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Empowering all: The just energy transition in Latin America

We explore cities across Latin America that are taking accelerated action to cut demand for fossil fuels and lead a just transition to clean and affordable energy.

© Marcelo Nacinovic / Getty Images
© Marcelo Nacinovic / Getty Images

Cities are driving the just energy transition, with three-quarters of C40 cities with sufficient data cutting per capita emissions faster than their respective nation-states.

C40 research shows that fossil gas is responsible for 20% of the world’s energy-related CO2 emissions and cannot be considered a viable bridge between coal and renewables. Indeed, gas is often as polluting as coal when leaks are taken into account.

C40 cities across the region recognise that renewables are cheaper than fossil fuels and can deliver significant economic gains. Every US$1 million invested in residential retrofits and solar generates six times as many jobs as fossil gas power plants.

Here, we look at the actions Latin American cities are taking to speed up the phase-out of fossil fuels, create good, green jobs, and put residents first in the energy transition.

Powering Rio de Janeiro with clean energy

Rio de Janeiro is the first city in Brazil to purchase 100% renewable energy from the free market in an award-winning power purchase agreement for their municipal buildings. As well as promoting renewable energy, the deal will reduce city hall’s energy bill by 50%, representing savings of around US$1 million per year. The city is now pursuing another agreement for the 25 municipal hospitals with the highest energy consumption and sharing their knowledge with other cities across Brazil. 

In another win for renewable energy, the city is introducing a shared solar power generation system to one of the city’s poorest communities, the Babilonia favela, where residents suffer high electricity prices and poor grid services. So far, the generation of more than 100,000 kWh of renewable energy has avoided more than 10 tonnes of CO2, generated more than BRL 90,000 (roughly US$20,000) savings on energy bills, and trained dozens of residents as electricians and solar installers.

With the support of the C40 Cities Finance Facility (CFF), Rio de Janeiro’s Carioca Solarium programme is installing solar units in existing completed landfill sites as a solution to the lack of space and to achieve energy autonomy for the municipal administration. In partnership with local communities, Rio is working to deliver 3,500 jobs through this project alone, supported by gender and needs analyses to target jobs to marginalised groups, including Afro-descendent women.

Transforming a landfill into a solar farm in Curitiba

In March 2023, Curitiba officially launched its Solar Pyramid, a landmark project representing the first solar plant built on a former landfill in Latin America, which was supported by C40’s CFF.

The Solar Pyramid project has been an outstanding success for the city and serves as an example to cities across Brazil and Latin America of how to deliver clean, affordable energy while reducing a city’s dependence on the urban energy grid, often reliant on fossil fuels. Curitiba sources almost the entirety of its energy from hydroelectric power, but due to frequent droughts, the city has to rely on fossil gas and coal plants to supplement energy shortages.

The Solar Pyramid project has delivered 8MW of installed energy capacity across Curitiba’s bus stations and landfill sites. It is expected to reduce CO2 emissions by 90,000 tonnes from 2020 to 2050. These emission reductions are equivalent to taking over 20,000 cars off the road for a year and will generate over US$500,000 in annual savings from replacing electricity usually purchased from the grid with solar energy production.

Creating a more resilient Mexico City with renewable energy

As part of the Ciudad Solar programme, Mexico City is looking to install 787,000 m2 of solar panels in residential and commercial buildings by 2024. The city is aiming to reach this ambitious target by implementing mandatory installations in new residential and commercial buildings.

The Ciudad Solar project also aims to introduce small- to medium-scale solar developments, including photovoltaic (PV) roofs in public buildings, initiatives for small and medium-sized companies, and training on solar technologies.

Across the region, mayors are putting people at the heart of the transition away from fossil fuels and towards clean energy, ensuring no one is left behind.



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