel Galindo, Head of the Economics of Climate Change Unit at the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (Comisión Económica para América Latina, CEPAL) on the challenges that Latin America faces with climate change.

What is the current situation of global emissions, and more specifically in Latin America?

Today we globally produce just less than 7 tons of GHGs per capita, with Latin American being a little bit above the average. But consider that two main sources of emissions are land-use change, which is a euphemism for deforestation, and energy mixes. In Latin America, unfortunately, deforestation is an important issue. On the energy side, Latin American per capita emissions are below the world average.

And how much should we contribute if we are aiming for the overall goal of keeping the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius (°C) with respect to pre-industrial levels?

Today the world emits between 47 and 49 gigatons of GHGs, and together we are 7 billion people. This means we emit a little less than 7 tons per capita. To stabilize the climate and not exceed 2°C, what we need is to lower global emissions to around 20 gigatons in 2050. And we will very probably be around 9 billion inhabitants. This means 2 tons per capita. Thus, the challenge for the world is to transition over the next 40 years from 7 to 2 tons per capita.

How is Latin America assessing the intended nationally determined contribution (INDC) process, and what in particular is the legitimacy of and response to the process?

It has been an interesting, complex, and heterogeneous process. What the region has shown in recent years is that there has been an intensive process of appropriating the climate change issue, also from the standpoint of public policy. The INDC challenge is one more example. The magnitude of a mitigation strategy until 2030 involves a group of sectors and new styles of development, and at times we are not aware of the implications this will have on the region. Progress has been made in terms of what should be presented at COP21 in Paris. But the big challenge is going to be from the first of January next year, and the public policies that allow us to meet the goals that we present at the COP.

What are the most important areas in which the region must focus, and what are the Achilles' heels against which these contributions must be strong?

I think there are two parts that are relevant: one part is the asymmetrical condition of the region. Historically we are not a group that has fundamentally contributed to emissions. Today we represent about 9% of total emissions, but at the same time we are particularly vulnerable to climate change. Thus, in our climate change strategies we must also include a significant part for adaptation. We must try to preserve our natural and human resources, etc., in the face of climate change effects. Irreversible costs should stop.

There are key areas to mitigation: stopping deforestation is crucial throughout Latin America, as well as the creation of clean energy mixes, and one of the major regional challenges is transport and urban areas. This is how we will meet mitigation goals in a region where we are still rapidly motorizing.

Latin America has many climate negotiation groups. As a region, is it possible to be felt in Paris despite the variety of groups and positions?

What we see, unlike other groups and regions, is that the Latin American continent is highly fragmented in their positions on climate change. I think that there is agreement on certain issues, but in general that is not the case. This may reflect some additional factors, such as different levels of development, regional geopolitics, differences and circumstances between trading partners, etc. And this is sometimes difficult for understanding the process, especially one that involves so many negotiations. We have, for example, countries that depend heavily on exports of natural renewable and non-renewable resources to China. Other countries in the north depend more on their exports to the United States. So there are different moments that make the region asymmetrically include these effects.

Is the private sector involved as it should be, or is this a part of what the region needs to work on?

I think the private sector needs to get more involved. I see three groups within the private sector. The first group, which is not so pervasive in Latin America, is the one that denies climate change and its impacts. Overall, this is a group that is not relevant in the region. There is a second group that recognizes climate change and its impacts, but says they will do the minimum they should and that is enough. There is a third group that thinks this is a big problem and also potentially a big opportunity. Of this third group we have very few in Latin America, and that reduces our capacity for technological innovation.

This article was written by Katiana Murillo and originally published in Spanish at LatinClima.

Upcoming article sneak peek

What to Expect on Climate from Latin America's New Presidents?