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Latin American Leaders Seek Unified Bloc At COP27 Conference As Climate Crisis Looms

Initially Published November 13, 2022 By Ryan Deitsch

Colombia’s environment minister, Susana Muhamad, at COP27 Calling for Latin American Unity. (Photo: Ministry of Environment of Colombia)

November 6th in Egypt began the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, colloquially known as COP27. While many states have fallen short on fulfilling previous climate agreements, fluctuating temperatures and worsening natural disasters have led climate activists and agencies like the UN to place increased pressure on world leaders to invest resources towards responding to these challenges. Latin American states have historically been fragmented when coordinating climate policy issues, but at COP27 heads of state and environmental ministers have made significant strides towards unifying Latin American climate policy. While states across the region differ in exact needs, all have called for a greater international financial investment to address the impacts of the climate crisis.

Since Latin American States lobby specifically at these conferences in fragmented coalitions, they argue from a minority position, often garnering less than requested support. Some organizations which Latin American states have previously organized regional climate policy through include: The Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC), The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), Environmental Integrity Group, and the BASIC Group. On November 9th, a bloc which assembles all Latin American states barring Brazil, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), presented a joint declaration detailing shared aims for the summit and future cooperation on climate action in general. The assembly of this bloc attempted to inflate Latin America’s position negotiating global climate agreements.

Among those leading the unity charge has been Colombian environmental minister Susana Muhamad who came to the position after the Colombian government shifted left with the election of president Gustavo Petro. Muhamad highlighted Colombian’s commitment towards restoring forests and emphasized the importance of a regional coalition to forgive foreign debts, freeing up money to use on pro-climate initiatives. The Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley and her climate finance envoy, Avinash Persaud, have been pushing the growingly popular Bridgetown Initiative, a climate finance plan in which the International Monetary Fund (IMF) would set aside a one-time $650 billion request and banks would provide $1 trillion in low interest loans for climate spending in underdeveloped countries. While most nations have yet to speak out in favor of the Bridgetown Initiative, French President Macron and IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva publicly praised Mottley’s plan at COP27 this past week.

After many years of lobbying, COP27 marks the first time low-emitting nations successfully attached to the conference’s agenda the issue of “loss and damage” — in which emitting countries provide funds to repair damage caused by climate-induced disasters. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres opened the conference centering loss and damage as “a moral imperative… a fundamental question of international solidarity and climate justice.”

Despite this historic agenda calling for polluters to take greater financial responsibility for the climate crisis, there is barely the start of what is sure to be a very detailed comprehensive set of discussions. In terms of actual promises made, only a handful of European states have agreed to supply funds thus far, with overall finances directed mostly towards African countries. COP27 has been overall largely centered on African nations, minimizing many Latin American concerns.

Latin America and the Caribbean account for only 11% of global emissions, with Central America and Island nations only accounting for about 0.1% of total global emissions. While the vast majority of Latin American states lay little historic responsibility to global carbon emissions, the industrialized nations Brazil, Argentina and Mexico, rank 4th, 14th and 15th place respectively in the list of the 20 most polluting nations.

Despite being a small fraction of the driving force behind the climate crisis, the World Bank has estimated that by 2050 Latin American states should expect roughly 17 million people displaced solely as a result of inhospitable climate. The think tank Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) argues that by 2050 1.2 billion people from 31 countries will be displaced since they live in areas not sufficiently resilient to withstand impending ecological threats.

One notable party missing from Latin America’s unity coalition was Brazil, which is partly due to the timing regarding Brazil’s transitioning government. Brazil recently elected Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva back into office, aiming to shift the country back towards being a leader in environmental protection, rejecting the destructive policies of right wing incumbent candidate Jair Bolsanaro. However, since Lula does not come to power until next year, his participation in COP27 is more honorary than official. Brazil’s role as leader for issues like sustainability and protection of the Amazon has mostly fallen onto Colombia in the meantime.

The developments regarding climate crisis financing are promising, though the overall money needed has yet to be promised let alone provided. Only a couple hundred million are being provided by a handful of Western nations while estimates find Latin America will need hundreds of billions to combat the multitude of issues which stem from the climate crisis. While money and debt becomes more concretely discussed, less focus has been placed on climate refugees and the coordination necessary between states to ensure their peaceable migration and resettlement.

Some lip service has been provided concerning climate refugees but a comprehensive plan is lacking. When addressing leaders for instance, Bahamas Prime Minister Philip Davis said “I’m asking what is it worth to you to have millions of climate refugees to turn into tens of millions, putting pressure on political and economic systems around the world.” The only plan which has been passed in all of Latin America on proactive climate refugee resettlement centers around 1,200 indigenous Guna people set to move next year from the island of Gardi Sugdub in Panama, which given the 17 million expected to be displaced, hardly scratches the surface.

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