CO2 emissions from the energy sector and renewable sources in Latin America and the Caribbean

Jaime Gallego

CO2 emissions from the energy sector in Latin America and the Caribbean

CO2 emissions from the energy sector represent about 65% of the total greenhouse gases caused by human activities. Some estimates suggest that approximately 40% of total CO2 emissions are attributed to the energy sector (IPCC, 2019), which includes activities such as the production of fuel, natural gas and the generation of electricity for industrial and domestic consumption.

In Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), energy production has had an increase in electricity consumption. According to the data consulted on the World Bank platform, from 1980 to 2014 there was an increment of approximately 112% in the average consumption of electrical energy per capita. A similar behavior to that of the levels of CO2 emissions, which during the same period showed an increase of about 106%, suggesting a possible influence of electricity consumption in the generation of CO2 emissions.

Source: Own elaboration based on World Bank, 2014

However, when particular cases in the LAC region such as Mexico and Brazil are analyzed, it is observed that, although they present the highest levels of CO2 emissions, the trend in energy consumption is lower compared to other countries in the region such as Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, that even if they register high trends in energy consumption, their levels of CO2 emissions are relatively low.

Source: Own elaboration based on World Bank, 2014 

In some Latin American countries such as Chile, there is a high use of solar and wind energy for the production of electricity, being one of the most attractive countries in the world to invest in renewable energies (BlombergNEF, 2019). The above suggests that the generation of electricity from renewable sources is an alternative to reduce CO2 emissions without compromising the supply of energy, as indicated by goal 7.a of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 “Affordable and clean energy”:

7.a By 2030 enhance international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research and technologies, including renewable energy, energy efficiency, and advanced and cleaner fossil fuel technologies, and promote investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technologies.

Context of renewable energies in LAC

According to figures from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), approximately 75% of electricity generation in Latin America and the Caribbean is produced from alternative sources such as solar, geothermal, wind, biomass and hydroelectric, the latter being the one that represents 80% of renewable energy production (IRENA, 2020).

However, the use of renewable energies in the region has been declining. According to data from the World Bank, the percentage of electricity production from renewable energies has been reduced by 30% during 1990 – 2014. Some of the causes attributed to this behavior have been the regulatory barriers that hinder the transition processes towards energy integration in the countries, as well as advances in innovation and technological development that have occurred at a very slow pace (ECLAC, 2013).

Source: Own elaboration based on World Bank, 2014 

Consequently, the downward in the use of renewable sources for electricity generation may be the cause of the progressive increase in CO2 emissions from the energy sector in the LAC region. Only during 1990 to 2014, the percentage of electricity production from renewable sources decreased by 19 pp, while for the same years, emission levels increased by 83.3%.

Source: Own elaboration based on World Bank, 2014 

Final thoughts 

  1. Given the growing energy demand in Latin America and the Caribbean, energy sources are a great alternative to guarantee the supply of electricity in the countries of the region, without detriment to environmental quality, and, especially, to contribute to the mitigation of  climate change by reducing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions.
  1. Sustainable Development Goal 7 (“Affordable and clean energy”), makes a call to national governments to incorporate renewable energy sources into their energy matrix. Energy transition can be a slow, costly and complex process in terms of the renewal of energy infrastructures. Entities in charge of the administration of energy resources in the countries of the region must assume this commitment. Otherwise, they could face consequences associated with energy crises due to the use of fossil fuels, and significant environmental impacts related to extreme weather events such as variations in temperature and rainfall.

About the author

Jaime Gallego

Environmental administrator with a postgraduate degree in environmental engineering and experience as a consultant in environmental economics, economic valuation of environmental services; He has worked as a project coordinator in the area of environmental economic evaluation for intervention projects, associated with infrastructure, mining, hydrocarbon exploitation, among others.