exhaust gases

BAD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT: In this January 27, 2004, file photo exhaust gases leave the exhaust pipe of a car in Frankfurt, Germany. 

Latin America and the Caribbean could achieve annual savings of US$621 billion by 2050 if the region’s energy and transport sectors reach net-zero emissions, according to new findings from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) presented on December 12 in Madrid at the UN Climate Change Conference COP25.

The findings are included in an advance executive summary of the Zero Carbon Latin America and the Caribbean 2019 Report, which will soon be published, and which highlights the opportunities, costs and benefits of coupled decarbonisation of power generation and transportation. Both sectors account for two-thirds of the region’s fossil CO2 emissions and about 25 per cent of its greenhouse gas emissions. A two-fold increase in these emissions is expected by mid-century if current policies continue unaltered.

Under current policies and conditions, the emissions from the energy sector are expected to increase 140 per cent (up to 1.2 billion tonnes), considering the regional electricity demand will almost triple by 2050. Meeting these new requirements under a fossil fuel-based generation matrix would place the region further away from the 2°C pathway of the Paris Agreement, the report warns.

The conversion to a fully renewable system would be the least cost path to electrifying the region and achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement. A renewable matrix will require cumulative investments of US$800 billion by 2050, less than the US$1,083 billion needed to meet the projected power demand under a business as usual scenario, according to the study.

The report shows that by decarbonising the energy matrix and providing electricity to a full zero-emissions transport system (including marine and land transport), in 2050 the region could reduce 1.1 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent and additionally save US$621 billion per year.

These savings include US$300 billion of avoided expenses in land passenger transport and reductions of US$222 billion in electricity costs. US$30 billion in health costs could be prevented thanks to the positive effect of electric mobility in urban air quality.

The total savings anticipated by the authors consider the costs of phasing out the installed fossil fuel power plants ahead of its full deprecation. The value of stranded assets was estimated at US$80 billion (2018) by mid-century.

The transition to full decarbonisation in these specific sectors will create further benefits, such as 7.7 million new permanent jobs and 28 million job-years in temporary assignments related to green technologies, infrastructure deployment or transport electrification.

“Both energy and transport sectors present opportunities for rapid and far-reaching, environmentally sound and financially attractive action. A coupled transition not only aims to reach zero emissions by 2050, but to contribute to the economic growth and to the improvement of public health,” said UNEP Regional Director in Latin America and the Caribbean, Leo Heileman.

“This transition represents an important opportunity to raise the level of ambition of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and long-term strategies with many no-regret options to meet international climate commitments established under the Paris Agreement and support the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals,” said Carlos Manuel Rodriguez Echandí, Minister of Environment and Energy of Costa Rica.

Since 2012, the capacity for non-conventional renewables has doubled its participation in the regional matrix, and together with hydropower accounted for almost 54 per cent in 2018. Furthermore, the efforts of several countries to provide an enabling environment for the energetic transition have secured more than US$35 billion in investment in non-conventional renewables during the last five years (44 per cent of global foreign direct investment), the report shows.

Despite this progress, the authors call for a bolder policy agenda to accelerate the changes required to fulfil decarbonisation by mid-century.

The Zero Carbon Latin America and the Caribbean 2019 Report: The opportunity, cost and benefits of the coupled decarbonisation of the power and transport sectors in Latin America and the Caribbean, builds on the first Zero Carbon Report (2016), which called on the region to focus in the full decarbonisation of four areas that produce 90 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions: power generation, transportation, land use and industry.

The new edition was produced with the support of EUROCLIMA+, a programme funded by the European Union, and the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID).

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