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Alicia Bárcena Reaffirms Seriousness of the Climate Crisis in the Region and Urges the International Community to Prioritize Financing of Adaptation Measures

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17 August 2021|Press Release

ECLAC’s Executive Secretary participated in the launch of the State of the Climate in Latin America and the Caribbean 2020 Report, produced by the World Meteorological Organization.

The Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Alicia Bárcena, reaffirmed today the seriousness of the climate crisis in the region and the urgency of addressing it and called for the international community to prioritize the financing of adaptation measures, during the launch of the State of the Climate in Latin America and the Caribbean 2020 Report, produced by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

“The global governance system has not been effective in mobilizing resources for developing countries. There is a lack of financing for climate action, especially for adaptation. This exacerbates the vulnerability of countries, reducing their capacity to finance their own actions,” she affirmed.

The senior United Nations official participated in the High-level Conference entitled “Working Together for Weather, Climate and Water Resilience in Latin America and the Caribbean” – which was inaugurated by Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of WMO – where she highlighted the relevance of the report presented today.

“This is a timely, necessary and pertinent report and should serve as the basis for public policy, for economic, sectoral and social planning,” ECLAC’s Executive Secretary stated.

Participating in the conference along with Alicia Bárcena was Pearnel P. Charles Jr., Minister of Housing, Urban Renewal, Environment and Climate Change of Jamaica, and Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction and Head of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR).

In her remarks, ECLAC’s highest authority recalled that Latin America and the Caribbean generates just 8.3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but is highly vulnerable to their impact.

She specified that, in the last 30 years, the number of natural disasters tripled in the Caribbean while the associated economic losses increased fivefold. For example, the destruction caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 resulted in losses equivalent to 250% of GDP in countries like Dominica, she noted.

The senior official stressed that one of the unexpected effects of climate change – the solution for which is multilateral – is the downgrade of risk ratings by rating agencies, which consider climate vulnerability to be a criteria for downgrading a rating. This has very severe consequences because it unfairly increases the cost of sovereign debt and interest payments for developing countries that are highly vulnerable to climate change.

“This worsens, for example, the capacities of the Caribbean, Argentina and Ecuador, which already have a very heavy burden due to high debt levels rooted in external shocks aggravated by the impact of disasters and social and economic structural weaknesses,” she warned.

Alicia Bárcena indicated that the stimulus packages for a post-COVID economic reactivation could be an opportunity to encourage investment in sectors with low carbon emissions and to promote the bioeconomy, which is more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

“Developed countries have announced major stimulus packages – $4 trillion dollars in the United States, 750 billion euros in Europe – reflecting fiscal and monetary expansions that go against orthodoxy, with commitments in green investment. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the stimulus packages are smaller at around 4.7% of GDP ($211 billion dollars), and only 3.2% of them would be consistent with environmental and climate goals. The recovery measures are not fostering structural change. There is an incoherence between the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement, and the declarations of our countries,” she stated.

She added that the fiscal efforts of the region’s countries aimed at recovering from COVID-19 also have very negative downsides. Spending on environmental protection in Latin America and the Caribbean has experienced a decline in recent years. Between 2016 and 2019, spending on environmental protection averaged just 0.4% of central government spending, and in 2020, it fell to a mere 0.2%.

ECLAC’s Executive Secretary emphasized that adaptation is an urgent matter for the region, based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.

“At ECLAC we are proposing the creation of a Caribbean Resilience Fund that addresses the needs of that region. We have a proposal for that fund to be financed in part with debt relief of $7 billion dollars, which represents 12% of its total external debt. This can be done, it should be done, and similar instruments should be developed for Central America and South America,” she contended.

Alicia Bárcena also stressed the urgency of strengthening the institutional framework so it has the capacity to collect data and indicators on the risk of climate disasters, grounded in science, and to anticipate events based on early warning systems.

She also urged for supporting middle-income economies.

“Middle-income countries should have access to concessional finance to articulate investments that would promote a green and blue recovery, create employment and reduce the environmental footprint,” she stated.

Finally, the senior official called for strengthening the institutional framework of the Caribbean and of Central America.

“Services and institutions can generate in-depth analyses that will allow us to develop future scenarios. Climate change is disruptive, there is no doubt, but it already exhibits patterns of variability that are increasingly being studied,” she concluded.

At the end of the event, ECLAC and WMO signed a memorandum of understanding that seeks to establish a joint work agenda that would contribute to transforming scientific information into better proposals for economic, social and environmental policies for the sustainable development of Latin American and Caribbean countries.

The report presented by WMO reveals, among other messages, that 2020 was one of the three warmest years on record for Mexico/Central America and the Caribbean, and the second warmest year for South America.

It warns that in the Chilean and Argentine Andes, glaciers have retreated in recent decades and that the intense drought in southern Amazonia and the Pantanal was the most severe in the last 60 years.