Latin America's Energy Transition: Time for a Breakthrough?

Americas Quarterly launched its new issue about optimism in the region by discussing clean energy opportunities and challenges.


  • Mauricio Cárdenas, Professor of Professional Practice in Global Leadership at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs; Director, MPA in Global Leadership; Global Senior Research Fellow at Columbia's Center on Global Energy Policy; and former Minister of Finance and of Energy, Colombia 
  • Luisa Palacios, Senior Research Scholar, Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University SIPA; Adjunct Professor, Columbia University SIPA; and former Chairwoman, Citgo Petroleum Corporation 
  • José Enrique Arrioja, Managing Editor, Americas Quarterly (moderator)

"Latin America is today—in terms of its power grid, in terms of its electricity matrix—where the rest of the world wants to be," said Luisa Palacios of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University during a program entitled, "Latin America's Energy Transition: Time for a Breakthrough?

This in-person event launched Americas Quarterly's latest special report, A (Relatively) Bullish Case for Latin America. Palacios spoke with Mauricio Cárdenas, a former minister of energy in Colombia, and José Enrique Arrioja, the managing editor of Americas Quarterly, about the region's clean energy potential and missed investment opportunities.

A (Relatively) Bullish Case for Latin America

Palacios noted different factors that set the region apart from the rest of the world regarding clean energy. For example, 60 percent of Latin America's power is currently sourced from renewable energy, whereas the world average is 30 percent. Cárdenas added that some countries in Latin America, such as Paraguay, generate 100 percent of their electricity from hydropower. He also said carbon sequestration is more feasible in Latin America than in other regions due to the presence Amazon.

Despite access to clean energy, Latin America is not taking full advantage of its assets, agreed the speakers. “We're not transforming that electricity into the goods and services that the world needs [to be] produced without a large carbon footprint," said Cárdenas. Palacios added different ways to finance the energy transition in Latin America. One way is investing in mitigation and adaptation, which would prepare the region for the grave effects of climate change.