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Latin America at a crossroads on climate and access to energy


Woman in front of her fridge in Nicaragua About 10 million people, mostly rural poor, have gained access to modern energy services through UNDP-supported projects over the past decade. Photo: UNDP IN nICARAGUA

World leaders gathered at the Climate Change Summit  during the United Nations General Assembly have a crucial opportunity. In addition to mobilizing political will and advancing solutions to climate change, they will also need to address its closely connected challenges of increasing access to sustainable energy as a key tool to secure and advance gains in the social, economic and environmental realms.

This is more important than ever for Latin America and the Caribbean. Even though the region is responsible for a relatively low share of global greenhouse gas emissions - 12 percent according to UN figures - it will be one of the most severely affected by temperature spikes

And the region faces new challenges. Demand for electricity is expected to double by 2030, and, although nearly 60 percent is generated from hydroelectric resources, the share of fossil fuel-based generation has increased substantially in the past 10 years, mainly from natural gas. 

Now is the time for governments and private sector to invest in sustainable energy alternatives—not only to encourage growth while reducing carbon emissions, but also to ensure access to clean energy to around 24 million people who still live in the dark.

Latin America and the Caribbean is also the most urbanized developing region on the planet. Urbanization rates have jumped from 68 percent in 1980 to 80 percent in 2012. This brings about a different set of energy challenges, in particular related to transport and public services. 

The question is whether the region will tap its vast potential of renewable resources to meet this demand or turn towards increased fossil fuel generation. Energy policies that focus not only on the economic growth but also on the long-term social and environmental benefits will be essential to shape the region’s future.

In addition to reduced CO2 emissions, the region should favor renewables. Why? Latin America and the Caribbean are a biodiversity superpower. On the one hand, this vast natural capital can be severely affected by climate change. But on the other hand, if properly managed, it could actually help adapt to climate change and increase resilience.

In Nicaragua, for example, nearly 50,000 people from eight rural communities gained access to electricity following the inauguration of a new 300 kilowatt micro-hydropower plant in 2012. In addition to spurring a new legislation to promote electricity generation based on renewable resources, micro enterprises have been emerging and jobs have been created—for both men and women.

Universal access to modern energy services is achievable by 2030—and the region is already moving towards that direction. This will encourage development and transform lives.

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