Regional Director for Latin America – C40


Manuel Olivera serves as the Regional Director for Latin American cities at C40. In this position Manuel has supported several projects aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions including methane capture at landfills; traffic light LED retrofitting; diesel fuel quality improvement; and the implementation of the Hybrid Electric Bus Test Programme in Latin America. Manuel has more than 30 years of professional experience at both national and international levels leading multidisciplinary groups, assessing high level decision making, and ensuring programmatic success across several environmental fields.

In this interview by our Strategic Advisor for Resilience and International Cooperation, Helena Monteiro, Manuel talks about how cities are using their Climate Action Plans to generate an inclusive and green recovery after Covid-19 pandemic.

As cities in Latin America start recovering from COVID-19 they are launching their climate action plans. What do you see as the new trends and priorities for the region?

In Latin America there is a strong willingness to recover from the pandemic and to use climate change as one of the backbones for this process. The climate action plans that almost all the C40 cities in Latin America have are focused on the green and just recovery from the pandemic. Many things are also happening in terms of implementation of the climate action plans. In each of the cities, most of the plans have been launched and at the same time they are implementing activities, for instance, Bogotá has more than 1400 electric buses awarded, and more than 400 running, and Chile is totally committed to transform its fleet and moving in that direction. C40 is working with several cities, helping them to speed up the implementation of their climate action plans. One key subject this year is arriving to COP26 with all the commitments on board, with at least 1000 cities around the world, and we are expecting more than 100 in Latin America.

Can you name a few projects that C40 is supporting either on the project preparation or in its implementation?

Public transport is one of the main priorities of most of the top cities in Latin America. So one of the areas in which we are working, for instance, in Bogota is in the Climate Emergency Act implementation that was enacted by the city earlier this year. The city is planning to stop buying fossil fuel buses from January 1st 2022, and we are working in the way to make this happen because, of course, it might have some financial challenges. So we are evaluating how to tackle those challenges.

Simultaneously, Salvador de Bahia wants to have 480 new kilometers of bike lanes, and they are struggling on how to implement them. So we are analyzing how to help them move fast enough in that direction. The pandemic fostered the increase in the length of the bike paths in Latin America. Many cities are moving fast in that line, and Salvador has very interesting targets.

So there are many ambitious projects that are on the move, and C40 is helping cities to make them a reality, thanks also to the project ZEBRA (Zero Emission Bus Rapid-deployment Accelerator) that aims to accelerate the deployment of zero emission buses in major Latin American cities by overcoming political, technical and financial barriers to this market transition.

Transportation is a great priority for the region, and there is an opportunity for a mass expansion in electric mobility. Can you tell us more about that and which are the cities working with C40 that are leading this commitment to electrify their fleet?

Sao Paulo is receiving support via ZEBRA: we are working with the Secretary of Mobility and SPTrans in order to find a good financial model to help the bus operators that own the 18,000 bus fleet to speed up the transition to a zero emissions fleet. There is already a pilot on electric buses which we are tracking and bringing investors to, like EnelX. That means that the operators don’t need to go for a credit line in a bank, they already have EnelX that wants to get involved in the business, putting money upfront and helping in this transition.

Also in Salvador, C40 is working hand in hand with the Secretary of Mobility; they want to have a BRT as the 1st 100% zero emissions in the world. Santiago has an open tender, and that is going to tell us how many electric buses are finally going to be on the road in a year time when the other tender for operators get in place. Then there is going to be a match between the operators and the bus suppliers.

Guadalajara just awarded 38 electric buses in a fast tender. Other projects involve solar panels, which are very interesting. Curitiba is ready to start the tender for that project, Rio is willing to close the loop and start with the implementation of the project, probably during the second part of the year. And in Bogota, Bucaramanga, Monteria and Cali, with the finance facility of C40, we helped structuring projects for public bikes, so three of these projects might occur this year, and we are going to have several 1000 new public bikes running on the streets.

C40 is committed to working with local governments who were the first ones to get the hit from climate change. But you mentioned working with different cities of the same countries. Do you lead any work with the national governments to support the work that you’re doing in this cities? Do you and the city diplomacy team do this connection on national strategies?

We do. We are connected thanks to the support of the diplomacy team in C40 and the work we do in the regions. We work, for instance, with the secretary of Economy in Mexico City and we are supporting them in a project to bring investors to produce zero emissions cars, buses and trucks in Mexico. 70% of the total production of that kinds of vehicles goes abroad.

We are working with the Colombian government in terms of the race to zero. We are working hand in hand with them and with the British Embassy to help cities get prepared to raise to zero so they can present their commitments and their advances in COP26.

Can you talk a little bit about climate inclusive action and the benefits of investing in climate resilience, as strong projects to the benefit of the population and how you can influence this project to be more inclusive?

First of all, all the climate action plans need to be inclusive in order to get our stamp. We’ve verified that the plan itself and the actions of the plans are green, just and inclusive.

The second thing is that we have discussed and highlighted the message with the cities that every action needs to be inclusive. We ask how inclusive transport is, which is an easy case, but in other actions it’s a little bit more difficult to define what it means to be inclusive. But we have an answer and we have the cities to do it in a proper way.

Besides that action of inclusion, the green new deal that we are supporting all over the world, in practical terms, means inclusive, decent, green and long term jobs. So creation of jobs is part of the main strategy for inclusion. We know that with actions in climate, it’s possible to create around 15 million new jobs in Latin America, and all those jobs need to be inclusive. And when we are talking about green jobs, we are not talking about Green Wash; we need to know that those jobs are really green. So we give the cities some indicators for them to know when the job is green and where it’s just business institution.

That’s the theory. In practical terms, half of the population in the cities has an informal job. And having an informal job is a huge challenge for the recovery from the pandemic, for transforming the jobs into an inclusive and decent job.,bringing private sector in the city to invest and create jobs. Curiously, some unions are saying that the transition to zero emission buses is going to kill jobs. Turns out that the enormous fleet of buses and cars that are today, are going to need maintenance for 10 to 20 years in many cities. So jobs are going to be there for good. But we are creating more jobs for new buses, for new cars that are demanding new kind of preparation, new kind of employees in some places, and, especially, new kind of expertise. So we need to train people.

What is special about Latin America? What are the main struggles that we have to implement the climate action plans in there? And what are the opportunities?

Poverty is a starting point. We know that the pandemic was a step backwards in terms of leaving the poverty situation in Latin America. We have 22 million new poor people in Latin America or people that were going out of the poverty and had additional income but now they are getting back to poverty. This is a huge challenge in the region, but it doesn’t mean that solving those 22 million it’s good enough. Poverty is a huge issue anyways in the region, and it’s expressed in the informality, which in many countries and mainly cities goes up to 60% of the jobs in the city. That’s a huge challenge as well.

Then, basic education is there but skills are not competitive considering the skills that the world is demanding. So if we want to bring investors to Latin-Americans cities, investors look for the skills that they need. Otherwise they will go somewhere else. The skills that are being demanded are behind what the investors are required. So the cities and the country’s governments need to do a huge work in terms of preparing more people for what the market is demanding. The opportunities are there because investors, I mean, money is around the world in huge amounts. The only problem is that the money is not placed where we need: in the productive activity in the cities. In the cities where we are working with in the countries in Latin America, we need more investors and we have the market. But the market is good in Latin America only if the people have enough income to buy for the demand. So the message is: ‘governments, you need to buy or electric cars or electric transportation. Forget the others, prefer that line of products.

There is an opportunity with COVID-19 and a lot of recovery stimulus packages coming from the big funders. What would be the main criteria for cities to take a hold of these packages? Which cities do you think are more prepared to receive these funding and are ready to start implementing?

I think all C40 cities in Latin America are very well prepared to receive this support. And they are actually asking desperately to receive more funding from their national governments and from multilateral banks, which is an issue, I mean: more debt and no city has the money to keep paying the usual debt. So more debt as it used to be it’s not the best way to support the cities. Investors need to see from a closer position, how the cities are doing and how good is to invest hand in hand with the cities because that’s where the money is. So if you want to talk about public transport, take the risk. Talking with EnelX about a fantastic small project in Monteria, which is a riverside city that has evolved in a marvelous way, the city wants the transition of the public transport, and part of this public transport is on the river. The mayor accepted our idea of making this transport 20 large boats zero emissions. So we talked to EnelX and they got excited because they have a similar project in Venetia, and there is another project like that in Ecuador. So everybody’s getting excited. If this happens, it’s going to make a huge transformation for everyone, and it’s going to be a showcase.

C40 can elevate the work done in cities to a global scenario of good practices, connecting to the private sector.

Sometimes you see Latin America quite behind. But sometimes you see that Latin America is quite ahead. It has shown the road to most of the cities in the world on how public transport must evolve. 20 something years ago, we showed that a BRT like the Bogota system was an option and the World Bank was against. But suddenly the bank saw that the system was working and they got on board on this kind of projects. Now we are moving fast into zero emission public transport, and the world is seeing that Bogota has 1485 buses awarded with more than 400 running already. No other city in the world outside China has this amount of buses in the city ready to move on within the next year. We are talking about taxi caps. We are planning to start the transition taxicabs in many cities in Latin America, we are talking about private cars, and we are fostering the transition into a new model of mobility. We are fostering bikes and public bikes. We are fostering the increase of the safe space for bikers. And we are working through Latin America and showing the results moving ahead. We have no city yet as Copenhagen in terms of bikes. But we learned from that, and Latin America is showing the world that we are moving in such a way that even Houston is proud of having a few miles of bikes in a city where nobody was expecting to have bikes as a means of transport. So inspiration from Latin America is growing. We need to show better the cases. We need to have more space for our mayors to show how they are doing, what are their ambitions. And that’s the reason why Latin America is going to arrive to COP26 with very good news in which we are working.

Priscila Petersen

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