Hard-hit by COVID-19, Latin America seen skimping on climate cash

by Anastasia Moloney | @anastasiabogota | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 10 June 2021 16:27 GMT

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Nations in the region have allocated some $318 billion to fiscal and stimulus measures, but only 2% has gone on climate initiatives

By Anastasia Moloney

June 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Latin America is investing too little in a green economic recovery from COVID-19, with only 2% of the region's stimulus funds being spent on projects that help fight climate change, new data from Oxford University showed on Thursday.

Last year, 33 Latin American and Caribbean nations allocated $318 billion to fiscal and stimulus measures, but the tiny share spent on environmentally friendly initiatives lagged far behind the global average of 19%, according to data from Oxford's Global Recovery Observatory.

"Overall, the region's green spending does not yet match the severity of the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution," said Piedad Martin, acting Latin America director of the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP), which worked with the university to develop a regional tracker.

Preliminary data from the tracker showed a large proportion of the region's recovery budget has been spent on "unsustainable sectors", including ports and airports and on "environmentally negative" fossil fuel energy, UNEP said.

"The region has reached an economic crossroads," said Brian O'Callaghan, lead researcher at the Oxford University Economic Recovery Project, which runs the Observatory.

"Either governments continue to support the old, dying industries of the past or invest in sustainable industries which will drive future prosperity," he said.

Under the Paris Agreement on climate change, countries in Latin America and around the world have committed to shift to renewable energy, promote green transport and invest in nature-based solutions to cut planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

But the tracker data showed that governments in the hard-hit region had allocated the lion's share of tight state resources to coping with the immediate health crisis and rising unemployment.

It found 77% of total spending had "been directed to immediate rescue efforts to manage short-term threats to lives and livelihoods linked to the pandemic," Martin told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Latin America and the Caribbean has recorded nearly a third of all global COVID-19 deaths despite being home to 8% of the world's population, the UNEP said.

While global gross domestic product (GDP) contracted by 3% last year, in Latin America and the Caribbean economic output shrank by 7% in 2020, according to the World Bank.

The situation has pushed climate and environmental policies down the list of government priorities in most countries.

"The reasons for this low investment rate include very low fiscal spaces in most Latin American and Caribbean countries and very high rates for public borrowing," Martin said.

But Costa Rican Environment Minister Andrea Meza said it was vital to make climate action "the engine of recovery" in a biodiverse region that is vulnerable to climate change from rising sea levels to more frequent extreme weather events.

"Our survival and the competitiveness of the region is at stake due to climate change," she added.

(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney; Editing by Helen Popper; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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