Sixth Annual Report on Regional Progress and Challenges in Latin America and the Caribbean

By Alejandro Angulo

The report specifies six sustainable development goals (SDGs): 

SDG 6 guarantees the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. The conclusion is that Latin America and the Caribbean are out of alignment with the trajectory necessary to achieve the SDGs. As of 2020, 161 million people still did not have access to safely managed drinking water, and 431 million people did not have access to safely managed sanitation.

It is estimated that 25% of the rivers in Latin America are affected by severe pathogenic contamination. Monthly concentrations of fecal coliform bacteria are greater than 1,000 units per 100ml (United Nations Environment Programs [UNEP], 2016), a direct effect of the lack of sewage treatment. It has been estimated that an annual investment boost in water infrastructure is needed, equivalent to 1.3% of regional GDP for 10 years. This would make it possible, under current conditions, to universalize access to managed drinking water and sanitation without risks. It would thus fulfill the human right to these services, with multiple socioeconomic and environmental benefits (from the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean [ECLAC], 2021b).

ECLAC has determined the necessary investment for water treatment and methane recovery systems. Power generation and self-consumption plants are needed—75 in cities of intermediate size (300,000-2.3 million inhabitants), spread over Latin American countries. Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Peru would all have a positive cost-benefit ratio, and this action would decrease plant operating costs by approximately 40% and methane emissions by 86%. The region will almost certainly not reach SDG 6 by 2030 unless immediate actions are taken, investments are made, and institutions and governance are improved.

SDG 7 guarantees access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all. Latin America and the Caribbean show substantial progress in terms of compliance with SDG 8 Access to electricity energy services is relatively high and the proportion of energy from renewable sources in the energy matrix increased significantly. Even so, it remains highly based on fossil fuels, and vulnerable to external shocks. Multidimensional energy poverty still persists and there is a lag in energy efficiency in almost all sectors. And yet, all these regional challenges present opportunities for transformation that must be addressed immediately.

SDG 9 proposes building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and encouraging innovation. Although the manufacturing industry will continue to play an important role in productive development policies, it is essential to design strategies that cover all productive sectors. Modern industrial policies must focus on transformations driven by environmental transition and the digital revolution. This is to be led by the highly sophisticated modern services sector, with a view to adequately responding to the challenges that these transformations imply. It will be necessary to adopt productive policies aimed at transformation and diversification, sustain them over time, and strengthen the capacities of the state to design and implement effective policies.

SDG 11 makes cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. Latin America and the Caribbean was the first region in the developing world to face an intense process of urban growth. It is estimated that, by 2030, 86.5% of the population of South America will live in cities, making it the most urbanized region of the developing world. In the Caribbean and Central America, as well as in Mexico, meanwhile, 76.2% and 78.5% of the population, respectively, reside in cities, which confirms that in the region, the problems and the solutions have a mostly urban tone.

Urban sprawls expand on many occasions beyond the needs of the population. They do not guarantee spatially integrated social housing and waste the benefits of urban valorization to finance investments in infrastructure. Although the trend is correct, progress is too slow for the goal to be reached by 2030. The population living in precarious settlements is a situation inherent to urban growth in the region, which has decreased in relative terms. However, this progress has been stagnant, and the future scenario is worrisome. Access to quality and sustainable public mobility is one of the great challenges of the region. The loss of time and the consequent negative repercussions on the quality of life and productivity have a disproportionate impact on low-income households.SDG 17 strengthens the means of implementation and revitalizes the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development. An important restriction facing Latin American countries and the Caribbean is the limitations of external resources due to their classification as middle-income countries. The main challenge is to take a long-term approach and generate state strategies that look beyond specific administrative periods of government.