Latin America’s Climate Vanguard

SANTIAGO – Latin America may have weathered the global economic slowdown, but for many, the potential impact of global warming, and the measures required to avoid its worst effects, may undermine the region’s fragile political, economic, and social balance – and roll back years of progress.

But economic prosperity and action to mitigate climate change need not be mutually exclusive. Indeed, the current election cycle in Latin America, coupled with the United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in December in Lima, Peru, provide an opportunity for the region to show how countries can benefit from a low-carbon economy, reduce climate risks, and build long-term prosperity.

Latin American countries are not starting from scratch. Most governments are already crafting policies and drafting legislation on climate change. Mexico was the first emerging country to pass a comprehensive climate-change law, in 2012, targeting a 30% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020. Brazil recently succeeded in reducing Amazonian deforestation, and net carbon-dioxide emissions have dropped significantly as a result. Uruguay plans to generate 90% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2015, while Chile aims to generate 20% of its power with renewable energy by 2025.

As Latin America’s 2014 election cycle draws to a close, new governments in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, and Costa Rica, and presidential hopefuls in Uruguay will be in a position to lead on climate change. At the very least, they must eschew strategies that needlessly undermine existing climate and environmental policies. At best, Latin American leaders can actively facilitate the upcoming Lima conference, which will charge delegates with producing a draft agreement for a new global treaty, to be finalized in Paris next year. The agreement must be both ambitious and fair, in order to form the basis for a global response to climate change that does not jeopardize any country’s future prosperity.