6 Ensure environmental sustainability

Where are we?

Latin America and the Caribbean have seen substantial progress in environmental legislation and in the

creation of institutions with mandates directly bearing on environmental concerns. However, major challenges

remain in effectively implementing the institutional arrangements and new legal provisions, as well as in integrating an approach based on the principles of sustainability —especially environmental sustainability— in decision-making in other policy sectors, such as energy, agriculture and demographics. In most of the region’s countries, environmental protection is championed by relatively new institutions whose relative political weight and capacities, as well as their funding, are generally unsuited to the magnitude of their mission, which thus tends to be neglected in favour of politically entrenched sectoral objectives whose economic effects are measurable and easily understood by the population.

Protecting Forests

Governments in the region are investing in protecting the environment. And forest degradation has been reducing. In Brazil, for example, the drop in the deforestation rate is due to a number of factors, including: more intense action by the Federal Police to prevent illegal activity; strengthened governmental monitoring; and the fact that federal decree has eliminated credits to firms and individuals with a history of illegal activity detrimental to the environment.

Graph Brazil CEPAL page 256

The loss of forest cover in the region is generally attributable to the expansion of large-scale industrial agriculture and increasing livestock and forestry activity. This growth of activity is a response to global demand for food, fuel and wood products, among other things. Such traditional activities become even more profitable and attractive in the absence of mechanisms that place value on the forest’s ecosystem services —for example, appropriate legislation and economic instruments accompanied by funding for implementation. Wood extraction is one factor behind the loss of forest area, although some parts of the region are beginning to see a transition towards sustainable timber extraction. Meanwhile, between 2000 and 2004, approximately 3.3 million hectares of forest were lost to fire, principally in arid and semiari tropical forests. Burning for fertilization continues to be a major factor as well.

CO2 emissions

The total volume of CO2 emissions in Latin America and the Caribbean has increased steadily since 1990.

Considering emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and cement production, but disregarding emissions from changes in soil use, the volume of emissions as a proportion of GDP has fallen slightly. According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) projections, the region’s CO2 emissions are highly likely to continue increasing, since its economies’ energy decoupling and decarbonization are not yet sufficient to compensate for strong and growing energy demand.

Although there is a great deal of variance between countries, the region’s per capita CO2 emissions, averaging between 2.5 and 3.3 metric tons per capita annually between 1990 and 2006, are far below the developed economies’ emissions levels.

Graph Figu VII 3 CEPAL

One of the main challenges confronting the region is to reduce CO2 emissions from changes of soil use

—deforestation in particular— which are directly related with the forest cover indicator. In contrast to other developing regions, net emissions due to changes in soil use and forestry are positive in Latin America and the Caribbean. In the other regions, the effect of carbon sinks exceeds the effect of emissions. The Amazon forest is critical in this process, because while it is a major carbon reserve, its role as a sink is in jeopardy from the fact that, as an ecosystem, it is at the equilibrium point in terms of biomass growth and loss, which means that its capacity to sequester additional carbon is limited. Beyond its contribution to emissions and its potential for mitigation, the Amazon jungle plays a fundamental role in the region’s climate. Furthermore, the region has one third of the world’s forest biomass and two thirds of its tropical forest biomass. Thus, it has great potential to contribute to global efforts to mitigate climate change through the CO2 retention services available in its forests.

Source: ECLAC

Water and Sanitation

The world has met the MDG drinking water target, five years ahead of schedule, and Latin America and the Caribbean has the highest proportion of population using improved water source among developing region: from 85 percent in 1990 to 94 percent in 2010 (close to the developed region’s share of 99 percent).

Despite improvement in most of the developing regions, the sanitation target is still out of reach. Fully 72 per cent of all those lacking access to improved sanitation live in rural areas, as do 90 percent of those subject to the high-risk practice of open defecation (949 million people). This rural sanitation crisis persists even Latin America, which has a high coverage of improved drinking water: 17 percent of rural dwellers in Latin America and the Caribbean still resort to open defecation.

UNDP's work in (Region)

  • Maribel Úbeda, a beneficiary of the micro-hydropower plant in Wanawás, Nicaragua. Thanks to energy from the plant, she started a small business selling beef, homemade sorbets and soft drinks. (Photo: Walter Lacayo/UNDP Nicaragua)

    Nicaragua: Electricity empowers rural communities

    Maribel Ubeda’s is among the 4,400 families from eight rural communities in Nicaragua who gained access to electricity when a new 300 kilowatt micro-hydropower plants was more

  • Simeon Troimene poses for a portrait nearby Aquin, Haiti. Simeon Troimene took part in a reforestation program organized by UNDP. (photo: UNDP Haiti)

    Reforestation project brings life and growth to Haitian communities

    “Reforestation, that’s life. By reforesting the mountains, water sources will be protected and that will prevent landslides,” says Troimène Siméon, a member of a group of more

Emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), 1990, 2009 and 2010

Bar Chart

1.71 years
until 2015

1990 2015
Targets for MDG7
  1. Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes; reverse loss of environmental resources
  2. Reduce biodiversity loss, achieving, by 2010, a significant reduction in the rate of loss
    • Proportion of land area covered by forest and proportion of species threatened with extinction
    • CO2 emissions, total, per capita and per $1 GDP (PPP)
    • Consumption of ozone-depleting substances
    • Proportion of fish stocks within safe biological limits
    • Proportion of total water resources used
    • Proportion of terrestrial and marine areas protected
  3. Reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation
    • Proportion of population using an improved drinking water source
    • Proportion of population using an improved sanitation facility
  4. Achieve significant improvement in lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers, by 2020
    • Proportion of urban population living in slums