Americas Summit: Paving the Way to a Just Energy TransitionBy Leonardo Beltrán | Mon, 06/06/2022 - 09:00
From June 6-10, 2022, the city of Los Angeles will be hosting the 9th Summit of the Americas, where most of the leaders from the region will discuss their priorities on five key areas, including accelerating the clean energy transition to support the central theme: “Building a Sustainable, Resilient, and Equitable Future.” It will be framed by a world juncture where there are four simultaneous crises at play: an energy crisis profoundly aggravated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a public health crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, an economic crisis resulting from amorphous recovery and inflationary pressures, and, finally, the climate crisis that requires urgent reductions of carbon emissions.
In this context, the Summit of the Americas provides a unique platform for dialogue, cooperation and commitments at the highest level to tackle these crises, of which energy plays a critical role. As part of the summit’s process, the heads of state and government issued a political declaration which includes, among others, a commitment to advance the implementation of the Global Methane Pledge (a commitment to collectively reduce methane emissions by 30 percent from 2020 levels by 2030); to end the public financing of new unabated coal power generation by the end of the year; and to support and promote the Renewable Energy in Latin America and the Caribbean (RELAC) initiative and its goals (a commitment to increase from 60 to 70 percent the share of renewable power generation in the region), including significantly increasing Latin American and Caribbean membership by COP28 in 2023.
These three very welcome initiatives would continue the momentum created at COP26 to speed up action toward decarbonization in areas where the benefits greatly surpass the costs. For instance, a 45 percent reduction in methane emissions by 2030 would contribute, on the one hand, to fewer deaths associated with air pollution, ranging from hundreds of lives in Central America, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Uruguay to thousands in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, and Mexico to tens of thousands of lives in the US; on the other hand, there would be thousands of working hours gained annually from lower heat exposure. Moreover, the Americas has one-fourth of the world’s coal reserves, and although it only produces 8.4 percent of total supply, and consumes 7.5 percent of the world´s share, a commitment across a net coal exporter region reinforces an affirmative climate action, whereby just transition concepts and tools, including political will, retraining and reskilling of the workforce, and public-private partnerships would definitely contribute toward leaving no one behind in a legacy industry.
Nevertheless, there seems to be too little attention on key areas of the energy transition. These include some decarbonization strategies that are already mandates from previous editions of the Summit. For example, there is no mention of energy efficiency, an essential and most cost-effective pillar to reduce emissions, which incidentally has net benefits financially and environmentally, and has been a mandate since 2009. Similarly, the topics of energy access and inclusion are absent, in a region where 1.5 percent of the population (roughly 22 million people) lacks access to electricity.
Additionally, there are two major topics on the continental energy agenda that seem to be absent from the political declaration: energy security and the role of natural gas in the energy transition. While most governments in the region present a national narrative regarding energy security, most countries in the Americas would benefit from a regional and cooperative approach with their neighbors, including joint-stockpiling and interconnections of power lines and pipelines. Some existing examples of this are the electrical interconnections between Mexico and SIEPAC as well as the gas pipelines and storage facilities across the US-Canadian border. Regarding the role of natural gas in the region, it is important to have a discussion on the extent and sectors by country where this fuel will displace coal and oil, as well as where the supplies from increased demand to the region may come from in a sustainable, secure, and affordable way.
Aside from the current differences between some leaders in the region and the ongoing debates around the presence of some delegations at the summit, the call to action on climate and energy policy remains urgent. The monumental endeavor of transitioning to a low-carbon world requires long-term planning, infrastructure development for the coming years and immediate practical action to tackle the current simultaneous crises. In this context, the leaders of the Americas should take advantage of this Summit to exchange views, bridge differences and commit to action. The continent cannot afford to wait four years for the next Summit to act.
In collaboration with:
Diego Rivera Rivota, Research Associate at Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.
 United Nations Environment Programme and Climate and Clean Air Coalition (2021). Global Methane Assessment: Benefits and Costs of Mitigating Methane Emissions. Nairobi: United Nations Environment Programme.
 2021. BP statistical review of world energy (2021). 70th ed. London: British Petroleum, pp.46-51.