COP27: Latin America edges towards unity on climate at Egypt summit

Signs of fewer rifts and more alignment among region’s governments during first week of UN climate conference, offering hope of smoother negotiations as a single bloc
<p>Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro delivers a speech at the COP27 summit in Egypt. He called on nations to “initiate a process of recovery” in the Amazon (Image: Prensa Miraflores / dpa / Alamy)</p>

Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro delivers a speech at the COP27 summit in Egypt. He called on nations to “initiate a process of recovery” in the Amazon (Image: Prensa Miraflores / dpa / Alamy)

Latin American presidents and environment ministers have used the United Nations’ COP27 climate change conference to call for greater regional alignment on climate policy, as a joint declaration set out unified positions for the region.

In most UN settings, on trade or human rights, for example, the region’s 33 nations coordinate negotiations – or at least attempt to – as a single bloc, the Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC). But the region has long been fragmented on climate change, which has robbed it of the power to speak from a majority. In the opening days of the COP27 summit in Egypt, there have been signs of change.

solar panels on the roof of a building
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On Wednesday, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), a bloc that brings together all the countries of the region, except Brazil, presented a joint declaration detailing shared aims for the summit and climate action in general. The document stresses the need for financing and to strengthen the role of GRULAC in climate negotiations.

The countries, the declaration reads, “reaffirm the importance of reinforcing coordination in the various multilateral forums, with a view to strengthening synergies and articulation in climate negotiations.” A strengthened GRULAC, they say, can help in “promoting the articulation of priorities”.

Echoing one of COP27’s key sticking points, the document also highlights “the need for greater provision of public resources by developed countries to developing countries”. It also makes calls to encourage the development of innovative climate finance instruments, such as sovereign bonds, guarantee funds and debt swaps for climate action.

Latin American ministers and officials at COP27
Latin American ministers and climate officials present the CELAC joint declaration on climate action at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, 9 November (Image: Fermín Koop)

Over the years, the region has negotiated via different groups at climate conferences. These include the Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC), the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) and the group of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, also referred to as ABU.

Argentina’s climate change secretary, Cecilia Nicolini, lamented the lack of “greater twinning” in Latin America on climate negotiations, saying that it was “a shame” that Latin America has previously been unable to negotiate together – something the document begins to address.

Susana Muhamad, Colombia’s environment minister, welcomed the declaration’s release, adding that Latin America wants to become a negotiating bloc in principle, based on certain common issues such as financing and debt swaps. “We have to be united even if we have disagreements. The document is a powerful first step,” she said.

Latin America seeks to not go unnoticed

This year’s UN climate change conference will see over 30,000 participants arrive in the Egyptian city of Sharm el-Sheikh, including country delegations, civil society representatives and journalists. Dubbed by many as “the African COP”, the meeting has brought high visibility for African countries and their climate calls, but so far a little less for Latin America, with limited presence of leaders from the region.

Colombia has its own pavilion at the summit, as do Venezuela, Panama, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and Chile, where different activities and events are taking place. Brazil has an official national government pavilion, but also two parallel pavilions – one for civil society and the other for the governors of its Amazonian states.

Mia Mottley speaks at COP27
Mia Mottley, prime minister of Barbados, speaking at COP27: “We have the collective capacity to transform” (Image: UN / Kiara Worth / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Among the region’s presidents and prime ministers in attendance during the first days of the conference were Gustavo Petro (Colombia), Nicolás Maduro (Venezuela), Mia Mottley (Barbados), Gaston Browne (Antigua and Barbuda) and Chan Santokhi (Suriname). Although he will not assume the presidency until January, Brazil’s recently elected Lula da Silva is also expected to arrive in Egypt, with his attendance, though unofficial, warmly welcomed by environmentalists.

In his address to the conference, Colombia’s Petro presented a “decalogue” of actions in the face of the climate crisis, calling for a “mobilisation of humanity, devaluation of the hydrocarbon economy, avoiding war and moving to a decarbonised economy”, among others. His “decalogue” also called to modify the functioning of organisations such as the International Monetary Fund.

For his part, Venezuela’s Maduro described the climate crisis as a “self-fulfilling prophecy” that must be confronted with “concrete, urgent and immediate” actions. He also criticised the “destructive capitalist model” that generates imbalances between global economies and called for financial assistance for the countries most affected by climate change.

The simple political will to deliver seems unable to be found

Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s speech was one of the summit’s most lauded, receiving rousing applause “We have the collective capacity to transform. We know what it is to remove slavery from our civilisation… to be able to find a vaccine within two years when a pandemic hits us… and to put a man on the moon,” she said. “But the simple political will to not just make promises but to deliver on them and make a difference seems unable to be found.”

For Adrián Martínez, director of Ruta al Clima, an organisation that promotes citizen participation in climate governance, Latin America has arrived at the COP and tried its best to not be “invisible” at the summit. “It is a discussion very much dominated by Africa, which overshadows [our] region,” he said, adding that Latin American countries may struggle to “appear in this obscurity”, even larger regional players such as Brazil and Colombia.

Priority issues for Latin America at COP27

Despite their fragmentation into different blocs, the speeches of Latin American leaders at COP27 have emphasised several priority issues for the region, many of them shared. Chief among them has been the call for increased finance to address the effects of the climate crisis, to support emissions reductions and for the protection of forests, notably the Amazon.

An upcoming report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), a preview of which was presented at COP27, revealed that the region currently has access to US$22 billion in climate finance for mitigation and adaptation. But by 2030, the commission reports, between $154 billion and $198 billion will be needed.

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“Latin America has not been at the centre of the conversation and this is worrying for certain issues such as financing. That’s why it has to position itself,” said Sandra Guzman, coordinator of the Climate Finance Group for Latin America and the Caribbean (GFLAC). “It is a region that has a lot to give but has not done so in a comprehensive way.”

At a side event to the summit, presidents Petro and Maduro called for greater protection of the Amazon rainforest. To this end, they proposed relaunching the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organisation, an agreement signed in 1978 with Brazil, Bolivia, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela that recognises the transboundary nature of the biome.

“We are determined to revitalise the Amazon rainforest to give humanity an important victory in the fight against climate change,” said Petro, who recalled his previous commitment to allocate $200 million dollars to protect the biome in Colombia. Maduro, meanwhile, called for “stopping the destruction and initiating a process of recovery”. There was also an invitation to participate extended to the incoming Lula, with Petro describing Brazil’s involvement as “absolutely strategic”.

Latin America has not been at the centre of the conversation, which is worrying for issues such as financing

Elsewhere, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guyana and Colombia, together with 22 other countries, launched The Forest & Climate Leaders’ Partnership, an alliance to halt forest loss and land degradation by 2030, promoting sustainable development. The partnership comes with funding from Germany and the United Kingdom for implementation in the coming years, and follows the commitments on forests made at last year’s COP26 summit in Glasgow

COP27 will continue until 18 November, with the second week focused on negotiations, seeking to finalise outstanding details of the implementation of the Paris Agreement, such as carbon markets, as well as a new financing mechanism for loss and damage for the already visible effects of climate change.

This story was produced as part of the 2022 Climate Change Media Partnership, a journalism fellowship organized by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security.