Media Center



October 15, 2008 - Washington, DC

Good evening and welcome to the Hall of the Americas. I would like to start by commending the spirit of collaboration among the OAS’ Department of Sustainable Development, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Poder magazine that has made this event possible. I would also like to praise NRDC for its wonderful work in the protection of the environment, and for its program "La Onda Verde." This program is certainly most useful in keeping the Latin American community abreast of the environmental issues of our nations.

Today we are celebrating the commitment of governments, businesses and the environment community toward a sustainable future. Both the OAS and its Member States have a long-standing commitment to the sustainability of the region. Over the past decade, the OAS has designed and implemented critical programs and projects to help create the conditions where sustainable energy – renewables and efficiency – take hold.
In June 2007, the OAS Member States, gathered in Panama for our General Assembly. At that time the countries approved the Declaration on Energy for Sustainable Development in which they committed to take additional steps in pursuit of sustainable energy solutions.

Sustainable development is without any doubt at the front and center of the issues and concerns of the countries of the Americas. It is a well established fact that society as a whole, including individuals, businesses, and governments, share the burden of meeting the numerous challenges of sustainable development. The critical importance of implementing successful strategies that benefit current and future generations cannot be over-emphasized and requires the involvement of all sectors of society.

The Americas boast abundant natural resources. The region accounts for the world’s greatest repository of biological diversity, vast freshwater reserves, and an enormous potential for renewable energy generation. For this reason, we must not allow ourselves to ignore one the greatest dangers to ever threaten our region’s environment: global warming.

Scientists are predicting with a high degree of probability that carbon dioxide emissions caused by the consumption of fossil fuels is destroying the region’s habitat at alarming rates. According to the assessment released in late 2007 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), warming of the climate system is unequivocal. The air and the oceans of the planet are getting warmer, polar icecaps are melting and sea levels are rising. In the Caribbean, tidal increases are expected to exacerbate flooding, storm surge, erosion and other coastal hazards, thus threatening vital infrastructure, settlements and facilities that support the livelihood of the region’s communities. If the current rate of carbon dioxide emissions persists, by mid-century, climate change may reduce the region’s water resources to the point where they become insufficient to meet demand during low-rainfall periods.

According to another report published in June 2008 by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), warmer seas and a record hurricane season in 2005 have devastated more than half of the coral reefs in the Caribbean. As you are aware, coral reefs are an important part of the marine ecosystem and support about 25% of all marine life. While Caribbean nations are highly susceptible to the devastating effects of global warming, they produce only a tiny fraction of global greenhouse gas emissions. This unfair situation demands that major emitters of greenhouse gases take prompt and decisive action to curb their destructive and life-threatening practices.

With regard to energy, despite Latin America’s extraordinary abundance of natural resources, the fact remains that some 50 million people, most of them poor or living in remote rural areas or sprawling shanty towns and slums, lack access to reliable, affordable electricity. The human health impacts for families struggling to make a living in these conditions are unacceptable.

The use of renewables is nothing new in this hemisphere. Hydropower has been an important part of the energy mix in the Americas for many years. In Brazil hydropower provides for approximately 85% of the electricity needs. But the region displays a wide diversity of renewable natural resources such as solar, wind, geothermal, ocean, and biomass, which may also be converted into clean energy in the form of electricity or liquid transportation fuels such as ethanol and bio-diesel. Reducing the region’s dependence on fossil fuels must become a priority among our nations. The OAS is working with the OAS Member States in achieving this purpose

Experience has demonstrated that energy serves as a tool for progress. The region needs to gain access to modern and reliable technologies that provide for the needs of its expanding economies and growing populations. Energy can be used for basic human needs, as well as to generate productive activities that promote poverty alleviation. Sustainable development must be the governing principle of the region’s energy policy.

At the technical level, the OAS is working tirelessly to promote partnerships that bring the lessons of innovative sustainable energy projects in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Peru to other nations of the region. Working with the Ministry of Education in Guatemala, we are currently bringing electricity, lights, and computers to off-grid schools with the use of solar panels.

The time has come for creative thinking and for a change in development and energy consumption ethics. The Latin American nations must act with a sense of stewardship and responsibility to ensure a prosperous and sustainable future. The expansion and diversification of the energy mix, energy efficiency, and energy cooperation and integration are some of the tools that the countries have at their disposal to foster energy security and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Let me therefore end with a sign of hope: the problems are enormous, and indeed unprecedented. The nations of the Americas have seized upon the urgency of these challenges, and have made commitments to move forward. Energy and sustainable development are clearly critical concerns for all the nations of our continent, whether large, small, rich or poor.

Let us not view the future of the region tainted by the old outdated policies of the past. We must use this occasion to rise to the challenge before us. We must take urgent and concerted action to ensure that energy uncertainty and unsustainable development practices do not throw our region’s prosperity into reverse. I am confident that together we can find solutions that will pave the way for energy security and sustainable development.

Thank you and welcome once again.