Carlos Felipe Jaramillo
Features
November 11, 2022
The climate change crisis can be an opportunity

By Carlos Felipe Jaramillo
Vice President, Latin America and Caribbean, at the World Bank

The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference [COP27] is underway in Egypt and an obvious question is:

What does this matter to us in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) region?

The short answer: a lot.

While climate change poses a big threat, tackling it offers a huge opportunity for the region. It can make people safer today and opens great opportunities for the future. But to achieve this, we need to act now.

Let’s talk first about the threat. Whether you live in a city or in a rural area, climate change is here and more of it is coming soon. Whenever I travel across the region, I see the effects on people through longer droughts and more frequent floods.

On a recent trip to Argentina, I visited communities in the Impenetrable Forest of Chaco and in the mountainous areas in Salta and saw them struggle with drought. On the same trip, I heard from staff in our office in Asunción in Paraguay, who could not return home because torrents of water from heavy rains made the streets impassable.

Unless addressed, the effects of climate change in LAC will threaten many more people. It is estimated that it could push up to 5.8 million people into extreme poverty by 2030, and by 2050 more than 17 million people could be driven from the countryside to cities to escape climate impacts. This is the equivalent of more people than the population of Costa Rica becoming extremely poor and more people than live in Guatemala fleeing rural areas.

It is tempting to delay action on climate change because there are so many other problems in the world.

Some say we are in a so-called “polycrisis”, where multiple problems in different parts of the world add up to a giant threat to humanity.

But to delay action on climate change because of the competing problems of this polycrisis would be a mistake — these problems and their solutions are interwoven. Addressing them now can help the people of the region today and provide great future opportunities.

There are two main priorities:

Firstly, we must urgently address the effects of climate change on people.

We must prevent more suffering and stop the damage to livelihoods. Farmers will need help in making their crops more capable of surviving storms and droughts. Cities will need new infrastructure to protect people from flooding and hurricanes.

Countries in the region are already adapting. Many have shown the world they are best in class on innovating to address the threat of climate change. Projects in agriculture from Brazil to Uruguay are showcasing advances in climate resilience.

Caribbean nations such as Jamaica have set an example with innovative financial products to address climate risks from hurricanes and other natural disasters.

Secondly, countries in the region should take full advantage of the global shift toward decarbonization.

Polls show consumers increasingly want products that do not harm the planet or people. In the energy sector, the region can draw on its large deposits of copper and lithium, two materials crucial for electric vehicles and other clean technologies, to make itself a leader in the move away from fossil fuels. Already countries such as Chile are leading in the development of green hydrogen, a fuel of the future that could revolutionize everything from aviation to manufacturing.

The energy mix in the region is already more than 50 percent from clean, renewable sources such as hydro, solar and wind. Increasing this share can enable the region to export more products that it can sell for a premium as being made without burning fossil fuels. There are more opportunities.
Improving supply chain monitoring and transparency to curb environmental abuses can enable the region to sell more products at a sustainability premium.

The LAC region’s unique contribution to the global shift toward sustainability should be through its forests. Agriculture, land-use change, and forestry contribute 47 percent of Greenhouse Gas emissions across the region.

The Amazon Forest is the world’s largest carbon sink and saving this iconic natural resource, with its rich biodiversity, would be an achievement worthy of rewards from a grateful world. Saving the region’s forests also makes good economic sense.

The reforestation of lands degraded by cattle ranching and slash-and-burn agriculture can bring significant economic benefits to indigenous and vulnerable communities, in addition to serving as a carbon sink.

Addressing climate change in the LAC region will be good for its people and its economy. There is no trade-off between tackling climate change and economic development. Action can protect people today and help everyone benefit from the great opportunities the future offers. Let us step up together to this challenge.