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What a difference 20 years can make. Twenty years ago, I was the World Bank point person organizing a response to the Houston G7 Summit's mandate to the bank and what was then called the European Community or EC to devise an Amazon forest protection program.

The resulting Amazon initiative was a compromise between the Germans, who wanted a broader G7 push on climate change, and the Americans (Bush 41) who didn't. Of course no one even asked the Brazilians (or Peruvians or Bolivians or other Amazon countries) -- this was before the rich countries and the multilaterals discovered the concept of local "ownership" and psychological eons before a G-20 put Brazil at the summit table.

A reasonable program was eventually cobbled together which the Brazilians accommodated (perhaps tolerated is the right word). But like so many donor-financed and supplied efforts lacking local demand, it evidently left little mark.

Times have changed. Dramatically. Yesterday here in Davos I heard three heads of state from Latin America seize leadership on "green" issues. Here are several more or less direct quotes from their remarks:

  • Latin America can lead the world in low-cost biofuels
  • We will not allow the Kyoto mistake -- leaving forests aside -- to be repeated at Copenhagen
  • We are innovating on incentives for behavioral change -- and scaling up a successful program to change consumer behavior (concerning switching to energy-efficient appliances)
  • Green development and social development must and can go together
  • We will put together a Green Fund with country contributions tied to income per capita and emissions per capita (what a good idea -- the emissions part!)
  • We have to create economic incentives -- get coal cost and forest value reflected in prices (my econospeak translation of what was actually said)
  • We welcome Obama's commitment but we rely on our own leadership

What changed in the last 20 years? I would say: the science, the vanishing ice caps and other symptoms; the success of economic policymaking in Latin America and resulting price stability; and in most countries in the region two decades of democracy, rising educational levels, and civic activism; plus globalization and interdependence -- with their hefty mix of openness and vulnerability.

Disclaimer

CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.