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Latin American diplomacy key for success at Durban climate talks

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 3 Jun 2011 12:28 GMT
Author: Ricardo Lagos Escobar
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Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Latin America represents a microcosm for the challenges facing the international climate change talks.

The diversity of its countries and their economies, the disparities in their annual emissions and vulnerability, their ideological stances, diversity of foreign policies and memberships of various regional and international groups ensures that differing perspectives on climate change are commonplace.

However, this diversity does not mean progress is unachievable. In fact the opposite may be the case. The excellent leadership of the Mexican presidency at the COP16 climate change talks in 2010 and strong Latin American support of that effort suggests increasing pragmatism by governments in the region.

This pragmatic approach is best demonstrated by those leading this endeavor. Costa Rica’s pledge to become carbon neutral by 2021, Brazil’s plan to curb deforestation within its borders by 80 percent by 2020 and Mexico’s Special Climate Change Program 2009-2012, which sets out a voluntary emission reduction of 50 percent by 2050 compared to a baseline year of 2000, are notable.

Action at the regional level, such as the U.S.-led Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas and efforts by CARICOM (the Caribbean Community and Common Market) to create a Regional Framework for Achieving Development Resilient to Climate Change, illustrate the common ground and values shared by some countries providing the basis for engagement.

CHANGE IN VIEWS

Since the birth of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, we have witnessed major transformations across Latin America as to how governments perceive the climate issue. Latin American countries have passed from treating climate change as an external problem to accepting that every country must play its role to protect its present and future citizens and reduce emissions, regardless of their size.

There is now a high level of consciousness and awareness of how important this issue is both nationally and internationally for Latin America.

The successful experience of the Mexican presidency of COP16 can serve as a benchmark for greater climate diplomacy between Latin American countries in the run up to the 2011 climate talks in Durban, South Africa, this December. This intensified diplomacy should focus on cultivating greater collective will between Latin American countries and their global partners, which must convey the urgency of the situation.

The new pragmatism and levels of action being undertaken on climate change should be continued and strengthened. Increasing levels of awareness around climate should seek to treat it as a systemic risk to be integrated with conventional political priorities such as security, prosperity and job creation.

Securing a fair, equitable and ambitious international treaty that limits global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius, making a concerted effort to adapt and protect citizens from natural disasters, continuing efforts to reduce deforestation in the Amazon, and committing to renewable energy and low carbon development to meet the needs of a dynamic and thriving region, are top priorities.

The science is sufficiently clear. The political conditions are conducive for change. Politics and diplomacy can and should drive this process forward to build on the success made in Cancun in Durban, and in capitals across Latin America.

Ricardo Lagos Escobar was president of Chile from 2000 to 2006. He is a vice chair of Inter-American Dialogue, a UN special envoy for climate change and a professor at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University. This blog first appeared on Intercambio Climatico.

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