By Guy Edwards and Kelly Rogers*

  Since the US Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Arturo Valenzuela, announced his plans to retire this summer via Twitter, commentators debate who should replace him and whether this change presents an opportunity to alter the Obama Administration’s policies in the region. The Inter-American Dialogue invited four of Dr. Valenzuelas predecessors to share what qualities his successor will need. However, all but one failed entirely to mention the issues of climate change, clean energy, resource scarcity and green growth.
Published in Renewable Energy
In Santiago, Chile, President Barack Obama was unequivocal about the urgency of tackling climate change and embracing a more secure and sustainable energy future in the Americas.
Published in Renewable Energy
Sunday, 21 February 2010 20:42

Can Mexico regain the momentum?

On the 2nd February, Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa gave the 16th U Thant Distinguished Lecture entitled, ‘Preserving Our Common Heritage: Promoting a Fair Agreement on Climate Change’, hosted by the UN University. The event was convened in collaboration with Asahi Shimbun and the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES). The link to the speech can be found here. In hosting this December’s climate change conference, Mexico has an advantage over the previous hosts, the Danes. A key player in a region often branded as a land of missed opportunities while simultaneously sitting on the OECD and G20 respectively, Mexico can potentially bridge the seemingly unassailable void between rich and developing countries. This situation may help to smooth over the colossal trust deficit which pervades UN talks on global warming. Mexico is also a regional and global leader on climate change demonstrated by its ambitious Special Program on Climate Change and emissions reduction target of 50% below 2000 levels by 2050. It has also won international respect for its progressive Green Fund proposal which seeks to improve the international climate finance regime. The international community is in dire need of a global climate change champion with the political clout to push the debate forward. President Obama perhaps had his shot in Copenhagen. The EU is still recovering from a massive COP15 hangover while other contenders seem to be in short supply. Mexico could prove to be the guacamole missing from the climate change burrito.
The UNFCCC Climate Change Conference held in Copenhagen was billed as a high-profile, ambitious and extremely tough set of negotiations to carve out a new climate change treaty. It succeeded in being a colossal, but at times almost farcical event, where the entrenched and archaic negotiating positions of a number of countries led to its downfall. In the end the conference parties had little choice but to pay lip service to a Copenhagen Accord squeezed out of the dregs of the talks by a select group of countries including China, India, South Africa, Brazil and the US. The UK sustainable development organisation, E3G, summaries what the Copenhagen Accord fails to include:
No commitment to medium term emission goals to drive significant action such as peaking by 2020 or halving global emissions by 2050. No operational reference to a 2°C or lower goal.
No agreement on specific emission reduction commitments – these are delayed until February 2010 and may be far away from a 2°C trajectory even in the short term. The EU has announced it will not move to 30% based on this deal, implying that global emissions will be far from a 2°C compatible pathway in 2020. No deadline to complete a legally binding instrument or instruments to lock in progress made during two years’ of negotiations on issues such as technology and forestry No requirement to review whether the agreement is consistent with the latest science: the Parties “call for” rather than committing that they “will review” No commitment to a compliance mechanism on US targets that would ensure comparability with other developed countries under the Kyoto Protocol No reliable public finance commitment for 2015 and weak ambition for 2020. No commitment that long term public finance for developing countries will be additional to aid for poverty reduction, leaving the door open for diversion of funds from other development objectives No clarity on closing of loopholes for surplus “hot air” credits or for emissions from land use change and international shipping and aviation. This could radically reduce the already weak mitigation pledges and leave a gap larger than the entire first Kyoto commitment period Here is a round-up of quotes from leading politicians and thinkers on climate change in the aftermath of the talks and where Latin America fits into sticky situation. The quotes demonstrate not only the complexity of negotiating climate change treaties but the tug of war context in which they exist. US President Barack Obama described negotiations as "extremely difficult and complex", but said they had laid "the foundation for international action in the years to come". European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said "I will not hide my disappointment," and that the deal was "clearly below" the European Union's goal. "We have a big job ahead to avoid climate change through effective emissions reduction targets, and this was not done here," said Brazil's climate change ambassador, Sergio Serra. Venezuelan delegate Claudia Salerno Caldera said the deal was a "coup d'etat against the authority of the United Nations". "The deal is a triumph of spin over substance. It kicks back the big decisions on emissions cuts and fudges the issue of climate cash," said Jeremy Hobbs, executive director of Oxfam International. “Global Leaders came to Copenhagen carrying the expectations of their populations but have failed to deliver a real solution. The political agreement struck at Copenhagen falls short in so many areas that it cannot form a reliable basis for limiting temperature rise to below 2°C. Leaders must stop presenting this as progress and realise that their citizens expect real action not greenwash.” commented Nick Mabey, Chief Executive of E3G. “I am deeply disappointed with the Copenhagen Accord. Finance was the neglected half of the deal-making, because the injustice of climate change cannot be separated from the unmet development needs of most of the world's population. So in the end we got an inadequate deal, but it was a realist's deal that may lead to some forward progress.” Professor J. Timmons Roberts, Director of the Centre for Environmental Studies, Brown University and co-author of A Climate of Injustice: Global Inequality, North-South Politics, and Climate Policy (2007, MIT Press). “Latin America is a powerful microcosm of the contrasting interests which pervade throughout the climate negotiations: there are many small countries that are highly vulnerable and need adaptation support, we have major emitting countries which argue that the differentiation between industrialized and developing countries must be maintained. We also have a group of ideologically driven countries who demand retribution for centuries of “ecological debt”. Thus Latin America cannot act as an integrated region in the climate negotiations. The global challenge is to weave a wide diversity of interests – some diametrically opposed to each other - into a basket of possibilities to begin to mitigate and adapt to climate change.” Christiana Figueres, is an independent consultant on climate change and international environmental policy and has been closely involved with the UNFCCC as an official negotiator since 1995. “While not everything is lost, much will need to happen to make a treaty viable covering all major areas, and to create a solid and useful position for a meaningful Latin America participation within it. Colombia, Peru, Costa Rica and many other low emission countries acted jointly there to achieve a sensible deal. Nevertheless, more needs to be done to have a progressive coalition and move others forwards towards it - while containing those countries, in the region and elsewhere that chose to stall the COP process. These countries frequently raised procedural issues to delay advances. The role of the major Asian economies -particularly China- in advancing a positive global deal is also yet to be seen. Brazil played on its own, while Mexico tried its best, but it is out of the G77. With Mexico hosting COP 16, a sensible deal is still possible, but new approaches will be required. The starting point is not as high as it should be.” Jose Alberto Garibaldi, Energeia Research Network, who has followed the negotiations for more than a decade, and is the author of the The Economics of Boldness which was launched at the Copenhagen Conference.
President Obama’s speech at the opening of the Fifth Summit of the Americas being held in the Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, emphasized the importance of hemispheric action on climate change and energy security: [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmKCcehLC9U&hl=en&fs=1&color1=0x234900&color2=0x4e9e00] During his speech President Obama said:
We can strengthen the foundation of our prosperity and our security and our environment through a new partnership on energy. Our hemisphere is blessed with bountiful resources, and we are all endangered by climate change. Now we must come together to find new ways to produce and use energy so that we can create jobs and protect our planet. So today, I'm proposing the creation of a new Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas that can forge progress to a more secure and sustainable future. It's a partnership that will harness the vision and determination of countries like Mexico and Brazil that have already done outstanding work in this area to promote renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Each country will bring its own unique resources and needs, so we will ensure that each country can maximize its strengths as we promote efficiency and improve our infrastructure, share technologies, support investments in renewable sources of energy. And in doing so, we can create the jobs of the future, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and make this hemisphere a model for cooperation. The dangers of climate change are part of a broad range of threats to our citizens, so the third area where we must work together is to advance our common security.
This is encouraging stuff. Crucially, climate change was not relegated to the periphery as if only of interest to lab rats and technicians. Constructing the issue of climate change around other concerns relating to energy security, prosperity and job creation is critical. Regional governments need to not only wake up to the melting glaciers around them and rising sea levels, but also how their recovery from the financial crisis and their future development fit into this new paradigm. So far this framing of the debate has occurred in isolated pockets. Let’s hope the Summit can lead to a new chapter where global warming is not merely perceived as an environmental headache, but a conundrum for politicians of all stripes and government departments to get stuck into as well.
Published in Energy
Paddling against the tide of conventional reporting on the main issues currently hamstringing US-Latin American relations, Andres Oppenheimer, reports on a new energy cooperation deal allegedly being cooked up by President Obama.
Last week, Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton elevated the idea to a maximum regional priority during her confirmation hearings. In her opening statement, when she got to Latin America - almost at the end of her foreign policy priorities - her most specific proposal was "taking up the president-elect's call for a new Energy Partnership of the Americas."
The exciting part of this idea is that it could give US-Latin American relations a much needed boost. Latin American governments have been on the sharp end of US diplomacy, as the Bush administration failed to give sufficient attention to the region, and when it did, its knee-jerk policies on illegal immigrants and drugs have created nothing but resentment and frustration.
"There is free trade fatigue and anti-drug fatigue in Latin America,'' a senior staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee told me. ``Energy opens a new path to relations with the hemisphere and is consistent with the president-elect's overall energy and climate change objectives."
If President Obama is serious about tackling climate change and energy insecurity, fostering closer relations with Latin American leaders should be a top priority. A number of Latin American countries are trailblazing on climate change and renewable energy and the new president would do well to acknowledge this progress and step up the dialogue on these issues. As early as 2002, renewable energy sources already made up over a quarter of the total energy supply in Latin America and the Caribbean, making the European target of 20% renewables by 2020 in comparison seem rather modest. Given the US President’s foreign policy priorities elsewhere, Latin America may fail even to appear on the radar. However, if Obama really wants to get the ball rolling on climate change and energy insecurity, attending the 5th Summit of the Americas with the aim of creating a regional energy partnership would be a great place to start.
Published in Regional Organisations