Climate Capitals of Latin America and the Caribbean

1 September 2023 - // Features
Elizabeth Vergara
Metropolitan Environmental Management, CC35

Revolutionizing urban sustainability: CC35’s drive to reconnect Latin America’s capitals with nature.

Latin America and the Caribbean have experienced a series of social, economic, and environmental changes that have impacted the region’s relationship with its natural resources. During the pre-Columbian era, many indigenous civilizations maintained a close connection with nature, practicing sustainable agricultural techniques and valuing conservation and spirituality related to the natural environment.

The arrival of European colonizers in the 15th century produced a drastic change in the region’s relationship with its natural resources. The colonizers focused on the extraction and exploitation of resources, especially minerals such as gold and silver, to finance the development of the European colonial powers. This excessive exploitation had significant negative consequences, such as the destruction of ecosystems, the oppression of the indigenous population, and the introduction of diseases that decimated native communities.

In the following centuries, the region became a periphery of the world economy, characterized by the export of raw materials and the import of manufactured goods. This economic model, known as the “dependent development model”, deepened the disconnect between Latin America and the Caribbean and its natural wealth. The region’s economies depended largely on the intensive exploitation of natural resources, such as extensive agriculture, mining, and oil extraction, without developing industries that added value to these resources.

In the 20th century, social and political movements arose throughout the region seeking greater autonomy and social justice. Agrarian reforms were carried out in many countries to distribute land among peasants, and natural resources were nationalized to control their exploitation and benefit the local population. However, these processes met with resistance from powerful interests, both internal and external, that sought to maintain the region’s economic dependence.

Biological diversity map in Latin America and the Caribbean. Source: BID: Inter-American Development Bank

All these events enhanced people’s disconnection from nature not only by the rapid growth and development in cities but also by the contemporary human being’s dominance over it.  

Some of the causes are the exploitation of natural resources, deforestation in the Amazon region, and the contamination of rivers due to mining. This has raised concerns for the environmental preservation and protection of the rights of local communities. And it is important to highlight that there are significant efforts to promote conservation and a greater connection with nature in the region, through government initiatives, non-governmental organizations, and local communities. 

Now, why is it essential that these cities reconnect with their natural environment? Because by doing so they will guarantee sustainable development, a better quality of life for their inhabitants, protection of the environment, resilience in the face of the climate emergency, promotion of sustainable tourism, and cultural and spiritual connection. 

Today, the climate emergency represents a growing threat to the region, with extreme events such as hurricanes, droughts, and floods that disproportionately affect and endanger life on the planet, and notably the life of human beings. Therefore, cities in the region should prioritize reconnecting with nature and the benefits this can bring through the Capital Cities 35 (CC35) organization.

Google Earth photo of the Amazon.

The Americas and their individual commitments to climate change 

The region is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change due to its diversity of ecosystems, its dependence on natural resources, and its high proportion of the population living in vulnerable areas, such as coastal zones or regions prone to drought or floods. 

For these reasons, several countries in the Americas have adopted actions to address climate change and promote environmental sustainability. That is the case with international agreements such as the Paris Agreement. Brazil, for example, has made progress in renewable energy production through the expansion of hydropower and other countries have implemented forest protection and restoration policies, as well as biodiversity conservation programs to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and preserve the natural wealth of the region.  

Some cities in the region are implementing efficient mass transit systems and promoting the use of bicycles as a means of transportation. Resilient agricultural practices and the improvement of early warning systems for extreme weather events are also being promoted. 

Although Latin America has shown its commitment to climate change, challenges remain such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions more ambitiously, promoting social inclusion in mitigation and adaptation measures, and strengthening regional cooperation and financing. 

CC35: Climate integration through local diplomacy 

Capital Cities 35 (CC35) is the first climate initiative in Latin America that was created and promoted thanks to the leadership of Spanish-speaking capital cities. The coalition is made up of mayors from various cities in the Americas, who commit to reducing local greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening the resilience of cities in the region, and leading the climate agenda in the context of the Conference of the Parties (CoP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In addition, CC35 focuses on implementing the agreements established in the Paris Agreement and in the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda

The objective is to develop the region’s capacity to deal with climate change and this can be achieved through actions such as green financing, technical assistance, innovation, and the exchange of experiences. 

In the face of the climate emergency, humanity can no longer wait for national governments, it is time to guarantee a possible destination from the bottom up from the Americas. We cannot remain in the pages of history as accomplices in the destruction of this planet.

Sebastián Navarro, Secretary General of CC35

By facilitating dialogue and negotiation between different entities, local diplomacy contributes to support cooperation, understanding, and sustainable development at the regional level, as well as to the peaceful resolution of conflicts and the exchange of knowledge and experiences in areas of common interest. In an increasingly interconnected world, local diplomacy plays a crucial role in addressing regional challenges and building a more sustainable future. 

The region is exposed to climate impacts, such as rising temperatures, water scarcity, desertification, extreme weather events, and rising sea levels, however, the context of climate change allows the countries of the region to unite, promote effective actions, protect their natural resources and biodiversity, establish regional cooperation agreements and mechanisms, and actively participate in international negotiations. In this way, Latin America and the Caribbean can significantly contribute to global efforts to combat climate change and promote sustainable development in the region. 

Asuncion Paraguay Spanish 521.091
Basseterre St Kitts & Nevis English 47.606
Belmopan Belize English 20.000
Bogota Colombia Spanish 7.968.065
Brasilia Brazil Portuguese 3.094.325
Bridgetown Barbados English 110.000
Buenos Aires Argentina Spanish 3.136.968
Caracas Venezuela Spanish 3.136.968
Castries Saint Lucia English 30.000 (approx)
Georgetown Guyana English 200.000
Guatemala Guatemala Spanish 3.015.081
Habana Cuba Spanish 2.130.481
Kingston Jamaica English 585.000
Kingstown Saint Vincent & Grenadines English 24.906
Lima Peru Spanish 5.102.600
Managua Nicaragua Spanish 1.029.000
Mexico Mexico Spanish 22.804.515
Montevideo Uruguay Spanish 1.300.000
Nassau Bahamas English 274.400
Ottawa Canada English 1.400.000
Panama Panama Spanish 1.500.189
Paramaibo Suriname Dutch 604.165
Port au Prince Haiti French 987.000
Port of Spain Trinidad y Tobago English 442.579
Quito Ecuador Spanish 2.827.106
Roseau Dominica English 72.412
Saint George’s Grenada English 33.000 (approx)
Saint John’s Antigua & barbuda English 22.000 (approx)
San Jose Costa Rica Spanish 1.661.547 (2020)
San Salvador El Salvador Spanish 17.000
Santiago Chile Spanish 8.058.416
Santo Domingo Dominican Republic Spanish 450.000 (approx)
Sucre Bolivia Spanish 949.252
Tegucigalpa Honduras Spanish 1.125.025
Washington, D.C. United States English 6.385.162
Table of CC35, the capitals and their inhabitants

For CC35, the alliances and dialogues of the mayors are fundamental and important to carry out green projects that combat climate change through resilience, mitigation, and adaptability A significant case is the technical assistance of the Forum of Local Environmental Authorities, which sought to promote a socially just post-pandemic green transition through local diplomacy. 

Rapprochement of the city with nature

In the face of the climate emergency, the 35 capitals part of CC35 propose to reconnect cities with nature based on 2 axes: 

Decarbonization and conservation are essential to connect cities and nature, with mutual benefits. By reducing carbon emissions, climate change and its negative impacts on ecosystems are mitigated – especially in cities that emit large amounts due to their population density and economic activity.  

CC35 and its axis of work together with the 35 Capitals in the face of the climate emergency. Source: CC35

Embracing cleaner technologies and practices, such as renewable energy and sustainable transportation, create healthy and sustainable environments. The protection of biodiversity by connecting natural areas promotes the conservation of endangered species and maintains the ecological balance in urban areas, improving the quality of life and mental and physical health. Decarbonization and conservation strengthen the resilience of cities in the face of climate change, reducing the risk of extreme events and taking advantage of the ecosystem services of natural ecosystems. 

That is the purpose of CC35 and its commitment to conciliation with nature through different programs: 

  • Jurisdictional or government programs that propose a green+ approach refer to promoting green in urban areas. This financing program’s purpose is conserving biodiversity, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting renewable energies, and sustainable management of natural resources, among others. 
  • Carbon parks are designated land areas used to conserve or restore ecosystems with the goal of absorbing and storing atmospheric carbon. And they can include forests, wetlands, mangroves, or other natural ecosystems that have a high carbon sequestration capacity within cities. 
  • From zero zone to zero carbon is an aid project for Haiti  whose purpose is a set of measures that seek to reduce carbon emissions to zero, through the implementation of policies and actions that promote sustainability and environmental protection. 
  • Choosing Quito as Green Capital of the Americas implies that the city has implemented successful policies and programs to protect the environment, preserve natural areas, encourage eco-efficiency, and promote sustainable development. The city may have adopted measures such as reducing carbon emissions, promoting renewable energy, proper waste management, protecting green spaces, and environmental education. This recognition not only highlights Quito’s efforts in environmental conservation but can also increase the visibility and attractiveness of the city as a tourist destination, since its commitment to sustainability and the protection of the natural environment is recognized. 

Turning every capital into “green capital” is an objective and desire of CC35.  

Finally, the cultures of indigenous peoples must be claimed and recognized as these communities have historically been stewards of the earth and have a deep understanding of and respect for the environment. Incorporating their knowledge and traditions into efforts to become a “green capital” can be a way to honor your ancestral connection to nature and learn from its wisdom. 

The importance of this axis of CC35, where governments, communities, and individuals work together in this common objective of “green capitals” is to reconnect with nature. The transition towards greener and more sustainable cities implies changes in urban planning, infrastructure, transport, energy, and lifestyles. 

If every capital in Latin America and the Caribbean commits to becoming a “green capital” hand in hand with CC35, it can have a significant impact on climate change mitigation and environmental conservation. In addition, a powerful message of leadership and hope would be sent regionally and globally. 

Elizabeth Vergara
Metropolitan Environmental Management, CC35

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