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Summary - Book Launch of A Fragmented Continent: Latin America and the Global Politics of Climate Change

Guy Edwards and J. Timmons Roberts. (Image: Roey Yohai)

Guy Edwards and J. Timmons Roberts. (Image: Roey Yohai)

November 18, 2015

Speakers:

  • Guy Edwards, Research Fellow, Institute at Brown for Environment and Society; Co-director, Climate and Development Lab
  • J. Timmons Roberts, Ittleson Professor of Environmental Studies and Sociology, Brown University; Nonresident Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution
  • Sarah Bons, Editor, Americas Quarterly; Policy Associate, Americas Society/Council of the Americas (moderator)

Compare and contrast countries' INDCs ahead of Paris with our guide to the Americas at COP21.


Summary:

On November 6, AS/COA hosted a public launch of the forthcoming book A Fragmented Continent: Latin America and the Global Politics of Climate Change, by Guy Edwards and J. Timmons Roberts. In their book, Edwards and Roberts examine Latin America’s role at the UN climate negotiations, as well as the challenges the region’s countries face in balancing sound climate policy with economic growth and development. They also analyze why Latin America is a key player in addressing climate change, particularly in light of December’s 2015 Paris Climate Conference, referred to as COP21, during which delegates will attempt to reach a legally binding universal agreement on climate policy.

Latin America’s role at UN climate negotiations

Latin American countries do not speak with one voice at UN climate talks, Edwards said. The region has multiple groups of countries that play different roles in negotiations, due to different political, economic and social circumstances. Some of the major negotiators are Brazil; countries in the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, known as ALBA, including Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia; and the Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean bloc, known as AILAC, which includes Chile, Colombia, Peru, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Panama. These groups come together on certain issues, but often have competing interests. Roberts and Edwards provided context for Latin American countries’ behavior at UN climate negotiations, and also highlighted regional leaders in the talks. They noted that Brazil was a leader early on in climate change issues, hosting the 1992 Rio Summit and making some remarkable advances in recent years, such as cutting deforestation by 70 percent by 2013. However, Brazil is also seen as obstructionist in their membership of the BASIC bloc, made up of fellow, newly industrialized countries South Africa, India, and China. Edwards also indicated Mexico could be seen as a leader due to its 2014 carbon tax on fossil fuels in an attempt to decrease emissions. Mexico was also recognized for its leadership at the COP16 in 2010, helping to bring negotiations back from a low point. Roberts commended Costa Rica as a leader, with its ambitious pledge to be carbon neutral by 2021. The speakers, however, noted that it appears unlikely that the country will attain this goal in time.

Hopes resting on upcoming COP21

A sense of urgency is driving many Latin American countries to increasingly prioritize climate issues, due to effects of climate change already felt across the region. In particular, Roberts referenced droughts in Brazil and Central America, as well as mudslides and hurricanes in the Caribbean. Further global warming will have a drastic impact in Latin America, “a seriously vulnerable region,” according to Edwards. While the intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) released by each country ahead of the Paris Climate Conference are more ambitious than ever before, many experts believe they are not enough to limit global warming to an increase of 2 degrees Celsius, widely recognized as the cap above which the globe is at risk of dangerous climate effects. Moreover, INDCs are intentions rather than firm pledges, which will likely reduce their effectiveness. Notwithstanding, the Paris talks are already a success in terms of a widespread intention to make pledges. The region must continue to prioritize climate change. Climate policy does not have to inhibit economic development, the authors noted, emphasizing the new products and markets offered through renewable energy. The most important risk Latin America faces, the two concluded, is the danger of being left behind if countries do not keep pace with global climate change efforts.