This week Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and the U.S. will join other G20 countries for the leaders’ summit in Germany, where climate change will be one of the top issues. Following President Trump’s announcement to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, there is pressure on Canada to work more closely with Brazil, Mexico and Argentina to fill the leadership vacuum in the Western Hemisphere.
Canada doesn’t have the capacity to fill the entire void created by the U.S. retreat on global warming, but it can pick up some of the slack, especially given the importance of the issue to Prime Minister Trudeau and most hemispheric leaders.
Latin America will suffer if the U.S’s withdrawal undermines the global fight against climate change. The region is already being pummeled by extreme climatic events, which are becoming more frequent and intense due to global warming.
Earlier this year, a costal El Niño caused heavy rains in Peru and Colombia, resulting in catastrophic floods and mudslides which killed more than 400 people and led to billions of dollars in damages to infrastructure and livelihoods. Thousands of Bolivians have already been made refugees due to climate change following the disappearance of Lake Poopó in 2016.
What can be done? Canada can take a leadership role in the hemisphere on climate change in several ways. First, Canada can boost its levels of climate finance to support the region in building low carbon and climate resilient infrastructure. Latin America requires hundreds of billions of dollars per year to meet the demand for infrastructure, including transport and sanitation systems that are low-carbon and climate-resilient.
The finance gap will likely widen in light of the U.S. government’s announcement that it will halt payments to the Green Climate Fund, which helps countries reduce their emissions and adapt to the impact of climate change. So far, the U.S. has contributed $1 billion out of a total pledge of $3 billion. The fate of the other U.S. climate finance contributions is yet to be decided, but the outlook is bleak.
Canada cannot make up the entire gap, but it could increase its support for multilateral development banks, which have strong experience in planning infrastructure projects. The Inter-American Development Bank Group, for example, is working to design projects in Latin America to support the implementation of countries’ national climate change plans.
Specifically, Canada could increase its contribution to the Canadian Climate Fund for the Private Sector in the Americas, which will soon need replenishing. The fund, which is administered by the Inter-American Investment Corporation, supports renewable energy and climate resilience projects.
Second, Canada could provide technical assistance to help countries design long-term low emission development strategies. In the Western Hemisphere, only the U.S., Canada and Mexico have published their plans, yet Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica and Chile are keen to follow.
Countries are preparing these strategies as part of the Paris Agreement. They will need to chart a path towards achieving net zero emissions by 2050 if we are to achieve the 1.5 degrees Celsius warming limit set in Paris. These plans can help countries to better align short-term decisions with the benefits of low-emission growth now and in the years to come. According to the OECD, adopting appropriate measures on climate change could increase GDP by up to 2.8 percent on average across G20 countries by 2050. Designing these strategies also sends a strong signal to investors that governments are committed to the low carbon transition.
Third, Canada can work with Latin American and Caribbean countries at the United Nations climate negotiations to push for a robust transparency framework. This framework is set to be finalized next year and is essential for building trust by allowing countries to see what other nations are doing to implement their respective Paris commitments.
Progress on transparency could help nudge countries toward increasing the level of ambition of their national climate change plans through 2030. These pledges mostly fall far short of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and need to be scaled up before 2020.
Fourth, the Canadian government can help promote the activities of Canada’s clean tech companies in the region, which can play a useful role in supporting efforts to increase the deployment of renewable energy and measures to improve energy efficiency.
For Canada and Latin America, closer cooperation on implementing the Paris Agreement would achieve a vital common goal while defending a major recent success story of multilateralism.
This article was co-authored by Guy Edwards and Kenneth N. Frankel*
*Kenneth N. Frankel is president of the Canadian Council for the Americas.