Interview: The Climate Summit in Peru and Research about Latin America

According to Guy Edwards and Timmons Roberts, Latin America offers fascinating yet poorly understood climate change politics. In this interview they talk about the conference on Latin American climate politics that they hosted at Brown University. This April, Guy and Timmons brought together two former Latin American presidents, several negotiators and diplomats as well as various experts from the region. Over 1,500 people watched the conference online. Here is a summary of our discussion about their research and whether Latin America can make a difference at the Climate Summit in Lima this December.

Nivela: Are Latin American countries fertile territory for not only encouraging transformative domestic climate action but also securing a breakthrough at the UN climate negotiations? Or will the region’s leaders succumb to the pressure to deliver economic growth and renege on their plans to confront climate change?

Authors: This conundrum is at the heart of our research project. The project is one of four thematic areas within the Climate and Development Lab at Brown’s Center for Environmental Studies. Our main activities consist of research, communication and engagement with policymakers and civil society from Latin America with a focus on Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Ecuador.

Our central goals are to better understand whether Latin American countries can be considered leaders on climate change at the UN Climate Change negotiations and at the domestic level; to analyse Latin America’s relations with its three main global partners - U.S., EU and China - and the implications of these relationships for climate change; and to better understand the linkages between domestic and international policy on climate change in Latin American countries.

Nivela: What have you done by way of projects in the region thus far?

Authors: In 2010 we co-founded Latin America’s first multilingual website on climate change, Intercambio Climático, with the Latin American Platform on Climate. Having managed and edited the site for three years we handed over the website to the Platform as planned in September, 2013.

In April 2011, we organized a conference at Brown University on “Latin America and Climate Change: Regional Perspectives on a Global Problem,” with keynote speeches by former Chilean president, Ricardo Lagos and ex- Brazilian Minister for the Environment, Marina Silva.

Nivela: Tell us more about the Conference in 2014. Who was there?

Authors: In April this year, we organized another conference at Brown called Governing Climate Change: New Ideas and Latin American Leadership as Peru Prepares to Host the 2014 UN Climate Negotiations.

The conference had three public sessions. Former President of Chile Ricardo Lagos and former President of Mexico, Felipe Calderón gave the keynote address on the role of presidential leadership in addressing climate change. Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC (via live video link), Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, Minister of the Environment of Peru and COP20 Presidentand Luis Alfonso de Alba, formerly Mexican Special Representative for Climate Change then spoke about Latin American leadership on climate change. Finally, representatives from Peru, Colombia, Mexico, the US, the UK and Nivela’s Monica Araya, discussed how to break the impasse and prospects for making progress at the UNFCCC.

Our lab has participated at the last four COPs and conducted extensive interviews with Latin American country negotiators and civil society. In June 2012, we successfully concluded some lobbying activities in favour of Peru as COP20 host when Peru was selected by its fellow Latin American and the Caribbean countries to host the 2014 COP. This lobbying consisted of writing an op-ed on why Peru would make a better host than Venezuela and the drafting of a declaration in favour of Peru signed by over 60 LAC civil society organizations. We also currently have two CDL researchers providing communications support to Nivela and Climate Action Network’s Latin American office.

We have published several academic, policy and journalist materials on Latin America and climate change. We are also currently drafting a book manuscript for MIT Press, titled Reshaping the Future: Latin America and the Global Politics of Climate Change.

Nivela: Looking ahead to Lima, what is your view from where you stand?

Authors: As a middle income region with relatively low emissions (but not insignificant) compared to other regions, Latin American countries are key players in forging a new path towards a cleaner and more sustainable future. The region is poised at a difficult moment. Fast growing economies with an expanding middle class hungry for services, cars and technology and in some cases an emphasis on exploiting natural resources risk pushing these countries down a path which is out of step with a low carbon, sustainable and prosperous future.

The Lima Conference can be catalyst for change towards promoting new models of prosperity which are compatible with tackling climate change by showing that cleaner cities, renewable energy and the protection of fragile ecosystems are essential elements to a better future.

Prior to traveling in Lima with our lab, we will continue our main activities in communication, engagement and research for the book and other writing projects. Finally, we are planning an official ‘side event’ in Lima to build on the success of the April conference at Brown which we hope to co-organize with some of our Latin American partners including Nivela to discuss their work and our latest research.

Upcoming article sneak peek

What to Expect on Climate from Latin America's New Presidents?