- Population (2019): 11,513,100 (ranked 81st globally)
- GDP per capita (2019): US$ 3,360 (ranked 122nd globally)
- Emissions (2019): 24.5 million tonnes (ranked 80th globally)
Pledges & Targets
- Paris Agreement & NDC: Bolivia’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), last updated in May 2016, targets the following:
- Mitigate the effects of climate change to eradicate extreme poverty by 2025 and reduce moderate poverty to 13.4% by 2030
- Energy Goals: Increased participation of renewable energy to 79% by 2030 from 39% in 2010.
- Conservation Goals: Increase the total surface of reforested areas to 4.5 million hectares by 2030, with 6 million hectares as the estimated result.
State of Affairs
Bolivia recognises that mitigating the effects of climate change is necessary to its long-term economic development. However, the political economy of Bolivia places it in a complicated position with regards to the international community and its reliance on international finance.
Bolivia’s hydrocarbon industry was affected by neoliberal reforms supported by the IMF and World Bank in the mid-1990’s. Formerly state-owned hydrocarbon companies were broken up and auctioned off to foreign companies without the assumption that they would pay for the company shares, but rather through an equal investment of capital over seven years. The hydrocarbon industry was subsequently semi-nationalised under former President Evo Morales (2005-2019) of the Movement for Socialism (MAS) party. Foreign companies were made to enter into minority partnerships with the Bolivian state-owned hydrocarbon company, YPFB. This alienation of international companies also hurt Bolivia’s diplomatic ties with countries whose corporations had a stake in Bolivian resources.
The main sectors of the Bolivian economy are services, agriculture, and industry with a focus on mining. In 2015, approximately 29.4% of the Bolivian workforce was employed in agriculture, 22% in broadly-defined industry, and 48.6% in the service sector. However, according to 2017 estimates, agriculture only accounted for 13.8% of the Bolivian GDP, whereas industry and services accounted for 37.8% and 48.2%, respectively. Industrial production is therefore crucial to the Bolivian economy, and presents a potential challenge to the country’s goal to transition its energy market towards renewable and enacting its conservation goals due to the high environmental impact of this sector.
Bolivia has the world’s largest known quantity of lithium resources, rare Earth metals crucial to building everything from solar panels to electric vehicles. However, a very small portion of these are extractable at an economically viable price with our current technologies. Chile has the world’s largest extractable lithium reserves, but due to their restrictions on international mining operations, Australia is the world’s largest lithium producer. Some of the world’s most powerful economies, such as South Korea, China, and Japan are among the world’s largest consumers of lithium, which is used to fuel their high-tech production industries. This means that most of the international investment in lithium mining goes elsewhere. As broadly-defined research and development only accounted for 0.15% of Bolivia’s GDP (2009) Bolivia is incentivised to pursue economic development through maintaining their involvement in mining of other metals such as tin, and through hydrocarbon exports, which accounted for 34% of Bolivia’s exports (2018).
For MAS and the Bolivian indigenous population, poverty eradication and environmentalism are not mutually exclusive; economic growth can be pursued and equitably redistributed while protecting environmental rights. However, it is unclear how Bolivia plans to implement renewable energies in line with their energy goal. Breaking away from fossil fuels and attaining 79% renewable energy seems to run contradictory to another pledge in Bolivia’s NDC, which is to increase industrialisation in the hydrocarbon and mining sectors.
The other major point in Bolivia’s NDC is their conservation goal – to increase the total reforested area of Bolivia to at least 4.5 million hectares (45,000km2) by 2030, with their upper-end estimate being 6 million hectares. This was delivered in conjunction with pledges to combat and eradicate illegal deforestation by 2030.
Bolivia faces obstacles to its energy and conservation goals. Their climate targets are heavily contingent on international support and financing, in large part due to the high levels of poverty still present in Bolivia, despite seeing large improvements in living conditions since 2005. Bolivia’s current economic state of affairs did not develop in a vacuum. Their economic situation, shaped by centuries of exploitative colonial and neo-colonial relations, impacts their political and environmental policy goals, yet also hinders their ability to attain them. Due to the position of power and popular support that MAS retains along with their socialist-leaning platform resulting from this historical context, the prospect of substantial international aid to Bolivia seems unlikely.
Bolivia maintains that it values international support and collaboration towards mitigating the effects of climate change. Since 2013, Bolivia has rejected American foreign aid, which amounted to US$2 billion between 1964-2013. However, it also seems unlikely that Bolivia will meet their pledges laid out in their NDC without international aid. This places Bolivia in a seemingly contradictory dilemma where they both seek international aid, but also are selective on who they receive aid from. This prompts the question of whether or not Bolivia should be held accountable for failing to meet their NDC pledges. Given the history of MAS breaking economic ties with capitalist nations as well as rejecting strings-attached loans from the IMF, often one of the only major sources of development aid, it seems as though Bolivia is seeking to assert sovereignty, rather than simply being selective about funding. Therefore, Bolivia should not come under harsh penalties and further isolation from the international community on the basis of their failure to meet their pledges.
Climate Readiness & Vulnerability
The ND-GAIN Country Index by the University of Notre Dame summarises a country’s vulnerability to climate change and other global challenges in combination with its readiness to improve resilience. The more vulnerable a country is, the lower their vulnerability score, while the more ready a country is to improve its resilience, the higher its readiness score will be, on a scale between 0 and 1. Bolivia’s scores are:
- Vulnerability: 0.468 (ranked 120th out of 182 ranked countries).
- Readiness: 0.291 (ranked 149th out of 182 ranked countries).
Bolivia’s geography is divided into three main regions: the Amazon lowland plains in the Northwest, the Andes plateau in the Southeast, and foothills dividing the two. Bolivia also has a large urban-rural divide amongst its population. This divide takes the form of a large difference in relative poverty levels and level of infrastructural development. Despite poverty in Bolivia having been drastically reduced over the period from 2004-2014, urban poverty was at 30.6% in 2014 (down from 54.4% in 2004), whereas rural poverty was at 57.6% in 2014 (down from 77.7% in 2004).
Rural, agricultural areas in Bolivia are at an increased susceptibility to drought, wildfires, and flooding due to climate change, placing the agricultural sector in an extremely precarious position. Bolivia’s agricultural sector is located primarily in the Amazon lowland plains in the east of the country, placing these rural regions at increased risk to natural disaster. Despite employing 29.4% of the Bolivian workforce, agricultural output only accounted for 13.8% of the Bolivian GDP.
Bolivia’s food vulnerability has also increased over the past decade, indicating that Bolivia’s agricultural sector is at great risk to the effects of climate change. Although Bolivia is an associated member state of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), without substantial levels of international trade providing supplies of food, Bolivia cannot afford to take a major hit to the productivity of their agricultural sector. However, this situation would then result in a loss of sovereignty due to high levels of dependence on foreign states for the provision of a basic necessity for life. In conjunction with high poverty levels, the Bolivian population is very vulnerable to food shortages caused by climate change.
In the mountainous Andean plateau, increasingly infrequent yet increasingly violent rainstorms can cause landslides such as the one in 2019 that destroyed 17 homes in one of the two Bolivian capital cities, La Paz. Landslides have also affected the nearby mining regions, such as a landslide in 1992 that killed over 210 miners. With increased severity of rainstorms will likely come larger landslides that affect rural, urban, and mining areas. Another threat to the biodiversity in Bolivia is the trend of desertification in the Andean highland regions. Bolivia’s second largest lake, Lake Poopo, completely dried up in 2016, leaving millions of dead fish on the lakebed.
As reliance on fossil fuels such as natural gas is one of the key factors driving climate change, the prospect of Bolivia increasing their capacity for natural gas production serves to worsen their own state of affairs along with the global situation. Most people in Bolivia rely on energy from domestic sources of natural gas and hydropower. However, reliance on hydropower in conjunction with glacial melting and the potential for worsening droughts means that Bolivia could face water shortages. This puts Bolivia in another precarious position in regards to its economic and environmental policy decisions.
The bulk of the Bolivian workforce is employed in the service sector, and it accounts for the majority of economic output, as well. Banking and finance is the largest provider of services in Bolivia. This sector necessarily relies heavily on energy to provide electricity, and will therefore be at great risk if Bolivia cannot produce or import sufficient amounts of energy. While tourism in Bolivia makes up a small section of the service sector, in absolute terms, it is still a relatively important source of revenue. Climate change can increase the occurrence of certain conditions and diseases such as malnutrition and infectious diseases such as malaria, putting both the general population and tourists at risk. According to the ND-GAIN metrics, Bolivia is lacking in healthcare infrastructure and personnel throughout the country, and this situation has been reportedly worsening in recent years. Aside from the service sector, the effects of climate change will likely hit rural areas – in the Andean plateau, Amazon lowland plains, and foothills – much harder than urban areas due to relatively weaker infrastructure and higher poverty rates, but will still likely discourage tourism to a large extent, as well.
In terms of readiness to deal with the adverse effects of climate change, Bolivia also ranks low in global terms. According to ND-GAIN, international trade and domestic participation in the market is a weak point hindering Bolivia’s ability to adequately take measures to mitigate the deleterious effects of climate change. Political instability due to Bolivia’s history, recent political upheaval resulting in a transitional government and the return of the previous party administration, as well as being wary of foreign powers and corporations hinder Bolivia’s ability to allocate sufficient resources towards bolstering their capacity to handle adverse effects of climate change across the different sectors of their economy.
Environmental Policies by Sector
- Per IRENA, renewables made up approximately 14% of Bolivia’s total primary energy supply in 2017.
- Energy produced using solid biofuels accounted for 81% of Bolivia’s renewable energy production
- Energy from solar photovoltaic cell panels accounted for 1%
- Per Energy Transition, hydroelectricity accounted for 27% of Bolivia’s energy production in 2015
- Natural gas was the source of 57% of Bolivia’s energy production in 2017.
Bolivia is prioritising the expansion of solar, wind, biomass and hydroelectricity projects in accordance with their NDC pledges. In 2016, Bolivia backed words with action when they built 4 solar plants, 4 wind farms and 2 biomass plants, which would contribute significantly towards their stated NDC pledge of reaching 79% usage of renewable energy sources by 2030. Bolivia has high potential for renewable energy generation given its fortuitous geography dominated mainly by mountains and lowlands. Mountainous terrain is beneficial for the production of wind, solar, and hydroelectricity, and flat plains are well-suited to the installation of wind farms and solar plants depending on the weather patterns.
Despite high potential for renewables, Bolivia still retains a heavy dependence on fossil fuels. This may have the effect of slowing down Bolivia’s transition to a carbon-free energy economy, making the country’s goal for a zero-carbon energy grid by 2030 questionable. The World Bank reported that in 2014, 84% of Bolivia’s energy came from fossil fuels, only 6 countries down in the rankings from the United Arab Emirates. The global average was reported to be approximately 79%. Bolivia also has a policy goal of 100% electricity access for its citizens by 2025. Due to the potential challenges in quickly expanding renewable capacity and access, this may force Bolivia to further expand their fossil fuel capacity and access.
As noted there is a conflict between having large fossil fuel reserves, policy emphasising renewable sources, providing access to electricity to 100% of the population, and pursuing sustainable development. The NDCs and pledge to decarbonise their energy usage only makes up a small portion of the Bolivian governments’ policy goals and framework. This is the crux of the immense pressure placed on Bolivia and similar low to middle income countries (LMIC) who are seeking to preserve the earth as well as the betterment of their population. Bolivia’s plans to decarbonise its energy therefore reflects this dilemma.
Initiatives towards the decarbonisation of energy necessitate international investment and financing in the relevant technological fields. However, Bolivia remains in the complex position of, on the one hand, wanting to assert its sovereignty and take anti-imperialist stances, and on the other, having the success of their environmental policy goals being dependent on foreign investment from the same countries that Bolivia’s foreign policy alienates. Domestically, Bolivia’s use of biofuels (supplying 81% of their renewable energy) seems to be the most promising alternative to their reliance on fossil fuels until their hydro, wind, and solar capacities can be increased. The fact remains that this will be expensive and largely dependent on international cooperation; climate change affects the whole world, and therefore a more equitable global distribution of wealth (i.e., in the provision of development aid in quantities to be genuinely effective) should be prioritised.
- The rate of personal car ownership in Bolivia was 72 per 1000 in 2015
- Car ownership has been trending upwards over recent years
- The La Paz-El Alto cable car (Mi Teleférico) has an average ridership of 100 000 people per day
In 2008, former President Evo Morales signed Supreme Decree 28963 which was intended to limit personal vehicle imports through limiting the age of vehicles that may be imported into Bolivia to one model year. In 2014, Bolivia updated the criteria for what cars were eligible for import, and increased their policy’s stringency. For example, cars that use liquefied petroleum gas or have right-hand steering cannot be imported.
There are approximately 500 000 people who commute between La Paz and El Alto on a daily basis, the majority of whom take minibuses.While some towns such as Achocalla have approximately 2000 seats on public transit per 1000 residents, others have much less. 84% of Bolivian municipalities have less than 93 seats per 1000 residents.
The majority of the Bolivian population, as mentioned throughout, experiences widespread poverty, which also acts as a barrier to personal car ownership as many cannot afford to buy a personal vehicle and their associated costs. Personal car ownership is therefore concentrated among the upper strata of the socio-economic classes and government officials. In addition, congestion on urban roads resulting from vehicular public transit, such as busses and minibuses, along with weak road infrastructure presents a further deterrent to car ownership. Taxis also provide another form of transit in Bolivia, but are expensive and are subject to the given conditions on the road. In rural Bolivia, it is common for taxi services to use motorcycles rather than cars. Bicycles are a common form of transportation in rural areas.
Bolivia has a highway system that is limited by economic development as well as both physical and human geography. Major arterial highways (red) are the only paved roads in Bolivia. There are airports in towns and cities across Bolivia that provide access to areas that are inaccessible by car. Air transport is expensive and inaccessible to many people in Bolivia aside from those flying for business or government purposes. Most of Bolivia’s transportation (public/private automobile, train, plane) relies on fossil fuel energy sources, and therefore contributes significantly to Bolivia’s greenhouse gas emissions. This development strategy contradicts with the policy framework outlined in the section of Bolivia’s NDC on transitioning to renewable energy sources.
However, there is another key method of transportation in the Bolivian capital of La Paz. An extensive cable car network, called Mi Teleférico connects La Paz with the neighbouring city of El Alto. Mi Teleférico is 100% electric power, which is mainly provided locally by hydroelectric plants in El Alto. The cable car stations also use LED-powered lights to the effect of reducing electricity usage by 49%.
The emergence of an electric vehicle market in Bolivia has been a welcome surprise to many sectors of the Bolivian economy. Quantum Motors, an electric vehicle (EV) producer headquartered in Cochabamba, uses lithium-ion batteries provided by the Bolivian state-owned lithium mining company YLB to produce EVs. In 2020, 60% of the parts used by Quantum Motors were manufactured locally and all but one of the vehicle models were assembled in Bolivia. This is largely in accordance with the strict import regulations imposed on automobiles as well as the Bolivian government’s efforts to decarbonise their economy. Further plans to decarbonise and create an “ecological and sustainable transportation system” include the construction of an electric railway. Plans were announced in 2020 for a railway line centred around the city of Cochabamba but including its surrounding area.
- Bolivia is among the 15 most biodiverse countries in the world
- 30.87% of Bolivia’s territorial spaces are protected, per the NGO Protected Planet.
- Per the Yale Environmental Performance Index, 70.12% of Bolivia’s population is urbanised.
- Yale EPI ranked Bolivia 69th in the world in terms of ecosystem vitality, which measures how well countries preserve, protect, and enhance their ecosystems and the services they provide.
- Per Global Forest Watch, Bolivia possessed 62.7 million hectares of natural forest in 2010, extending over 58% of its land area. By 2020, Bolivia had lost 430 kilo hectares of natural forest.
As noted above, there is a very high degree of biodiversity in Bolivia. Since 2014, 24 different vertebrate species have been discovered across the country. There is also extremely high genetic diversity between species. The state of biodiversity is not guaranteed, however, and increasingly high levels of deforestation in the Amazon region poses a threat. The major purposes are livestock pastures and other forms of large- and small-scale agriculture. The mechanised farming of cash crop monocultures (soybeans, maize, sunflowers) decreases biodiversity and also uses fossil fuel energy sources to power the agricultural machinery. Agricultural areas expanded 21% between 2005 and 2012 across Bolivia.
Bolivia is providing technological support to 6000 organic crop producers, prohibits the further development of GMOs derived from domestic crops to protect their genetic heritage, they have kept over seeds from over 16,000 species for genetic preservation. Bolivia is carrying out a program of collecting Indigenous traditional knowledge about seeds and agriculture to preserve history along with biodiversity. In addition, Indigenous people have property rights to 20% of Bolivia’s land; deforestation rates in Indigenous-owned areas are 2.8 times lower than in non-Indigenous owned land, which in conjunction with sustainable farming practices, helps preserve biodiversity.
- Per the IUCN, 4 species endemic to Bolivia have been classified as endangered.
- Article 108 of the Bolivian constitution recognizes the “protection and defense of the environment [including animals] as a duty of all persons”
In 2009, under the presidency of Evo Morales, Bolivia passed into law a new constitution. According to Animal Law, it is the “only constitution in South America that specifically addresses animal protection.” In the same year, Bolivia was the first country to completely ban the use of wild and domestic animals in circus performances and banned the abuse of animals in military contexts. In order to properly enforce Article 108 due to Bolivia’s diverse geography and limited central planning capabilities, Article 302 delegates the responsibility to protect animals and their ecosystems to municipal governments. Animals are seen as an integral part of Mother Earth, or Pachamama, an important goddess in Andean indigenous cultures.
Despite these positive measures, Bolivia still struggles with ensuring the protection of their endangered animals. Illegal hunting of animals for sale in luxury markets or for the purpose of sport and trophy hunting remains prevalent. Animal trafficking for sale in neighbouring countries’ poaching markets also remains an issue.
- Per IAMAT, in 2020 Bolivia averaged 22 µg/m³ (micrograms of air pollutants per cubic metre of air), which exceeds the maximum healthy level of 10 µg/m³.
- Bolivian cities as a whole are deemed to have poor levels of air quality, although discrepancies exist between the densely populated and heavily urbanised cities such as La Paz and Cochabamba and the less-developed regions throughout Bolivia.
- Bolivia is heavily involved in international efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change
The main sources of Bolivia’s air pollution are vehicle emissions, agricultural burning, use of fossil fuels for cooking without sufficient ventilation, and oil refineries. In the capital of La Paz and its neighbouring city El Alto, vehicular emissions cause 90% of air pollution. La Paz has passed legislation regulating vehicular emissions to a Euro III level. Approximately 1500 deaths per year are caused in Bolivia due to indoor air pollution. Pollution from mining is largely concentrated in bodies of water surrounding the mining sites.
Due to Bolivia’s status as a LMIC and the resulting underdevelopment of infrastructure, waste management systems as well as systems to mitigate the production of toxic pollutants are insufficient for their environmental policy goals. Therefore Bolivia is working with the United Nations Environment Programme’s Chemicals and Waste Management Program to increase their capabilities through infrastructure projects. Bolivia has created a dedicated government department called the Chemicals and Waste Unit to oversee and carry out policy and projects related to various forms of pollution. This unit will also serve to keep Bolivia accountable to their international climate commitments as well as their pledge to create an environment of gender equity in Bolivian policymaking.