Saturday, February 04, 2012

After Durban, Latin America Looks Towards Rio+20

OP-ED After Durban, Latin America Looks Towards Rio+20
By Ede Ijjasz-Vásquez*

WASHINGTON, Jan 31, 2012 (Tierramérica) - After the climate change negotiations in Durban, South Africa in December, there is space to continue advancing in the short and medium term. Now the attention of Latin America and the rest of the world is turned towards the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development taking place this June in Rio de Janeiro.

In Durban, delegates from 194 countries agreed to develop a new global climate pact by 2015, which would enter into force in 2020.

Substantial agreements were also hammered out in two other areas critical for progress in combating climate change: a new period of commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, and specific steps in the creation of the Green Climate Fund.

Greater attention was paid to combined measures for climate change mitigation and adaptation in agriculture, in addition to progress in technical discussions on forest protection programs in the context of the climate.

In Durban the international community also recognized the urgent need to do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, keep the increase in global average temperature below two degrees, and help developing countries adapt to the inevitable effects of climate change.

This June in Rio de Janeiro, delegates will address the protection of the environment as part of the development process. The conference is better known as Rio+20, because it is taking place two decades after a similar summit where participating countries first adopted the concept of sustainable development as the only way to build a more just and viable world.

This includes dimensions related to health, housing, air pollution, management of the seas, forests and mountains, desertification, water resources management, sanitation and waste management.

The world is moving dangerously close to the limits of the unsustainable use of natural resources, and we could reach a point from which there is no turning back. These issues impact on quality of life and the struggle that still must be waged against poverty and inequality, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Despite the fact that Latin America produces relatively clean energy in most of its countries, and proportionally contributes substantially less than other regions to climate change, it is one of the regions most severely affected by the consequences of climate change.

Numerous countries in the region have demonstrated great leadership by example to become part of the global solution that must lead the world towards a low-carbon development path.

Brazil has unilaterally committed to ambitious voluntary targets aimed at reducing its emissions by 39 percent by the year 2020. Other Latin American countries have also made voluntary commitments, including Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica and Mexico.

Worldwide, 90 countries have registered mitigation plans for 2020 with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and 78 of these are developing countries.

According to the World Bank study "Low-Carbon Development: Latin American Responses to Climate Change", Latin America contributes only six percent of global greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector, and 13 percent of all global emissions if we include deforestation and land use change.

This relatively low level of emissions is largely due to widespread use of hydroelectric power.

However, this situation is expected to change over the next 25 years as the transportation and industry sectors expand.

For example, if current trends are maintained, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from energy consumption are projected to increase by 33 percent per capita in the region by 2030, a greater increase than the projected global average of 24 percent.

These trends represent a challenge for Latin America in its search for sustainable development through greener and more equitable growth.

Many of the measures that could be considered as steps on the road to green economic growth also have significant local environmental and social benefits:

Greater energy efficiency often saves money; less deforestation and better management of forest resources have social and environmental benefits; better public transportation can reduce traffic congestion and local pollution, and have beneficial effects on health, productivity and quality of life.

The next decade will bring great opportunities for synergy between environmental and economic sustainability. For example, developing countries can adopt a "green" attitude in their new investments in infrastructure, as well as developing agriculture and other natural resources so as to improve livelihoods, create jobs and reduce poverty.

The agreement reached in Durban represents a step forward, but tough negotiations towards a global commitment lie ahead in the next few years.

In the meantime, we must continue to move forward in the implementation of programs with local and global benefits, projects that demonstrate the best ways to adapt to the climate changes of the future and the climate disasters of today, and technological and institutional innovations that promote green and inclusive growth.

* Ede Ijjasz-Vásquez is the World Bank director of sustainable development for Latin America and the Caribbean.

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Capitalism and Urban Growth in Latin America

Capitalism, Interdependence and the Urbanization of Latin America
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Feb 3rd, 2012
Urban growth is a worldwide phenomenon which can been linked directly to the growth of capitalism. Latin America, as we currently know it, was formed by capitalist countries, and is the most urbanized region in the world. Yet this process of urbanization, whilst attributable at least in part to its relationship with capitalism, is also about global interdependence.
During European economic expansion between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries, the Roman Empire city system was essentially rebuilt across the globe, resulting in a commercial trading market with the African coast, Middle East and Asia. Cities became political, religious, commercial and cultural centers, and a class system based on land-ownership soon began to flourish.
As European economic expansion continued in the fifteenth century, new commercial trade routes were sought, with cities further establishing themselves as the foundation of this global commercial control. Though there were urbanized zones in Latin America before European conquest, the process of expansion and hegemony was accelerated with the imposition of European urban patterns and urbanization models
In Latin America’s first two centuries of colonial dependence, metal production became the most important area of commerce, principally providing raw materials to the European market. This allowed Spain to gain a dominant position in the European inter-metropolitan power system. This interdependence is typical of Latin American economic growth. Historically, urbanization in this region has been used for the fiscal benefit of further advanced metropolitan societies, and the structure of these societies has in turn shaped both the cities and the culture of Latin America.
As the region went through the process of de-colonization, interdependency remained, though this time through the economic structures of global markets rather than political structures. International relations remained predominantly based on an interest in raw materials. This culture of interdependence also became apparent on a national level, with countries becoming largely dependent on the economic activities of their cities.
The urbanization of Latin-American society happened before industrialization. Though economics was inevitably a contributor to urban growth, post-colonial Latin American urbanization was also fueled by cultural and political influence, creating capital cities that truly were the centre of Latin American life.
However, commercial capitalism did begin to dominate during the nineteenth century, with three main economic structures developing in the region. Enclave economies, where a concentration of raw materials were exploited by foreign groups, brought economic growth to some countries, though urbanization was less rapid as a result. Instead, economic development created ‘company towns’ around the location of raw materials, with Bolivia and Venezuela being two examples of countries shaped by this economic structure.
Predominantly agricultural and livestock economies, such as Argentina and Uruguay, generated strong urbanization. The export infrastructure required by such economies concentrated urban growth, creating commercial, administrative and political centers.
Plantation economies, such as those of Central America and Brazil pre-1920, were labor-intensive, producing goods for foreign companies. These countries tended to be politically repressive, with low urbanization and expansion of infrastructure. However, there are two exceptions: Panamá and Cuba. The first urbanized strongly as a result of the Panama Canal and strong presence of the USA. Cuba also urbanized, largely as the capital had the country’s administrative functions, and was the last Spanish point of control in the nineteenth century.
The economic growth of Latin America has been shaped by the dominance of external markets. Latin Americanist scholar Richard M. Morse stated that once national unification was secured, political systems were centralized, national markets were created, and infrastructure linking nations was implemented, the city was able to affirm itself as the economic hub of Latin America.

Image courtesy of Ed Yourdon on flickr

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