Latin America tackles challenge of climate change

It is no coincidence that the Globe International network of legislators has chosen Mexico as the venue for the Second World Summit of Legislators on climate change that takes place in the Mexican Congress this coming weekend.

Five hundred legislators from around the world, especially from emerging economies, will tell the world that yes we can, that it is possible to create a movement that puts the interests of citizens first and that passes environmental legislation in favor of a more sustainable development model.

They will make it clear that — in the absence of a global agreement — parliaments, governments, civil society and the private sector can show the way at a national level.

Many of the alarming forecasts regarding the effects of climate change —from glacial retreat to rising sea levels — are being felt first hand in Latin America. From extreme weather variations in Mesoamerica and the Caribbean to prolonged droughts in the Southern Cone, all of this is having a devastating impact on agriculture, ecosystems and community life.

The good news is that at least in Latin America we are not sitting back with our arms crossed, despite the absence of global agreements.

In Costa Rica, reforestation projects, new market regulations and public campaigns are all part of the commendable effort being made by that country to become carbon neutral by 2021. In Brazil, the forestry and iron industries in the state of Minas Gerais are changing their ways and being rewarded with the first issue of carbon bonds for a forestry project, while in Mexico, the Climate Change Law of 2012 became one of the most comprehensive and ambitious at a global level.

In fact, wherever one looks in Latin America and the Caribbean today, its leaders are pushing initiatives to mitigate or adapt to the effects of climate change. In this way, even in times of global uncertainty, it is evident that the region is contributing rationality, certainties and trustworthiness to become a significant part of the solution to a global threat.

For example, its energy matrix currently boasts the lowest carbon emissions in the developing world (6 percent for the energy sector), the world's largest Rapid Transit System (associated with lower levels of environmental pollution) and the first catastrophe risk insurance mechanisms to guarantee the capacity to recover following a natural disaster.

Many of the green initiatives in the region have been strongly endorsed by legislators. In fact, Latin America is the region of the world that has done the most in 2013 in terms of legislation to prevent or mitigate the effects of atmospheric change, according to a report from GLOBE International.

Some of the most notable examples include the Mother Earth Law in Bolivia, which penalizes the mistreatment of nature, the law for Good Living in Ecuador and the climate change framework law in Costa Rica, which, among other things, guarantees that the subject will be taught in schools.

Many of these initiatives have also received technical and financial support from the World Bank. We have supported the Amazon Protected Areas program, which covers a surface comparable to France’s, and which has enabled Brazil to lower its deforestation rate continuously for more than four years.

Faced with retreating glaciers in the Andes, the World Bank has established — alongside the governments of Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru — a regional adaptation project administered by the Andean Community of Nations. This will lead to improvements in the capacity of local economies, ecosystems and populations to address its impending impact.

This becomes a life or death situation when 97 percent of regional GDP is generated in countries that are net commodity exporters — oil, minerals and agricultural products. These resources could be significantly depleted in less than one generation if current extraction rates remain unchanged or if more sustainable agricultural techniques are not adopted.

Latin American leaders are aware of this reality and will not wait for others to take the first step toward changing it. They believe that a different future, a more balanced and sustainable one, is possible for all Latin Americans and future generations.

Jorge Familiar is the vice president of the World Bank for Latin America and the Caribbean.

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