Latin America unveils new climate commitments at COP26

Leaders from Latin America kick-off COP26 climate summit with Colombia's decarbonisation plan and Brazil joining pledge to end deforestation
<p>Colombia&#8217;s president Iván Duque arrives in Glasgow for the UN&#8217;s COP26 climate summit (image: Alamy)</p>

Colombia’s president Iván Duque arrives in Glasgow for the UN’s COP26 climate summit (image: Alamy)

The UN’s COP26 climate change summit began in Glasgow with new pledges and commitments from Latin America’s governments, many of which sent their presidents and ministers for the first few days. From deforestation to marine protected areas, governments highlighted their new efforts while asking developed countries to take the lead.

Leaders from Latin America at COP26

Presidents Iván Duque from Colombia, Guillermo Lasso from Ecuador, Luis Arce from Bolivia, Alberto Fernández from Argentina, Carlos Alvarado Quesada from Costa Rica and Juan Hernández from Honduras traveled to Glasgow to participate in the World Leaders’ Summit, a two-day high-level segment of the COP26 held Monday and Tuesday.

While the turn-out was lower than in previous years amid the pandemic – COP takes place once a year in a different country – the Latin American leaders, notably Colombia’s, used their time in the UK to announce further commitments. Duque introduced the government’s new long-term strategy to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. 

We want to be carbon neutral in 2050. We can’t wait for the rest of the world to act, we have to start immediately

As part of the Paris Agreement on climate change, countries have to build a roadmap to reach the mid century with decarbonised economies. For Colombia, this would mean actions in a set of strategic areas, including: sustainable consumption and production, a just transition, rural development, resilient cities, diversified energy sources and sustainable mobility. 

“We have no time to lose. Colombia accounts for 0.6% of the world’s emissions but it’s also one of the most threatened countries. Year after year we are seeing the effects of the climate crisis,” Duque said. “We want to be carbon neutral in 2050. We can’t wait for the rest of the world to act, we have to start immediately.”

So far, Costa Rica has been the only Latin American country to present a decarbonisation strategy and start acting on it. Colombia is now following the same path and more announcements could come later at COP26. Argentina, Chile and Uruguay are reported to be close to finalising the details of their national strategies. 

At COP, Argentina made official a 2% improvement on its mitigation target. President Fernández said the country is working to eradicate deforestation and increase electric mobility. He said Argentina supports the rest of the world with its so-called ‘natural capital’ and called for further climate funding and debt reduction, proposing debt-for-climate swaps and payment for ecosystem services.  

Fernández also signed a deal whilst at COP for a US$8 billion investment on a green hydrogen plant to be located in the province of Río Negro in Patagonia. The project would be carried out by the Australian company Fortescue, with construction set to start next year. This echoes similar green hydrogen plans in Chile and Uruguay.

Latin America’s natural resources on COP26 agenda

Also at COP26, a group of more than 100 countries signed a declaration to stop all deforestation in 2030, with developed countries pledging funding to support the commitment. The list of signatories includes Argentina, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Chile and Brazil, which has seen deforestation rates spike in recent years.

Forests are a key ally in the fight against climate change as they remove emissions from the atmosphere, preventing them from warming the planet. Still, this crucial climate buffer is quickly disappearing. Deforestation increased 12% from 2019 to 2020, with 12.2 million hectares of tree cover lost, according to Global Forest Watch.

“While the Glasgow Declaration has an impressive range of signatories from across forest-rich countries, large consumer markets and financial centres, it nevertheless risks being a reiteration of previous failed commitments if it lacks teeth,” said Jo Blackman, Head of Forests Policy and Advocacy at Global Witness, in a statement.

Ecuador’s president Guillermo Lasso announced a new 60,000 square-kilometre marine protected area (MPA) around the mega-biodiverse Galápagos Islands, which will be funded through a debt-for-nature swap. Duque also announced new MPAs for Colombia, with an additional 160,000 square-kilometres of protected area. 


the size of a new marine protected area created by joining those of Ecuador, Panama, Colombia and Costa Rica announced at COP26

Along with Ecuador, Panama, Colombia and Costa Rica agreed at COP26 to join their marine reserves to form one interconnected area that will serve as one of the world’s richest pockets of ocean biodiversity. It will be a fishing-free corridor covering more than 500,000 square km, in one of the world’s most important migratory routes for many species.

“It will be a living laboratory to carry out scientific research,” Lasso said at a press conference COP26. “We are currently reviewing proposals to fund the new MPA in Galapagos with a debt-for-nature swap. It will be the biggest one ever. But we’ll be careful on how we carry it out to maximise the environmental benefits for the marine reserve.”

Carbon markets

Although the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015, not every aspect was fully finalised because of the many disagreements between countries. The trickiest one has been by far the creation of a new global carbon market. Under Paris, countries have to set up a carbon trading system to help decarbonise the economy – known as Article 6.

Developed countries will lose all their credibility if nothing concrete is reached at this summit

This market would allow countries to finance projects that reduce emissions in other countries and count the avoided emissions towards their own climate targets. But without transparent and robust accounting rules, it has the potential to undermine the 1.5ºC warming goal — a concern expressed by several countries.

Attending the first few days of COP, Bolivian President Luis Arce said there are uncertainties and a lack of information regarding how a global carbon market would work. Previous attempts to establish national carbon markets in Latin America have resulted in failure, Arce said. He called on developed countries to step up and accept their responsibility for the climate crisis.

“Developed countries will lose all their credibility if nothing concrete is reached at this summit,” Arce said. “We are proposing to replace carbon markets with direct action mechanisms through which developed countries can fund climate adaptation and mitigation projects. Otherwise, we will continue to reproduce the capitalist system.”