Priorities for Latin American NGOs Following Biden Win

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President-elect Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in the U.S. elections will usher in a new era of climate diplomacy.  When he assumes office, Biden has pledged that the U.S. will re-enter the Paris Agreement, issue a slew of bold executive actions on climate and host a summit with major greenhouse gas emitters in hopes of raising collective ambition.

With the United States returning to the fold, the landscape of international climate governance will begin to change. And so will the priorities of civil society groups in Latin America. What follows are five key priorities for Latin American NGOs working on climate change.

Raise Collective Ambition 

2020 was supposed to be a landmark year for climate ambition, with nations submitting their revised Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) ahead of the next climate conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland. With the pandemic pushing back the next conference to November 2021, few countries have submitted their new pledges. To date, 14 nations have updated their climate commitments, but the only ones Latin America to have done so are Chile and Cuba.

While this lack of progress is frustrating, there have been signs of hope. China recently laid out a path to carbon neutrality by 2060. South Korea and Japan are also committing to net-zero emissions by mid-century. The incoming Biden Administration is planning to put the United States on an “irreversible path” to net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest.

Here in Latin America, we must work to raise collective ambition as more countries update their climate commitments. Many of the region’s top greenhouse gas emitters failed to deliver sufficient pledges in their first NDCs. Climate Action Tracker has rated the initial climate targets of Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico – the three largest countries in the region – anywhere from insufficient to critically insufficient toward meeting the targets of the Paris Agreement. Costa Rica was the only country in the region whose targets were listed as compatible with a 2°C warming world.  

NGOs must work to pressure our governments into delivering ambitious and robust commitments that are compatible with a 1.5°C warming world.  We must hold our governments accountable and have them deliver on short-term goals that will cut emissions in half by 2030 and be consistent with the scientific advice from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Governments must target a peak in emissions early in the decade.  

Scale Up Climate Finance 

In its latest report on the state of global climate finance, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reported that mobilization for finance by wealthy governments is on the rise. Climate finance from wealthy nations increased from $54.5 billion in 2017 to $62.2  billion in 2018. This encouraging news comes even though Trump reneged on $2 billion of the United States commitment to the Green Climate Fund.

Climate finance is critical for developing nations to make large-scale investments in mitigation and adaptation measures. As NGOs in the Global South, we understand that these investments would not be possible without the assistance from rich nations. We must push the United States and other developed countries to continue expanding their contributions.  

With the United States presumably back in the fold as a major donor in climate finance, the total amount pledged by rich nations figures to increase in the coming years.

“There is also a strong expectation from both developing countries and partners in Europe that the U.S. would go further to make up for lost time,” said Joe Thwaites, Associate at the World Resource Institute’s Sustainable Finance Center. “Last year, developed countries made a new round of pledges to the Green Climate Fund. Many of them doubled their contributions. There will be some pressure on the Biden Administration to match this level of spending.”

As Thwaites pointed out, it is critical that the United States not only increase its pledges to the Green Climate Fund, but also begin contributing to the Adaptation Fund, increase funding to the Global Environment Facility, and invest in bilateral commitments.  

It is important that we push for non-refundable funds rather than loans that deepen countries’ debts. Otherwise, it will be the developing world that ends up footing the bill while developed countries profit from climate loans.

The United States could also help motivate other rich nations to further increase their commitments.

“Biden has the momentum and opportunity to engage other high-level authorities and stakeholders toward mobilizing more funds, not only from the public sector, but also from the private sector,” said Dr. Eduardo Noboa, Senior Program Manager of Climate and Energy at the World Future Council. Noboa previously served as Ecuador’s Undersecretary of State for Climate Change and led its delegation at the negotiations.

Frame Responsibility for Climate Change

The United States and other developed nations have been relatively hostile to the idea of taking responsibility for historical emissions and providing financial compensation for loss and damage. Under both Trump and Obama, the United States has maintained an adversarial negotiating position on this topic.  

Providing financial compensation is further complicated by Paragraph 51 of the Paris Agreement, which states, “Article 8 of the Agreement (relating to Loss and Damage) does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation.”  

This topic was a major one at COP25, where negotiators were tasked with reviewing the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts. The WIM, which was established at COP19 in Warsaw, Poland, is the principal vehicle for addressing loss and damage at the negotiations.  Despite some progress at the talks, there was a non-consensus on providing new and additional finance. Developed nations such as the United States and Australia helped derail the talks.

With the possibility of a Republican-controlled Senate, it is unclear if Biden will have the political capital, or even the political will, to change the United States’ tune. 

“I don’t think the position of the United States will change dramatically,” said Noboa. “Things will change on a global scale, but some topics will continue to stay blocked because this is all about financial resources and money.”

Regardless, this should remain a key issue for developing nations ahead of COP26 since the effects of climate change are disproportionately felt in the Global South. Latin American NGOs must push for accountability from developed countries responsible for the majority of historical emissions.  Responsibility and climate justice are key elements of the Paris Agreement and must be addressed.

“Loss and damage is an existential issue for us,” said Belizean environment minister Omar Figueroa at a COP25 press conference. “We need clear and predictable finance that we can access to really compensate for the loss and damage that so many of our sister nations are feeling.”

Integrate Escazú with the UNFCCC

On November 5, Mexico’s Senate voted to ratify the Escazú Agreement, becoming the eleventh nation to do so.  With Mexico’s ratification, the Agreement will now come into force in early 2021. Mexico joins Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guyana, Nicaragua, Panama, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Kitts & Nevis, and Uruguay as the nations that have ratified the treaty.  

The Escazú Agreement is a regional environmental treaty of Latin American and Caribbean nations that stems from the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20). The treaty seeks to allow public access to information, promote citizen participation in environmental governance and assure access to environmental justice. It includes the world’s first binding provision to protect the human rights of environmental defenders.

The treaty is a useful tool for advancing climate action in the region and could be a useful building block for leveraging human rights in the UNFCCC framework. 

Latin American NGOs must continue to promote the principles and provisions of the Escazú Agreement. By doing so, we are able to change how public participation is addressed in the climate governance process and allow for countries to re-conceptualize climate governance. New standards for public participation and access to information are coming into force. 

The process of decision-making cannot properly move forward without the input of the people.  This implies actively recognizing public participation as a human right in the design and implementation of climate action.  

Latin American Solidarity

With the European Union, United Kingdom, China, South Korea, Japan, New Zealand and now the United States all indicating that they are headed on a path toward net-zero emissions by mid-century, the time has arrived for Latin American and Caribbean nations to come together in solidarity and work to collectively to raise climate ambition.  

The region’s most prominent negotiating blocks are the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) and the Independent Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC). ALBA’s member states of Antigua and Barbuda, Cuba, Dominica, Grenada, Nicaragua, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Venezuela. Bolivia was also a prominent member of the group before the 2019 political crisis.  AILAC member states are Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay and Peru.

“The positive impact of Biden being there is that the United States will influence the countries that are more aligned with the United States,” said Noboa.  “In the past COPs, there was a division. There were countries more aligned with China and a group of countries aligned with the United States, mainly AILAC.”

We must emulate the success of other regional negotiating blocks,  such as the African Group of Negotiators (AGN). It is in our collective interest to work together for a common purpose, especially in the areas of fighting for climate finance and climate justice. Latin American NGOs should push for unity among parties in the region.

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