During my past efforts to decipher the UN climate negotiations on this blog, I’ve said once or twice that the most important thing about the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conferences, a.k.a. the COPs (Conference of the Parties), is not so much what they deliver – often very little – but rather the conversations they start, the incoherencies they lay bare, and the movements that emerge in their trail.

Peru is preparing to host the 20th round of UN climate talks in 2014, a crucial step on the path to a global agreement in 2015 (Source: Peruvian Government).

At the Regional Workshop organized by CliMates in Bogotá, Colombia last week, I had the chance to observe it for myself. CliMates, an international, student-led think-and-do-tank dedicated to the elaboration and implementation of innovative solutions to climate change, had put together this conference in an effort to gather young climate leaders from the LAC region, so that they could share skills, exchange climate knowledge, and elaborate together a strategy for Latin American youth involvement and influence in 2014.

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Climate Change, Climate Policy, COP 20, Copenhagen Accord, Latin America

In the coming years, Latin American countries will have to make major investments in electricity generation and grid infrastructure in order to meet growing energy demand and provide universal energy access. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, power generation in Latin America and the Caribbean will have to double by 2030, requiring an investment larger than $700 billion. Over 31 million people in the region lack access to electricity and many countries still depend on fossil fuels for power generation, causing economic vulnerability due to volatile prices. Hydroelectric power is the other main source of electricity for many Latin American countries, but recent changes in precipitation patterns signal an uncertain future for this traditionally reliable baseload energy source in the face of climate change.

Creating integrated regional power systems by connecting national electricity grids can alleviate some of these challenges facing Latin America, especially for those countries seeking to provide affordable and reliable electricity to their citizens while constrained by limited natural resources, poor infrastructure, and low investment levels. By pursuing regional integration, countries benefit from economies of scale, complementary energy resources, lower costs of energy infrastructure development, and stronger regional cooperation. A regionally integrated power system can provide energy security at lower costs by increasing power generator and utility access to markets and diversifying the mix of energy sources. Furthermore, it facilitates the penetration of renewable energy by creating a market for financing large-scale projects and by providing increased grid stability necessary for high levels of intermittent energy sources like solar and wind.

Latin America could benefit greatly from regional power systems integration (source: commons.wikimedia.org)

In April 2012, at the Sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, the Connect 2022 initiative was introduced. Its aim is to ensure universal access to electricity to people in the Americas by 2022. This past June, in support of the Connect 2022 initiative, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the U.S. Department of State hosted a dialogue in which commitments for energy integration in Latin America were strengthened.

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Central America, Connect 2022, developing countries, electricity, energy policy, grid integration, IDB, Latin America, Proyecto Mesoamerica, regional electricity integration, renewable energy, SIEPAC, SINEA

From August 31 to September 3, the National Forestry Commission of Mexico and the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment held an international conference in Oaxaca, Mexico, in preparation for the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) in 2011. The focus of the workshops was on forest governance, management, and finance, with a particular emphasis on implementating the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) mechanism and the rights of communities relating to REDD+.

REDD+ measures seek to create financial incentives for developing countries to decrease their emissions from forests while at the same time alleviating poverty. However, skeptics worry that more centralized forest governance will infringe on the rights of local communities to manage their own forest resources.

Aftermath of Deforestation

All of Latin America shares similar struggles when it comes to deforestation. In most of these countries, growing populations and economies are putting a strain on limited environmental resources, including forests. In Mexico, as a result, less than 10 percent of the original tropical forest is left.

The benefits of REDD+, such as sustaining forest ecosystems and providing greater motivation to reduce climate change, seem obvious. So why is it taking so long to implement these practices? One answer raised at the conference was the difficulty in finding balance between preventing social and ecological harm and being as cost-effective as possible. It is nearly impossible to share the costs and benefits of REDD+ equally, whether internationally, nationally, or locally.

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Climate Change, developing countries, forests, governance, International Year of Forests, Latin America, Mexico, population, poverty, rain forest, REDD, United Nations Forum on Forests