Yesterday, I spoke at an Anglo-Ecuadorian Society event at the Casa Ecuatoriana in London on Latin America and climate change. Latin America is a key battleground and laboratory for confronting climate change and decisions taken in Latin American capitals and by their negotiators at the UN climate change talks could have major implications for the UN climate regime and the region’s development options this century. Here are a few extracts from the talk.
By Guy Edwards and Kelly Rogers*
As U.S. influence in Latin America continues its downward trajectory, the complex domestic situation in Washington D.C. risks jeopardizing greater cooperation on climate change. Although the vote in the House of Representatives to end the U.S.’s annual $48.5 million contribution to the Organization of American States (OAS) is unlikely to pass Congress, the vote was indicative of reactionary thinking on Latin America and the complex domestic political and economic environment.
The next US chief for the Western Hemisphere needs experience on climate, clean energy, resource scarcity and green growth
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. Valenzuela’s 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. Read more…
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.
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:
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.
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.
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