By Guy Edwards and Susanna Mage
In an op-ed in The New York Times, Anita Isaacs suggests that Ecuador’s decision to grant WikiLeak’s founder, Julian Assange, asylum has little to do with UK-Ecuadorian relations or human rights. Isaacs argues that Ecuador’s President, Rafael Correa, is trying to bolster domestic support in the run up to a presidential election, antagonize the U.S., and position himself as a potential contender for the leadership of Latin America’s Left, given the declining health of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
President Chávez is the main backer and promoter of ALBA – the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America – the coalition of Latin American left-wing countries consisting of Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Cuba, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
On climate change, the bloc has taken some bold positions in climate negotiations, including at the 2009 Copenhagen climate negotiations, when in blocking consensus on the unpopular Copenhagen Accord, Venezuelan chief negotiator Claudia Salerno bashed her country’s name plate on the table so hard while demanding the right to speak that she slashed her hand open.
The ALBA bloc has jointly pushed for greater transparency in the UN climate negotiations and for maintaining the unity of the G77+ China group (made up of 134 countries across the developing world). However, on the use of carbon markets – which underpin the Kyoto Protocol – individual ALBA members have distinct positions. Bolivia and Venezuela have spoken sharply against them, while Ecuador has been in favor, welcoming investments under the Clean Development Mechanism.
Ecuador has the potential clout to play a more active role within ALBA at the climate negotiations. In Latin America, where competition is fierce on who merits credit for taking action on climate change, Ecuador is making important contributions through the Yasuní-ITT Initiative, developing a national REDD+ programme (deforestation avoidance scheme) and through Quito’s Climate Action Plan.
At the UN climate negotiations, Ecuador has gained a reputation as a more pragmatic player than its ALBA partners. At the COP16 and COP17, Ecuador was chosen to act as a facilitator during the negotiations by the presidency on the issues of REDD+ and adaptation, respectively.
Venezuela is also taking some action on climate change. At the COP17, Salerno’s conference speech referred to efforts including reforesting 31,000 hectares since 2006 through Misión Arbol. Venezuela has also distributed over 70 million energy-saving light bulbs, launched a national energy efficiency initiative, and was the first country to develop a National Strategy for the Conservation of Ecological Diversity for the period 2010 to 2020.
However, it was only this year that Venezuela announced its plans to put in place a programme to limit greenhouse gas emissions across four sectors, including its petroleum industry. Skeptics suggest that they have no chance of being implemented, and that the government has shown scant political will to tackle the issue.
OIL AND VENEZUELA
Venezuela has the world’s largest proven oil reserves and its oil revenues account for more than 50 percent of the country’s federal budget. According to ClimateScope 2012, which assesses climate investments in the region, Venezuela only came in 24th out of 26 countries in its ability to attract capital for low-carbon energy sources and efforts to build a green economy.
The prospect of a low carbon future and a potentially strong international climate regime would seem to present Venezuela with a number of difficult challenges.
Taking into account some of Ecuador’s efforts to tackle climate change at home and its pragmatic attitude at the negotiations, the Andean country could offer ALBA a more progressive perspective on climate change.
Ecuador has the opportunity to push for greater ambition at the UN climate negotiations and could act as a bridge between ALBA and other Latin American countries, potentially opening pathways for greater action and collaboration. Ecuador could also attempt to elevate the level of action on climate change within regional institutions – including UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations), whose General Secretariat is located in Quito.
Ecuador’s President Correa seeks greater prominence in the region, as the high profile Julian Assange case suggests. In regards to negotiating a path forward on the knotty issue of climate change, Ecuador could set ALBA on a new course.
Guy Edwards, who is based in Ecuador, is a research fellow at Brown University’s Center for Environmental Studies and works with the Latin American Platform on Climate and the Climate and Development Knowledge Network. Susanna Mage, currently based in Argentina, is a recent graduate from Brown University, where she received a masters in environmental studies. This blog first appeared on Intercambio Climatico.