COP 21 & Climate Change Policy in Latin America

Roman Bonnefoy / CC BY-SA 3.0

From November 30 to December 11, some 40,000 delegates will convene in Paris for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, the 21st yearly Conference of the Parties (COP), to negotiate a legally binding agreement on tackling climate change. Latin America is already experiencing some of the dangerous effects of climate change, including melting glaciers, bleached corals from warming sea temperatures and changing rainfall patterns. On November 12, 2015, the Inter-American Dialogue and the Brookings Institution convened a panel of experts to examine Latin America’s role in the upcoming COP21 negotiations, as well as proposed climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies in the region. 

Since the last COP in Lima last December, each country has been asked to submit its intended nationally determined contribution, or INDC, a national pledge for addressing climate change. The 146 INDCs that have been submitted include all developed nations and three quarters of developing countries under the UNFCCC, covering 86% of global greenhouse gas emissions. If implemented, the plans could reduce the current projected temperature rise from 3.6 degrees Celsius to around 2.7 degrees Celsius by 2100.

The INDCs are part of a new cycle in climate change negotiations, noted Timmons Roberts, professor at Brown University and non-resident senior fellow at Brookings Institution. In the past, binding top-down targets were used, but the INDCs follow a “pledge and review” approach, allowing countries to pledge what they are able to commit to at this time and increase that pledge in the future.  Many countries in Latin America have included conditional pledges, dependent on factors such as adequate and predictable climate financing, technology transfer and an international agreement on global carbon pricing.

Commitments to reduce deforestation also form part of many INDCs across the region, and are critical to reducing Latin America’s carbon emissions. Brazil, home to 60% of the Amazon, has made important strides in reducing the rate of deforestation, and Mexico, Peru, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Colombia, El Salvador, Ecuador, Chile and Costa Rica all committed to the 20x20 initiative at COP20 in Lima, a project to restore 20 million hectares of degraded land in the LAC region by 2020.

Latin American countries have also pledged to reduce emissions by expanding renewable energy generation and introducing clean transportation policies. Costs for renewable energy have declined considerably and are on par with coal and natural gas in some markets. Electric vehicle markets are also growing in many countries in the region.

Though there are some areas of consensus among Latin American countries - such as the view that developed countries should increase contributions to climate finance and technology transfer, there are also major schisms on some issues, said Guy Edwards, research fellow at the Institute for Environment and Society and co-director of Brown University’s Climate & Development Lab. For example, Latin American countries are divided on whether a long-term mitigation goal should be established and how specific such a goal should be.

Amal-Lee Amin, the Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB) climate change and sustainability division chief, noted the important progress that has been made in providing climate finance and technical assistance to Latin America in recent years. The IDB has worked closely with national development banks and finance ministries in many countries, providing guidance, funding and loans for renewable energy investments. Many governments are now recognizing the need to integrate climate change objectives into national planning budgets, Amin said.

Panelists agreed that a strong deal in Paris is critical for Latin America’s future. Though the negotiations this year promise to be complex – indeed there is still disagreement over wording in 1,000 places in the negotiating text – the talks also present an opportunity for the region to address existing vulnerabilities and invest in infrastructure and clean energy technologies.

The COP21 & Climate Change in Latin America event and the Inter-American Dialogue report, Green Transportation: The Outlook for Electric Vehicles in Latin America, were made possible with the support of BMW and BMWi.


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