December 13, 2014


In Latin America, Growth Trumps Climate (Eduardo Porter, 12/09/14, NY Times)

The tension between climate and development crops up all over Latin America. Chile, poor in fossil fuels and rich in wind and sun, might seem like a natural base for a low-carbon economy.

Yet Aldo Cerda, who heads corporate affairs at the country's budding climate exchange, says the intensity of Chile's carbon use is set to grow significantly over the next 15 years.

The tension is also evident in Peru, host of the climate change talks, where the government watered down environmental regulations over the summer to try to pump up flagging growth.

"Peru is still a work in progress," said Joe Keenan, who heads the Nature Conservancy in Latin America. "Some people in the government are trying to put together a forest protection plan. But there are also plans to put new highways into the Amazon."

Resolving this tension is proving difficult, at best. Take the report issued this year by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. It worked on the assumption that every country would cut annual carbon emissions from energy to only 1.6 tons per person by 2050.

Brazil, where emissions from energy rose to almost 2.4 tons per person last year, is unlikely to agree to that anytime soon.

"Brazilians are very far from understanding that the climate question is an obstacle that slows Brazil's exploitation of natural resources," Mr. Leitão, the Greenpeace representative, told me. "On the contrary, Brazil believes that it still has the right to some quota of increased emissions."

In a 2012 study, Elizabeth A. Stanton, an environmental economist at Synapse Energy Economics, noted that projections by the International Energy Agency, on which leading climate models are based, assume that the least developed countries will fail to close the prosperity gap with the rich of the world.

Income per person in the world's poorest countries -- about one-27th of that of people in the rich world -- would inch ahead to one-20th in the year 2105.

"This assumption -- that economic development will fail in the poorest countries -- results in lower business-as-usual global emissions, allowing emissions reduction targets to be less stringent in richer countries," she wrote. "What if low-income countries experience genuine economic development?"

The world's poorest countries may well fail to overcome their misery. Still, the development imperative will beat the climate imperative every time.

Posted by at December 13, 2014 7:23 AM

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