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Forging low emission development paths in Latin America & the Caribbean

This publication from the LEDS GP’s Subnational Integration Working Group and LEDS LAC investigates the multi-level dynamics, from local to national level, that underpin low emission action in LAC.
Multiple Authors
payal rastogi


Defining and implementing low emission development strategies (LEDS) across sectors and scales is a 21st century grand challenge, especially within the context of urbanization, climate change, and globalization. Within this grand challenge lies the opportunity to learn from regions such as Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), now the most urbanized region in the world as a result of 60 years of significant urban population growth and shift.

LEDS and GHG mitigation in general, play an important role in the effort to reduce current and future vulnerability to climate change; avoiding the one-step-forward, two-steps-back scenario. Trends of increasing emissions further exacerbate climate change and increase vulnerability. This not only undermines current adaptation activities— particularly those aimed at reducing exposure to specific climate factors, but also continually increases the need for more aggressive adaptation efforts, i.e. it widens the ‘adaptation gap’.

This report* from the LEDS GP’s Subnational Integration Working Group and LEDS LAC investigates the multi-level dynamics, from local to national level, that are underpinning low emission action and adaptation to climate change in the Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) region. This report presents an overview of low emission development trends in the region and compares country performances on key metrics, with the aim of disseminating information and facilitating discussions on accelerating and achieving nationally determined contributions (NDCs) for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and long term LEDS.

The shared development goal in this case is to identify, unlock, and implement transformational greenhouse gas mitigation and climate adaptation policies and actions, which are complementary to other national and local development priorities.

*Download the full text from the right-hand column.


The report aims to raise awareness and facilitate discussions on accelerating and achieving nationally determined contributions (NDCs) for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving resilience to climate change and long term low emission development strategies (LEDS).

Produced by the LEDS GP Subnational Integration Working Group, this report responds to a request at the fourth annual meeting of LEDS GP in the Dominican Republic in October 2015, where members asked for more comprehensive information on the associations between urbanization trends, greenhouse gas emissions, LEDS, and—more specifically—how city, regional, and national governments can improve collaboration to achieve NDCs.

It also complements the series LEDSinLAC and the ‘Policy Paper on Inter-institutional Coordination Mechanisms for an Effective Climate Policy in Latin America and the Caribbean,’ both prepared by the LEDS Regional Platform for Latin America and the Caribbean (LEDS LAC). LEDSinLAC 2016, released in January 2017, is the second edition of this initiative, which broadly maps and analyzes the state of LEDS in the LAC region.

Key messages

  • The relationship between the different levels of authority in a country is critical in determining both national and global capacity to govern and adapt to climate change.
  • Global population growth is being led by second and third tier cities in developing countries. While this presents new opportunities, it also brings profound, unfamiliar governance challenges.
  • While the total population of LAC increased by 185 million between 1990 and 2015, the total urban population increased by more than 189 million.
  • In the majority of the 48 countries analyzed, the percentage change in urban population since 1990 was greater than the percentage change in total population of the country. In some cases the difference is quite large. This has important implications for shifting governance dynamics.
  • Since 1990, the subregions of LAC have been rapidly urbanizing without delivering emission reductions. Carbon emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels and cement production are rising faster than the rate of urban population growth, which again is increasing faster than the rate of national population growth. This trend is especially evident in South America.
  • Cities and regions in LAC have not yet had notable influence on national climate governance frameworks. The approach and financing of climate policy has been characterized by an uncoordinated, top down approach.
  • Although multilevel governance and intersectoral collaboration towards domestic implementation of the NDCs and long term LEDS in LAC is still incipient, there are important examples of progress.

Overall, as a region, urbanization in LAC is not delivering reductions in CO2 emissions. And while GDP per capita is increasing, so are CO2 emissions per capita. In fact, since 1990 CO2 emissions per capita have more than doubled in 11 countries. Together, these trends highlight the importance of addressing the threat of locking in high greenhouse gas emission patterns for urban living and resource intensive lifestyles.

Nevertheless, despite these intimidating trends, there is a discernible mega-opportunity.

The gap between the NDCs in LAC and the numerous subnational climate action commitments of cities and provinces across the region can be viewed as an opening, ready to be informed by multilevel governance initiatives to improve the subnational integration of LEDS. This will create opportunities for bundled approaches and increase co-benefits by linking diverse local priorities and broad national development objectives. Multilevel governance approaches to subnational integration of climate targets can also help soften domestic political constraints to decarbonization, unlock latent potential, reduce fragmentation between subnational governments, harness synergies, facilitate the participatory design and implementation of domestic NDC trajectories, and even increase ambitions on NDCs. Together, these activities combine to create a more bankable, low risk financial environment for urban infrastructure finance; improved measurement, reporting, and verification; and more enforceable carbon limits.

Data Explorer

Relevant data on urbanization and CO2 emissions have been collated for this report in an effort to support discussions on multilevel governance and the subnational integration of LEDS. As well as providing insights for a better understanding of subnational/national contexts, the data are also valuable for comparing trends between different countries and regions. This can calibrate objectives and ambition levels, as well as identifying partners for learning and sharing best practices.

Towards this objective of creating a community of practice, this report includes a simple, web based Data Explorer ( that can be used to analyze current and historical relationships between population, urbanization, CO2 emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels and cement manufacturing, and GDP.

From the front cover of the report. Photo by

The Low Emission Development Strategies Global Partnership (LEDS GP) was founded in 2011 to enhance coordination, information exchange, and cooperation among countries and international programs working to advance low emission, climate resilient growth. LEDS GP currently brings together LEDS leaders and practitioners from more than 160 countries and international institutions through innovative peer to peer learning and collaboration via forums and networks. For the full list of participants and more information on partnership activities, see

For more information on the LEDS GP Subnational Integration Working Group and to get in touch, please visit

This report was written by:

  • Scott A. Muller, Greenhouse Gas Management Institute;
  • Jordan M. Harris, Adapt Chile;
  • Joshua Sperling, National Renewable Energy Lab, Urban Futures and the Energy-X Nexus; and
  • María José Gutiérrez, R.E. Responsabilidad y Estrategia Consultoría

Suggested Citation

Muller, S.A., Harris, J.M., Sperling, J. and Gutiérrez, M.J. (2017) Forging low emission development paths in Latin America. Low Emission Development Strategies Global Partnership.

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