United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

Statement by Achim Steiner at the 18th Forum of Ministers of Environment of Latin America and the Caribbean

Los Cabos, Mexico, 12-14 March 2014

Your Excellency, Juan José Guerra Abud, Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources, Mexico,

Excellencies, colleagues, esteemed guests, ladies and gentlemen,

I am deeply honoured to address this distinguished gathering as we meet here in the beautiful city of Los Cabos, thanks to the generous hospitality of the Government of Mexico.

It has been just over two years since this forum met in Quito on the road to Rio+20. Today, we convene at yet another historic juncture; months ahead ofthe world's first ever UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi in June, the UN Small Island Developing States meeting in Apia in September, the UN Climate Change Conference in Lima in December and last, a final agreement is reached on the Post-2015 development agenda.

The fact that Latin America and the Caribbean region is hosting two of these milestone events is testament to the region's growing influence and its capacity to push forward the international agenda on pressing environmental issues.

The Forum of Ministers of Environment of Latin America and the Caribbean has, over the past 30 years, emerged as a leading political voice on environmental sustainability. The Forum has contributed to strengthening and streamlining the environment in development planning at both the national and regional levels, helping the countries of the region build synergies and share a vision of inclusive sustainable development that is in harmony with nature.

In the last two decades, the region has witnessed significant environmental action as well as challenges on multiple fronts.

The economy grew from US $1800 billion to US $3500 billion, with a significant reduction in poverty and unemployment ? despite the lack of equity in wealth distribution with the richest 20 per cent of the population earning almost 20 times more than the poorest 20 per cent.

In 2012, the region captured 6 per cent of the global investment in clean energy, worth some US $16.8 billion (of a total of US $268.7 billion).

Renewable energy production grew from 11.3 GW to 26.6 GW between 2006 and 2012, with almost 60 per cent of power generated from renewable sources (mostly hydroelectric).

And while air quality continues to pose a major threat to public health and the environment ? with over 100 million people in Latin America exposed to air pollution levels that exceed recommended WHO guidelines ? some progress has been made thanks to sectoral interventions and improved air quality management policies. The Regional Network on Atmospheric Pollution is set to present the Forum with a regional action plan to help streamline solutions region-wide, especially as air pollution extends to expanding urban areas.

I am also pleased to note that significant progress has been made at the national level to develop environmental strategies, create and consolidate the work of specialized agencies, establish institutional and legal frameworks and ratify international conventions.

Many countries in the region have taken steps towards the sound management of chemicals and waste, including the development of national assessments, legal frameworks and best practices that can be scaled up and replicated throughout the region.

To date, 18 LAC countries have signed the Minamata Convention on mercury. I would like to seize this opportunity to commend the region's active involvement in the design and negotiation of the Convention and to welcome the clear commitment to its terms as stated in the Havana Declaration. The international community now needs to take firm action to expedite the entry into force of the Convention and its effective implementation.

The number of countries adopting climate legislation is on the rise. Mexico's General Law on Climate Change, passed in April 2012, is a significant achievement. It establishes a comprehensive regulatory framework to address climate change and, at the same time, encourage the transition towards a Green Economy. Other countries in the region have also enacted climate laws, including Bolivia, Guatemala, Honduras and Costa Rica.

UNEP is committed to supporting these efforts, working with the Latin American and Caribbean Parliament 'PARLATINO' and helping countries establish, pass and implement national laws and regulations on climate change.

For the past two decades, the region has been at the forefront of natural capital conservation, with 20 per cent of the total land area set aside for conservation - as opposed to an average of 13 per cent in other developing regions.Natural capital is a critical asset, especially for low-income countries, where it makes up around 36 per cent of total wealth, according to recent World Bank estimates.

One of the greatest challenges facing the region is the sustainable management of its rich and economically-important natural resource base. The Latin America and Caribbean region is home to 34 per cent of the world's plant species, 27 per cent of mammals, 31 per cent of the world's freshwater resources, 23 per cent of the world's forests and 57 per cent of the planet's primary forests.

Recognizing the value of natural resources demands a rethink of the traditional links between resource use and economic prosperity. And while visions, methodologies and tools may vary, an appreciation of the value of natural capital is at the heart of efficient development planning.

By 2050, humanity could devour an estimated 140 billion tonnes of minerals, ores, fossil fuels and biomass per year ? three times its current appetite ? unless economic growth is 'decoupled' from natural resource consumption. According to a report by the International Resource Panel, total resource use grew eight-fold in the last century.

Bu like all regions of the globe, successes are often overshadowed by the speed of environmental change that challenges the planet's support system:

  • Today, in LAC, over 79 per cent of the growing population lives in urban areas.
  • The annual per capita water use exceeds that of any other region (average per capita for LAC is 7,231 m3/inhabitant/year), according to GEO LAC 3.
  • LAC has the second largest green water (or rain water stored in soil) footprint behind North America, and yet faces challenges in regards to access to safe drinking water and sanitation.
  • Chemicals are intensively used and released without proper management across various sectors from agriculture to mining. Solid per capita waste doubled in the past three decades.
  • Economic growth in the region is strongly linked to extractive industries. Today, the region accounts for about 10 per cent of the world's consumption of primary materials.
  • Biodiversity in the tropics has fallen by around 30 per cent since 1992 due to unsustainable human activities.
  • Economic growth was accompanied by unsustainable consumption patterns. Current growth in LAC includes economic incentives such as fossil fuel subsidies. Per capita domestic material consumption in 2008 exceeded 13.6 tonnes per capita, over 30 per cent higher than the rest of the world.
  • Increased pressure on land for agriculture and raw material extraction led to wide deforestation across the region. Between 2000 and 2010, 4.4 million hectares of forest were lost annually, with the conversion of forest to cropland to grow soy for livestock feed accounting for most of the damage.
  • Only 9 per cent of energy produced in the Caribbean comes from renewable sources. At the same time, demand for electricity has quadrupled in the last 20 years with a direct correlation between per capita energy consumption and CO2 emissions.


Ladies and gentlemen,

Climate Change impacts fall most heavily on those who are least able to respond, and often on those who have contributed very little to its causes.

Although Latin America and the Caribbean accounts for only 12 per cent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, it is already experiencing the adverse consequences of climate change from extreme weather patterns and climatic events to rising sea levels affecting the most vulnerable groups.

Delayed action on climate change means a higher rate of climate change in the near term and likely more near-term climate impacts, as well as the continued use of carbon-intensive and energy-intensive infrastructure, according to the Emissions Gap report launched by UNEP and over 44 research institutes from 17 countries ahead of the Warsaw COP, last year.

UNEP research shows that even if nations meet their current climate pledges, greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 are likely to reach up to 12 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e) above the level that would provide a likely chance of remaining on the least-cost pathway.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, climate change impacts are evident in thecatastrophic loss of corals,affectingfisheries and tourism in the Caribbean basin;sea level rise impacting coastal aquifers and ecosystems;and hurricane intensification threatening coastal populations and infrastructure.

According to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), if unabated, the economic impact from climate change in the region by 2050 is likely to have devastating effects:

  • The combined impact of sea level rise, loss of fisheries and tourism is calculated to equal from 5 to 30 per cent of GDP in the Caribbean;
  • Water supply to cities will be affected (Quito may see water supply costs increase by 30 per cent, La Paz, Lima, Bogotáalso to be affected by diminished supplies caused by climate change);
  • Health costs will be affected by increased exposure to tropical diseases;
  • The cost of hurricane impact has increased by two orders of magnitude in the Caribbean basin in the last 20 years and hurricane intensity is expected to continue increasing.
  • Loss of biodiversity and ecosystem integrity: priceless!

The stepping stone of the 2020 global target can still be achieved by strengthening current pledges and further action, including scaling up international cooperation initiatives in areas such as energy efficiency, fossil fuel subsidy reform, renewable energy, forestry and REDD+ schemes.

For Latin America and the Caribbean, adaptation comes as priority 'number one'.

According to World Bank figures, the cost of adaptation in Latin America and the Caribbean is the second highest globally at a projected US $21.5 billion annually, preceded only by Asia-Pacific at US $25 billion a year.

The two sectors requiring the lion's share of adaptation costs are infrastructure and coastal zones, requiring global investments of US $29.5 to US $30.1 billion annually.

And while green economic growth may well be the most powerful form of adaptation, governments will need to factor in adaptation costs and methodologiesfor a transformation towards an inclusive green economy in their national development planning.

To address the complex climate change challenges that the world is facing today, there is a need for urgent, concerted and effective action. This requires not only renewed political commitment, and the right decisions by the international community, but also the support of a web of actors, enabling conditions and institutional arrangements that will facilitate decision making and the translation of commitments into action.

Latin America and the Caribbean continues to play an increasingly significant role in the climate negotiations; a role that needs to be stepped up and further strengthened in the months ahead of the Peru COP and throughout 2015 on the road to Paris to ensure a comprehensive and conclusive climate agreement is reached.


At Rio+20, the international community agreed to work on a new set of universal sustainable development goals (SDGs) to address environmental, social and economic sustainability in a way that is more cohesive, focused and measureable.

The needs of the world, encompassed in the Post 2015 agenda, require a shift in thinking from working in silos to a more integrated approach. Focusing investment and policy reforms on interlinked challenges and opportunities can have significant positive impacts on broader development aspirations.

We need to articulate to the world, through your voices as Ministers of Environment and through the collaborative action brought about by this Forum, the need to embed the environment in all aspects of sustainable development.

Moving the world's 1.2 billion poorest to a life of dignity for all will require financing, innovation, technology transfer and capacity building, along with effective governance and mutually beneficial partnerships at the local, national, regional and global levels.

This will depend on the equitable access to basic goods and services.

It will also depend on our ability to build natural and social resilience to withstand a changing environment and on strengthening the natural resource base that underpins development.

The well-being of humanity and the functioning of the economy and society ultimately depend upon the responsible management of the planet's finite natural resources. Living within the Earth's safe operating space safeguards humanity from crossing ecological or social thresholds that could undermine or even reverse development gains.

Improving natural capital, social capital and the built environment is about creating space to reduce future liabilities and provide for the needs of today and future generations through sustained long-term development.

To achieve sustainable development without crossing ecological thresholds, countries will need to transition to a low carbon economy, to adopt sustainable consumption and production patters, to become more resource efficient and to decouple economic growth from the over-exploitation of natural resources.


In an inclusive Green Economy, growth in income and employment is driven by public and private investment that reduces carbon emissions and pollution, enhances energy and resource efficiency, and prevents the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services.

These investments need to be catalysed and supported by targeted public expenditure, policy reforms and regulation changes.

While much of the world's private capital is locked up in carbon-intensive investment across the developed world, developing country investment in a low carbon future is on the rise. Clean energy investments reached US $244 billion in 2012, while outlays in developing countries reached US $112 million, according to estimates by REN 21 (Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century).

World Economic Forum estimates suggest that investment in infrastructure of an estimated US $6 trillion annually is needed over the next 16 years to deliver a low-carbon economy. Of this, nearly US $1 trillion is over and above the business-as-usual trajectory.

Such evidence shows that when investments are targeted towards greening key economic sectors, they can produce multiple benefits for society, for the economy, and for the environment.

UNEP has recently launched an Inquiry into policy options for guiding the global financial system to invest in the transition to a green economy. The Inquiry will lay out a series of options for advancing a sustainable financial system. It will engage, inform and guide policy makers, financial market actors and other stakeholders concerned with the health of the financial system and its potential for shaping the future economy.

Fiscal policies are of particular importance in a green economy transition and governments have a variety of fiscal instruments at their disposal: taxing fossil fuel use or emissions in different sectors, reforming energy subsidies that promote wasteful and environmentally harmful economic activity, and supporting clean technology and sustainable production with the help of fiscal incentives. .

Confronted by a fiscally constrained world, fiscal policy reforms might appear to be a daunting challenge to a green economy transition. Yet, it has been observed in the past that external crises - be they fiscal, economic or environmental ? may speed up policy reform.

Strengthening social safety nets when applying fiscal policy reforms would not only increase social and political acceptability of fiscal reforms but could also contribute to an equitable and fair transition to a green economy.

Globally, the cost of energy subsidization is high and accounts for a significant part of GDP annually. Petroleum subsidies alone, for instance, amounted to US $200 billion in 2011.It is estimated that removing US $500 billion of fossil fuel subsidies could boost the global economy by around 0.3 per cent. The removal of fossil fuel subsidies in developing and emerging economies could reduce GHG emissions by 6 per cent in 2050.

When considering that out of the US $409 billion spent on fossil-fuel consumption subsidies in 2010, only US $35 billion, or 8 per cent, reached the poorest income quintile (the bottom 20 per cent), energy subsidies appear to perform poorly as a means of supporting the incomes of poor social groups.

Moreover, environmental taxes can be an effective tool for environmental policy. Carbon taxes could direct investment towards cleaner technologies and encourage energy efficiency.

Many developing countries are well positioned to gain from mainstreaming sustainability considerations in their trade-driven growth strategies, including through the export of certified commodities in the fisheries, forests or agriculture sectors, increased investments in sustainable production and supply chains, or the expansion of eco-tourism.

For example, the Bio-trade sector in Peru has grown by 20 per cent in the last five years ? generating significant revenue and promoting sustainable development, while simultaneously supporting pro-poor development.

The Green Economy transition opens up new opportunities for regional and global trade. For example, the global market in low-carbon and energy efficient technologies is projected to nearly triple to US $2.2 trillion by 2020.

During the past three decades, many countries in the region have included Green Economy provisions to national legislation or new constitutions.

A new Green Economy Scoping Study for Mexico will be launched by UNEP and the Government of Mexico later this year. The report aims to provide an economic outlook in terms of Green Economy advantages, obstacles and opportunities. Economic sectors prioritized in the report are: agribusiness, fisheries, water, forestry, energy, manufacturing industries, tourism and transport. Together they represent around 37 per cent of National GDP and 42 per cent of employment in Mexico.

UNEP is working with partners to provide demand-driven policy advice, technical assistance and capacity-building to countries who wish to achieve sustainable developmentthrough a green economy transition. The Partnership for Action on a Green Economy (PAGE), which held its first global conference in Dubai, last week, aims to green 30 developing economies by 2020.

Ladies and gentlemen,

For many Small Island Developing States future development is dependent on a very narrow resource base that is constantly challenged by the high-risk impacts of climate change and natural disasters. In our lifetime, there may be small island developing nations that will cease to exist as a result of sea level rise.

From economic growth to climate change and food security, the issues facing SIDS are multi-dimensional and require immediate and integrated action to address them as the world marks the International Year of SIDS, this year.

An inclusive Green Economy approach offers opportunities for SIDS to better manage natural capital, protect the environment, create green jobs and achieve sustainable development. For this end, it is vital that the right enabling conditions are provided to generate and stimulate both public and private sector investments that incorporate broader environmental and social criteria.


Excellencies, colleagues, Ladies and gentlemen,

The first ever UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) will take place in Nairobi this June as the highest level global platform for policy making feeding directly into the UN General Assembly, with a focus on the Sustainable Development Goals and the Post-2015 Development Agenda, including sustainable production and consumption.

I would like to invite LAC countries to engage with UNEA and use the platform to further action on priority issues. With civil society, policy makers, government and the business sector under one roof, there is no better forum to exchange ideas and move the environmental agenda further, especially in the context of sustainable development and poverty alleviation.

Customer comments

No comments were found for Statement by Achim Steiner at the 18th Forum of Ministers of Environment of Latin America and the Caribbean. Be the first to comment!