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Panelists examine sustainable development potential in Latin America

Discussion explores impact of UN’s 2030 climate action goals, need for capital investment in the region

Of the many roads to achieving economic and environmental goals, experts on sustainable development and climate change repeatedly mentioned the need for suitable incentives to reach energy goals by 2030 and for greater investment in fiscal and human capital at a panel discussion Thursday.

Spurred by the United Nations’ adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals last month and looking ahead to the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris this December, the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs brought together a panel of four experts: Isabel Cavelier, minister counsellor at the permanent mission of Colombia to the UN; Kevin Gallagher, professor of global development policy at Boston University; Ana Rios, climate change specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank; and Christian Gomez Jr., director of energy at the D.C. office of the Council of the Americas.

Moderator and event organizer Guy Edwards, co-director and co-founder of the Climate and Development Lab, opened the two-hour event by asking the panel about the progress Latin America has made in tackling climate change and sustainable development.

Latin America is reaching peaks in its environmental development, especially because the agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals is “universal,” and “everybody’s challenges (are) recognized as part of the agenda,” Cavelier said. She said she believes the “challenge now is implementation (by) 2030.”

The other panelists echoed the sentiment, arguing that important steps have been taken but the region still faces many difficulties in its progress towards sustainable development. The Latin American economy has an “over-emphasis in commodities, the financial sector and low-skilled work,” while demonstrating a “fundamental underinvestment in innovation, structural transformation and natural capital.” Cavelier and Gallagher agreed Latin America’s progress toward sustainable development would benefit from economic diversification.

Next, the panel considered the obstacles to climate action facing Latin American countries.

Gallagher briefly categorized the limitations in Latin America into three areas: market and governmental failure, “short-termism” and lack of ideas. He concluded, “The focus must be on developmental banking. The problem with the (Sustainable Development Goals) is the development banks have been given an unfunded mandate.”

“There’s very little incentive toward a transition towards a cleaner energy future,” Gomez said.

The speakers also touched upon the role of global partners ­— specifically the United States, China and Europe — in contributing to the region’s prospects.

While Europe and the United States have both been assisting sustainable development, China in particular has made great strides recently in Latin America. Gallagher said the Chinese are “the leaders of climate finance” and  have “the fastest reduction in carbon intensity,” setting an example for Latin American countries. 

The event ended with a question-and-answer session, during which panelists discussed intragovernmental cooperation between different ministries and the ability of social movements to catalyze environmental change.

“Climate change and development is not just an issue that concerns the governments,” said Rios, “it is an issue that involves everyone.”

The event was jointly organized by the Climate and Development Lab and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. It was funded by Fundacion Botin, Edwards said.

Members of the audience live-tweeted the discussion on Twitter, using the hashtag #LatAm2030.


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