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Latin America and Caribbean Could Go Zero Carbon by 2050


12th May 2016

UNEP report draws a pathway for the region towards zero net greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century

Although Latin America and the Caribbean account for only 10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, the region is at the forefront of global efforts to tackle climate change. With ambitious, targeted policies it can drive its emissions down to zero, according to a recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme – DTU Partnership (UNEP-DTU).

The report, Zero Carbon Latin America: a pathway for net decarbonization of the regional economy by mid-century analyzes how interventions in four sectors – electricity generation, transportation, land use, and industry, which represent 90 per cent of the region’s greenhouse gas emissions – could make the region carbon-free in less than 34 years.

In May this year, environmental ministers from across the globe will gather in Nairobi for the second session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA2) – the world’s de facto “Parliament for the Environment” – to discuss ways of achieving the climate goals of the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Latin American and Caribbean efforts and ambitions could become major drivers of that process.

“Decarbonization has already begun in our region,” says Director and Regional Representative of UNEP, Leo Heileman. “Take the case of Costa Rica: during the last year its electricity generation was exclusively based on renewable sources; or Brazil, Uruguay and Nicaragua, where the transition to renewable energy is consolidating.

“This report indicates that it is feasible to achieve the total elimination of greenhouse gas emissions in Latin America and the Caribbean with concrete and bold actions that can dramatically improve the quality of life of people.”

According to the Zero Carbon Latin America report, all of Brazil and Uruguay’s new electricity generation tenders since 2013 have been awarded to solar and wind companies, showing the world that renewable energy is ready for a massive scale up.

The study recommends a decarbonization of Latin America’s energy sector while satisfying all new electricity demand exclusively from renewable sources. With the region boasting a theoretic renewable energy potential five times larger than the global demand, that proposition is far from farfetched.

The report also projects a massive electrification of transportation, including road, railway, and fluvial. This transformation could be possible if technological developments, such as more efficient batteries, reduced the costs of energy storage by 14 per cent each year. Given the recent advancements in that field, this premise is also plausible.

As for land use, the study concludes that converting fields into drains rather than sources of greenhouse gases will be key to carbon neutrality by mid-century. The challenge is enormous, considering that forest areas equivalent to two-thirds of the entire surface of Costa Rica are lost each year in the region.

The report estimates that achieving zero carbon by 2050 would require a complete end to deforestation, a reforestation of 50 million hectares and the restoration of 200 million hectares of degraded land.

This might seem a titanic effort for the developing region. However, the consequences of not acting on climate change could be much more costly. The report estimates that by 2050 the economies of Latin America and the Caribbean will have to foot a $100 billion bill for the impacts related to climate change, such as degradation of coral reefs, melting of tropical glaciers or loss of agricultural productivity.

When the world’s ministers gather in Nairobi next month for the second session of UNEA, Latin America’s efforts to break free from fossil fuels will serve as an inspiration for adopting an ambitious set of resolutions to accelerate achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda.

To read the full story from The United Nations Environment Programme, please click here.