The Deplorable Climate Agenda of Jair Bolsonaro

The recent attack on far-right candidate and congressman, Jair Bolsanaro, has plunged Brazil’s upcoming presidential election into chaos and enhanced the prospects of a dangerous candidate who has expressed deplorable views and promotes an anti-environmental agenda.  

A right-wing populist, Bolsonaro poses a major threat to his nation’s climate commitments, promising to follow President Donald Trump’s lead and withdraw Brazil from the Paris Agreement.

Bolsonaro, described by The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Fishman as the most misogynistic, hateful elected official in the democratic world,” was stabbed at a campaign rally on September 7.  Although he lost 40 percent of his blood, he is improving and remains in the race.  In the first poll since the attack, Bolsonaro rose in popularity to a high of 30 percent, with no other candidate getting more than 12 percent.

A Bolsonaro victory would land a devastating blow to Brazil’s democracy.  Bolsonaro, who is currently capitalizing on a global wave of right-wing populism, has a history of making derogatory statements about marginalized groups.   He has shown a contempt for democratic norms, boasting at a campaign rally that he would like to shoot corrupt members of the popular Workers’ Party (PT) and has referred to the nation’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship as avery goodperiod.  

“Like Donald Trump, Bolsonaro is a racist,” says Paulo Lima, a Brazilian journalist and Executive Director of the non-profit Viração Educomunicação. “He is also a defender of guns.  He is against the rights of the LGBTI population and against the  women’s rights movement.” Paulo Lima, Brazilian Journalist.

The Lula Effect

The prospects of a Bolsonaro presidency rose dramatically on August 31 when Brazil’s Superior Electoral Tribunal (TSE) declared former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, or “Lula,” ineligible for a third term.   He is currently in jail, and could appeal a 12-year sentence for corruption and money laundering.

Prior to being declared ineligible, Lula was consistently polling ahead of Bolsonaro.  According to one CNT/MDA study in August, Lula polled at 21.8 percent, while Bolsonaro was at 18.4 percent.

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Foto: Wikimedia Commons

While Lula’s center-left PT differs considerably from Bolsonaro’s far-right Social Liberal Party, Bolsonaro could attract Lula’s populist-minded voters.

“The ‘outsider’ and ‘maverick’ image Bolsonaro tries to project in his campaign has also attracted non-ideological voters who would be with Lula if he was the candidate,” says Bruno Heilton Toledo Hisamoto, a Ph.D. candidate in International Relations at the University of São Paulo, speaking to La Ruta del Clima.  “That is, voters who like Lula’s style more than PT’s ideological platform and see this style in Bolsonaro. Thus, from the right, Bolsonaro gathers the votes that would traditionally go to a moderate Brazilian Social Democracy Party and manages to capture some of the votes that would go to Lula in normal circumstances.”

The Rise of Bolsonaro

Bolsonaro’s message has resonated with a Brazilian electorate fed up with rampant corruption in their country.  Current President Michel Temer of the Brazilian Democratic Movement party has had an approval rating in the single digits for months.  Since assuming power following the controversial impeachment of then-President Dilma Rousseff, Temer has been besieged with charges of corruption and obstruction of justice

To rally support, Bolsonaro has vowed to take on corruption and crime, while attacking marginalized groups in the process.

“Bolsonaro draws heavily on the discourse of Donald Trump, to whom he repeatedly paid public tribute since before his election,” says Toledo. “Like Trump, Bolsonaro wants to project the image of an outsider willing to challenge the political establishment and to end traditional politics, despite the fact that he has been a congressman for almost 30 years, with his sons holding elective positions in all areas of the legislature.” Bruno Heilton Toledo Hisamoto, a Ph.D. candidate in International Relations at the University of São Paulo.

A retired captain of the Brazilian army, Bolsonaro also appeals to a militaristic nationalism and accuses the left of being “globalist,” says Toledo. “At this point, he also resorts to xenophobia, rejecting the entry of immigrants into the country since they can ‘steal jobs’ from Brazilian workers.”

Bolsonaro and the Paris Agreement

While climate change has not played a major role in this year’s presidential campaign, and Bolsonaro’s intentions to leave the Paris Agreement have been little more than a footnote in his campaign message, withdrawal would have serious ramifications for both Brazil and the international community. Brazil, which is home to the world’s largest rainforest and ninth-largest economy, is also considered the likely host for the 2019 climate negotiations.  

Bolsonaro’s proposed withdrawal was met with harsh criticism from UN Environmental chief Erik Durkheim, who stated: “A rejection of the Paris Agreement is a rejection of science and fact. It’s also a false promise, because politicians who present climate action as a cost to society have got it all wrong.”

However, as Toledo notes, it would be difficult for Bolsonaro to withdraw Brazil from the Paris Agreement because the text was ratified by Congress and the President does not have immediate power to denounce it.  “In addition, many Brazilian states also have climate commitments that are independent of federal government action and virtually all large Brazilian companies in all economic sectors are signatories to international declarations in favor of climate actions.”

“My fear here is more practical than legal. A hypothetical Bolsonaro government could sabotage important measures to facilitate the achievement of Brazil’s targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, especially in deforestation combat and agriculture. If Bolsonaro loosens only land-use change legislation, the effects on national greenhouse gas emissions would be large.” Bruno Heilton Toledo Hisamoto, a Ph.D. candidate in International Relations at the University of São Paulo.

Concern has also been expressed by Lima, who is fearful:

“If Brazil were to abandon the Paris Agreement, it would have huge consequences  for us and it would be a big setback. First of all, Brazil would cease to be a major player in the international arena and in negotiations within the UNFCCC and the Conference of Parties. Brazil would become a major planetary threat because the Amazon would run the risk of totally disappearing.  Bolsonaro wants to further strengthen agro-business and the advancement of livestock in the Amazon. This means more deforestation plus increased carbon dioxide and methane emissions, the principal greenhouse gases.” Paulo Lima, Brazilian Journalist.

Much is on the line when voters in the world’s fourth-largest democracy go to the polls this October.  A Bolsonaro victory would deliver a devastating blow to the nation’s social, democratic and environmental prospects.

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Argentina’s Climate Agenda Compromised by Expanding Fracking Frontier

 

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Source: Ministry of Energy

Argentina’s commitment to the goals set forth by the Paris Agreement and its reputation as a regional climate leader stand to be compromised by the rapid expansion of shale oil and gas development in the nation’s interior.

Macri’s climate agenda

Argentine President Mauricio Macri has positioned Argentina as a leader in climate action since he assumed the presidency in December 2015.  Under this center-right president’s leadership, Argentina became one of the first countries to ratify the Paris Agreement, with unanimous backing from its congress.  A few months into office, Macri created an inter-ministerial National Cabinet on Climate Change to help “facilitate a coordinated policy response to climate change.”  Macri partnered with President Barack Obama to cut emissions from air flights and facilitate the development of renewable energy.  Argentina’s Ministry of Energy has launched a renewable energy bidding program, with the goal of 20 percent of the nation’s electricity from renewables by 2025.

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“Climate change is the most important challenge, the greatest of humanity and only by being aware of this will we be able to progress, without jeopardizing our future and that of the next generations,” said Macri, addressing the General Assembly of the United Nations.  “In Argentina, we are making an ambitious commitment – in terms of renewable energy – to develop our potential in sectors such as the generation of solar, wind and biomass.”

The reserves of Vaca Muerta

However, Argentina’s climate agenda is being undermined by the administration’s commitment to exploiting the nation’s massive shale oil and gas reserves.  Argentina, which already generates 60 percent of its electricity from fossil fuels, has one of the largest shale gas reserves in the world. The U.S. Energy Information Administration has identified nearly 802 million trillion cubic feet of shale gas reserves, second only to China.  Most of these reserves are located in the Vaca Muerta geologic formation in the country’s Neuquén Basin.

To extract oil and gas, Argentina has embraced hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.  This controversial technology involves injecting huge amounts of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to free reserves trapped deep underground. Along with the United States and Canada, Argentina has emerged as a global leader in shale gas production and is regarded as the fracking capital of the region. Argentina, where oil production from fracking is expected to triple over the next five years, has drawn interest from international oil conglomerates such as Exxon Mobil Corp, Chevron Corp., Royal Dutch Shell PLC and BP.

“Argentina is among the countries with the greatest potential in the world. We want the best companies to come and partner with us,” Macri said in a lunch with oil executives in Houston.

Fracking and Argentina’s climate goals

Macri’s embrace of the fossil fuel industry and expansion of the fracking frontier could undercut its goals set forth in the nation’s Nationally Determined Contribution.

“It has a big impact in terms of the climate commitments,” said Enrique Maurtua Konstantinidis, Senior Climate Change Advisor for the Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (FARN), speaking to La Ruta del Clima. “The protections around Vaca Muerta and use of shale oil and gas is a big threat. … In this regard, we cannot invest in an industry that actually goes against the Paris Agreement.”

Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director of Greenpeace International, went even further in her criticism of Argentina’s use of fracking. In an op-ed for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Morgan wrote:

“Macri’s economic reputation and climate legacy hinge on the country’s next move. Investing in Vaca Muerta – the world’s largest undeveloped non-conventional shale oil and gas reserve – would unleash a carbon bomb incompatible with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.”

Argentina, like many nations, is struggling to reach its modest targets under the Paris Agreement.  To honor its commitments, Argentina, which is already on track to become one of the most attractive markets in Latin America for renewable energy development, must move to limit shale oil and gas exploration.   

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López Obrador Sets Mexico on the Right Path with Plan to End Fracking

 

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Source: López Obrador Facebook Page

The promise of Mexico’s President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, marks a major win for environmental activists.

When asked at a July 31 press conference about the potential risks associated with the technology, Lopez Obrador made it clear his incoming administration will change course.  “We will no longer use that method to extract petroleum,” announced López Obrador, according to the Associated Press.

If Mexico does this, it will join nations such as FranceGermanyBulgaria,and Ireland that have banned this controversial technology.

Fracking is an extreme technology used to extract oil and gas from shale and other rock formations.  The process involves injecting huge amounts of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to free reserves trapped deep underground.  While fracking has been around for decades, it exploded in the mid-2000s, when the technology was combined with horizontal drilling and other technologies.

Fracking has also been the subject of much criticism.  While some have promoted this technology as a favorable alternative to coal, others have rightly criticized it as a “bridge to nowhere.” They have argued that the technology has led to an increase in methane emissions, a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and slowed the development of renewable technologies.  In a 2016 piece for The Nation, climate activist and co-founder of 350.org Bill McKibben wrote, “One of the nastiest side effects of the fracking boom, in fact, is that the expansion of natural gas has undercut the market for renewables, keeping us from putting up windmills and solar panels at the necessary pace.”

A host of other concerns are also raised by fracking.  A 2016 report by the Environmental Protection Agency concluded that fracking has the potential to contaminate drinking water supplies.  A recent study by the Concerned Health Professionals of New York and Physicians for Social Responsibility linked fracking to a higher risk of asthma, birth defects and cancer.  The technology has also been connected to increased seismic activity.

This process has revolutionized the oil and gas industry in the United States, where domestic oil and gas production has increased dramatically in recent years.  In 2012, the United States became the world’s top petroleum and gas producer, largely as a result of the nation’s fracking boom.

Fracking has expanded rapidly in Latin America. Argentina, with its Vaca Muerta rock formation holding one of the world’s largest shale gas reserves, is considered the fracking capital of the region.  Colombia has been in the exploratory stages of embracing this technology after the nation’s Ministry of Mines and Energy gave fracking the go-ahead in 2014.

But fracking has met with growing opposition in the region.  Earlier this month, activists and more than 30 legislators presented a bill to end fracking in Colombia.  Meanwhile, Uruguay instituted a four-year ban on the technology in 2017.

Mexico, with the shale-rich Burgos Basin on its northern border, has been coveted by private investors looking to exploit the nation’s reserves.  The nation opened itself up to fracking and foreign investment in recent years following the passage of a 2014 energy reform bill. In 2017, the country opened the Burgos Basin to private investment for natural gas exploitation.  Pemex, Mexico’s state-owned petroleum company, announced its intention to drill more than 27,000 wells in the shale-rich formations in the states of Coahuila, Chihuahua, Tamaulipas and Veracruz by 2045.

Although Lopez Obrador’s stance on fracking is encouraging, he has also spoken out in favor of ramping up oil and gas production in recent weeks, pledging to increase Mexico’s domestic oil production from 1.9 million barrels per day to 2.5 million.  Lopez Obrador has stated his administration will invest $9.4 billion in the state-owned energy sector and will oversee the construction of two new oil refineries.

Lopez Obrador offers an intriguing departure from Enrique Peña Nieto’s unpopular administration.  While his energy plan appears to be far from perfect, his decision to ban fracking should be considered a major step in the right direction.

Ireland’s Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill Highlights Success of a Growing Movement

Source: Trócaire ‏

Ireland is on track to become the first nation to divest from fossil fuel companies.  The Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill, expected to become law soon, requires the nation to get rid of $350 million in investments in 150 oil, gas, coal, and peat companies.  This will be one of the biggest wins to date for the fossil fuel divestment movement.

The move drew praise from environmentalists and progressive politicians around the world. Commending this initiative, U.S. environmental activist and co-founder of 350.org Bill McKibben stated on Twitter, “Ireland’s decision to divest from fossil fuels staggers me. It’s one of the landmark moments in what has become the largest campaign of its kind in history. Such thanks to all who fought.”

The lower house of Parliament passed the divestment bill to remove fossil fuels from the country’s €8 billion national investment fund.  The bill is expected to pass the upper house and has the support of Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.  Once enacted, Ireland will move ahead with its divestment plan “as soon as practicable” with the expectation that this will occur within five years. 

“I think it’s significant in shaping the whole argument around climate change. The fact that the Government is accepting it should strengthen … its commitment,” said Irish Parliament member Thomas Pringle, who introduced the bill. “Ireland must take on its fair share of the burden of climate action.”

The bill is poised to help change Ireland’s reputation as a climate “laggard.” Climate Action Network Europe ranked Ireland as the second worst actor in the European Union in the fight against climate change, finishing only behind Poland.

What is divestment?

The fossil fuel divestment movement, which was started by 350.org in 2010, seeks to have a broad of range of institutions eliminate their investments in coal, oil, and gas companies.  Most of the campaigns focus on a list of the top 200 fossil fuel companies.  Inspiration comes from the success of previous divestment campaigns,  most notably the worldwide 1980s campaign to divest from South Africa as a protest of apartheid.  

While the divestment movement has become a popular tactic to attack the driving forces of climate change, it is not without critics, who have panned the movement as being futile and misguided.  They have questioned whether the movement will result in significant action against climate change.

However, the impact of the divestment movement, which is still in its early stages, has become clear.   The net total of investment funds committed to divesting from fossil fuels has already topped $6 trillion. The coal giant Peabody Energy, which filed for bankruptcy in April 2016, noted in a report to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that divestment efforts could “adversely affect the demand for and price of securities issued by us, and impact our access to the capital and financial markets.”

The most important impact of the divestment campaign may be the long-term effect of stigmatizing fossil fuel companies.  As McKibben notes, “What it will do is begin the process, further the process, of politically bankrupting them.”

A growing movement

The fossil fuel divestment movement has been gaining steam in recent years as a large number of high-profile pledges from faith-based organizations, philanthropic foundations, governments, educational institutions, pension funds, NGOs, corporations, and healthcare institutions have propelled the movement.  Norway has pledged to partially divest fossil fuel investments from its massive $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund.   In January, New York City Mayor Bill Di Blasio declared that his city would divest the city’s pension funds from the fossil fuel industry.             

With the passage of this bill, Ireland has undergone a “seismic shift” to become a leader in climate action.  This bill is a massive win for a growing movement that hopes to put an end to fossil fuel dominance.

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AMLO and the Future of Climate Governance in Mexico

Villahermosa, Tabasco

Mexico is in for a change, with the election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador and the coming to power of the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) party.  What remains unclear is what kind of change and how extensive it will be.

On July 1, the former mayor of Mexico City, López Obrador, won the nation’s presidency in a landslide.  Lopez Obrador, or AMLO as he is often called, ran on a populist platform, promising to clean up corruption and combat inequality.

While his victory was welcomed by leftist politicians around the world such as British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, former Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner, and French politican Jean-Luc Mélenchon, he has also been treated with considerable skepticism. His brand of populism has been unfavorably compared to that of U.S. President Donald Trump and former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.  He has been called many things, such as a nationalist, leftist ideologue, pragmatist, authoritarian and centrist.

Mexico and Climate Change

In recent years, Mexico has played an important role in international climate change negotiations.  Mexico hosted the 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancún and has been a leader in climate governance on the global stage.

Under outgoing President Enrique Peña Nieto’s leadership, Mexico submitted a bold plan for its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution, committing to reduce by 22 percent its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Mexico became an active contributor to the Green Climate Fund and collaborated with President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to develop the North American Climate, Clean Energy, and Environment Partnership Action Plan, which seeks to advance clean and secure energy, drive down climate pollutants, promote clean and efficient transportation, and show global leadership in addressing climate change This plan boldly sets forth the goal of 50 percent clean power generation in North America by 2025.

Mexico recognizes its global responsibility with a solid commitment to mitigate greenhouse gases in order to nourish the new agreement to be adopted in COP 21 Paris, 2015 under the UNFCCC.” – President Enrique Peña Nieto

Mexico further solidified its position as a climate leader with the selection of Patricia Espinosa as the new Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC.  Espinosa, who served as Secretary of Foreign Affairs under President Felipe Calderón, replaced Costa Rica’s Christiana Figueres to lead the Secretariat in 2016.

The Rise of López Obrador

López Obrador’s campaign capitalized on a wave of global populism and a deep dissatisfaction with systemic corruption under Peña Nieto’s watch.  His message of fighting corruption, ending the drug war, and redistributing wealth resonated with a public that had grown weary of Peña Nieto and his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

López Obrador’s critical comments about President Trump also appealed to voters.  He has often spoken out against Trump and his demeaning treatment of Mexican people, going so far as to say: “Trump and his advisers speak of the Mexicans the way Hitler and the Nazis referred to the Jews, just before undertaking the infamous persecution and the abominable extermination.”

Despite being critical of Trump, López Obrador and the U.S. President have demonstrated a willingness to work with one another. During the campaign, López Obrador said, “I want a friendly relationship with the government of the United States, but not one of subordination.  Mexico is a free country, it is a sovereign nation. We will not be subject to any foreign government.”

Voters responded to López Obrador message by voting overwhelmingly for the candidate.  The second-place candidate, Ricardo Anaya of the National Action Party (PAN), finished nearly 30 points behind López Obrador.  PRI candidate Jose Antonio Mead received only 16 percent, delivering yet another resounding defeat to establishment party politics.

López Obrador and Climate Change Governance

It remains to be seen if López Obrador will build on the progress made by the previous administration with respect to climate change governance.  He did not emphasize climate change mitigation and adaptation and the implementation of the Paris Agreement during his campaign.

López Obrador has spoken out extensively on how to manage Mexico’s vast oil and gas reserves, calling for sweeping reforms in energy policy and pushing for greater self-sufficiency in the energy sector.  He has also pushed back against foreign investment in Mexico’s extractive sector, at one point declaring that he will make sure that oil does not “fall back into the hands of foreigners.”  What’s more, López Obrador and his designated Energy Secretary, Rocío Nahle García, have called for energy auctions to be halted.  López Obrador wants to increase Mexico’s refining capacity and exploit the nation’s natural gas reserves.

Earlier this year, López Obrador did meet with former U.S. Vice President and founder of the Climate Reality Project, Al Gore.  The two agreed to work together to promote renewable energy development and combat climate change.

López Obrador’s party, MORENA, emphasizes the importance of transitioning to renewable energy sources and reaffirmed its commitment to the implementation of the Paris Agreement in its 2018-2024 National Plan.  According to the plan, “An orderly, but accelerated, transition toward renewable energy…poses the opportunity to draw the country’s roadmap for the next generations from a clear strategic vision of sustainability to move toward a new civilizational paradigm of the future.”

At a recent press conference, Josefa González Blanco, who will serve as Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources under López Obrador, presented an environmental agenda for the next administration that centered on mitigating and adapting to climate change.   Agenda items include a zero deforestation goal through the promotion of community forest management, strengthening of Mexico’s international policies to combat climate change, adoption of alternative technologies and raising awareness about climate change.

While there is definitely reason for optimism following López Obrador’s landslide victory, it remains unclear how he will approach climate governance.  The world will be watching.

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ben Jealous and the Democratic Party Green Wave

Source: Twitter

The recent success of progressive candidates in primary races on June 26 in New York and Maryland show that a transformation may be under way in the Democratic Party.

The victories of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old democratic socialist candidate for New York’s 14th Congressional District, and Ben Jealous, the former President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) who is running for Governor of Maryland, were held up as key wins by the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

A former Bernie Sanders organizer, Ocasio-Cortez upset incumbent Joe Crowley, the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, by a stunning 15 percentage points.  She is expected to easily defeat her Republican opponent this November in a heavily Democratic district in the Bronx and Queens boroughs of New York City.  Jealous, a vocal supporter of Sanders during the 2016 election, easily defeated his primary opponent Rushern Baker.  He will face off with the Republican Governor Larry Hogan this November.

Both candidates are running on progressive platforms, calling for a “Medicare for all” universal health care system, marijuana legalization and criminal justice reform.  Ocasio-Cortez even went so far as to call for the abolishment of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  Each has embraced ambitious plans for climate change governance.

Ocasio-Cortez has called climate change the “single biggest national security threat for the United States and the single biggest threat to worldwide industrialized civilization.”  She seeks a Green New Deal and is campaigning on eliminating fossil fuels and modernizing the electrical grid by 2035. 

Ocasio-Cortez, whose mother was born in Puerto Rico, has placed the island at the center of her platform.  In an email to Huffington Post journalist Alexander Kaufman, Ocasio-Cortez stated:

“What we are proposing is the complete mobilization of the American workforce to combat climate change and income inequality simultaneously.  We should begin by rebuilding the infrastructure of Puerto Rico.  Our fellow Americans on the island have suffered horrendous losses and need investment at a scale that only the American government can provide. The green new deal we are proposing will be similar in scale to the mobilization efforts seen in World War 2 or the Marshall Plan.  It will require the investment of trillions of dollars and the creation of millions of high-wage jobs.”

Jealous has a history of environmental advocacy.  He launched a Climate Justice Program as head of the NAACP, risked arrest to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and has been a staunch opponent of fracking.  Jealous has promised to set a deadline for 100 percent clean and renewable energy if elected governor.

Jealous has been lauded for his environmental agenda as a gubernatorial candidate, receiving endorsements from prominent environmental organizations such as 350.org and Friends of the Earth.  As 350.org Executive Director Mary Boeve stated:

“If we want more elected officials who are ready to tackle the climate crisis next year, we need more candidates on the ballot this year who aren’t afraid of bold climate action…Ben Jealous [is] committed to protecting communities around the world facing greater risk everyday as the planet warms. [He is] already helping to build the fossil-free future we know is possible.”

In upcoming primary elections, other Democrats with bold environmental agendas are hoping to ride this new green wave.  Kaniela Ing, a congressional candidate from Hawaii, is running on an environmental platform calling for the phasing out of fossil fuel cars by 2030 and 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.  Former Sex and the City television star Cynthia Nixon, who is challenging Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, is campaigning on a climate justice platform that calls for the transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.

While these candidates face a difficult road ahead to implement their bold agendas, they represent a significant departure from establishment party politics.  The rise of this green wave should be a welcome change by climate activists seeking to reform the Democratic party. 

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Costa Rica 2018 Election: A Change in Climate Governance?

The first place finish of National Restoration Party candidate Fabricio Alvarado in the opening round of the 2018 elections in Costa Rica sent shock waves through Latin America’s oldest democracy.

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Foto Facebook: Fabricio Alvarado

Alvarado, a journalist, singer and Evangelical preacher, rose from 3 percent in the polls in January to gain nearly a quarter of the votes in the first round of the elections on February 4, primarily as a result of his opposition to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ decision in January ordering Costa Rica to recognize same-sex marriage.  Alvarado has threatened to pull Costa Rica out of the Inter-American Court, arguing that the decision is a violation of Costa Rica’s sovereignty.  He will face Carlos Alvarado, a center-left candidate from the ruling Citizens’ Action Party, in a runoff election on April 1st.

 

While Fabricio Alvarado has been outspoken in his positions on same-sex marriage, abortion and sex education in public schools, his plans on climate change remain unclear.  The environmental proposals addressed in his 56-page Government Plan lack specificity and an understanding of current climate governance structures, standing in stark contrast to Carlos Alvarado’s Plan.

Foto Facebook: Fabricio  Alvarado
Foto Facebook: Fabricio  Alvarado

Fabricio Alvarado is clearly ahead of his rival, leading by nearly 15 percentage points in a recent El Mundo poll.  Following February’s elections, the National Restoration Party now controls 14 of the 57 seats in Costa Rica’s Legislative Assembly, second only to the center-right National Liberation Party’s 17 seats.  Fabricio Alvarado was previously the party’s lone congressman.

A victory by the National Restoration Party in the presidential runoff will likely trigger significant changes in governance from the current administration of Luis Guillermo Solís. While topics of religion, gender and human rights have dominated the political discourse in recent weeks, there could also be a significant departure from the current administration’s climate governance policies.

Costa Rica has long been regarded as a leader in climate governance and has adopted bold and innovative environmental policies under the current administration.  With Solís at the helm, Costa Rica signed the Paris Agreement and set forth its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), which establishes ambitious targets for a developing nation, reaffirming its goal of carbon neutrality and pledging to become a country of zero net emissions by 2085.  Solís also extended Costa Rica’s ban on petroleum exploration and extraction through 2021.  And this past January, Solís signed into law an electric transportation bill that incentivizes the use of all-electric vehicles.

Fabricio Alvarado devotes an entire section of his Government Plan to Sustainable Environmental Restoration and highlights the importance of addressing the issue of global warming.  In his Government Plan, Alvarado states:

“The world is currently on the precipice of environmental catastrophe if the governments of the world do not take urgent measures to stop global warming, pollution and the destruction of our ecosystems. The Christian stewardship that lies at the basis of our ideology, understood as the obligation that we have to care for and preserve God’s creation, is expressed in our concern for the environment and sustainable development.”

Alvarado goes on to outline a series of sustainable action proposals, calling for the continuation of electricity produced through clean sources and ensuring that sustainability is incorporated in all orders for national development policies.  In addition, he calls for a new mining code to help pay off the country’s debt while leaving a green footprint and a new forest management policy that looks to improve the sustainable market options for Costa Rican wood.

Although Fabricio Alvarado seems to have some grasp of the urgency of environmental issues we face, he fails to make specific reference to climate adaptation and mitigation in his government plan, nor does he mention to Costa Rica’s NDC.  While the idea of Sustainable Environmental Restoration may be appealing, he fails to link his policies to the Paris Agreement or other international documents.  

Many of the policy proposals outlined in his government plan lack specificity and a timetable for action.  For example, Alvarado calls for the stiffening of penalties for public or private actions that undermine the country’s environmental sustainability.  It is unclear what actions Alvarado would consider to be detrimental to the country, how severe these penalties would be and how they would be implemented.

This stands in stark contrast to Carlos Alvarado’s Government Plan, which builds upon the work of the Solís administration and offers comprehensive proposals for climate governance.  His Plan is based on two principal  goals:

  • Advance the decarbonization of the economy through actions to reduce emissions.
  • Implement effective mitigation, adaptation and risk management policies to be a nation resilient to climate change.

Most importantly, Carlos Alvarado’s proposals directly address the need to fulfill the goals set forth in the Paris Agreement.  Alvarado plans to uphold Costa Rica’s promise of becoming a carbon neutral country by 2021 and honor the goals of Costa Rica’s NDC.  Alvarado hopes to make Costa Rica a global model for decarbonization.  

A Carlos Alvarado administration would likely maintain Costa Rica’s place as a global leader in climate governance, but a Fabricio Alvarado-led government would largely be a step into the unknown.  While other issues have dominated the news cycle, Solís’ impressive climate legacy may be at stake when Costa Rican voters go to the polls on April 1.

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2017: A Year in Review with La Ruta del Clima

 

2017 review


Trump administration reverses course

Within minutes of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the climate change webpage on the official White House website disappeared.  This foreshadowed a crackdown on climate science and Obama-era policies and signaled a seismic shift in policy under this new administration filled with climate deniers and fossil fuel advocates.  

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Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke have helped lead a regulatory rollback of Obama-era policies.  Since January 20, Trump has signed executive orders approving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines and expanding offshore drilling, Zinke has lifted a moratorium on coal leases on public lands and Pruitt has announced his intention to scrap the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.


The United States withdraws from the Paris Agreement, while Syria and Nicaragua join

In a widely criticized move, which Trump claimed was a “a reassertion of America’s sovereignty,” he announced the United States would withdraw from the Paris Agreement on June 1.  Trump blasted the agreement as a “massive redistribution of United States wealth to other countries,” announcing his intention to end the United States’ implementation of its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) and its payments to the Green Climate Fund.  The United States cannot officially withdraw from the agreement until November 4, 2020.

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On October 25, Nicaragua’s Vice President Rosario Murillo stated that her country would be joining the Paris Agreement.  Nicaragua had previously opposed the accord on the grounds that it was not ambitious enough.

During the second day of this year’s climate summit in November, Syrian delegates announced their intention to sign the Paris Agreement, leaving the United States as the only nation opposed to the Paris Agreement.

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Natural disasters dominate news cycle

2017 was not a normal year for natural disasters.

This year’s Atlantic hurricane season was one of the most destructive in history, with Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate causing devastation in the Caribbean, southern United States and Central America.  Nate led to 22 deaths in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras.  Hurricane Maria crippled Puerto Rico’s power grid and fresh water supply, sparking a humanitarian crisis. The United States suffered more $200 billion dollars from storms this season, making it the most expensive hurricane season ever.

Increasing sea level temperatures and changing atmospheric conditions from climate change in the Atlantic have helped intensify the hurricane season in recent years, with 2017 ranking as one of the seven most intense ever recorded.  

More than 1,200 people died this summer in India, Nepal and Bangladesh from massive flooding during monsoon season.  Rising sea temperatures in South Asia and changing atmospheric conditions have also helped intensify storms in this region.

Wildfires in northern California resulted in over 40 fatalities and billions of dollars of damage.  Countries such as Chile, Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Croatia, Greece, Russia, Greenland and Canada were also heavily impacted by wildfires in 2017.  Scientists have speculated that there is a climate component fueling these fires

 

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One of the hottest years on record

As 2017 winds down, it is on track to be one of the three hottest years on record.  This is coming off the warmest year ever in 2016, with the ten hottest years having all occured since 1998.


COP23 held in Bonn, Germany

This year’s climate negotiations in Bonn, hosted by the island-nation of Fiji, led to a resolution helping advance the implementation of the Paris Agreement as well as the launching of several initiatives and alliances, including:

Talanoa Dialogue:  This inclusive and participatory process will facilitate the “sharing of ideas, skills and experience through storytelling” among governments on how to implement the Paris Agreement and enhance action in countries’ nationally determined contributions.  

Gender Action Plan: This initiative seeks to increase the role of women in climate change governance.

InsuRelience Global Partnership: The InsuResilience Global Partnership for Climate and Disaster Risk Finance and Insurance Solutions was launched with the financial assistance of Germany and the United Kingdom, to help provide insurance and financial protection to populations vulnerable to climate change.  

Powering Past Coal Alliance: Canada and the United Kingdom announced the formation of this alliance, which includes more than two dozen nations, two U.S. states and several Canadian provinces.  The alliance’s members, which include Costa Rica, committed to “phasing out existing traditional coal power in their jurisdictions, and to a moratorium on any new traditional coal power stations without operational carbon capture and storage within their jurisdictions.”

America’s Pledge – Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and California Governor Jerry Brown held a launch event at the U.S. Climate Action Center for the America’s Pledge initiative, which brings together members of the private and public sectors in the United States committed to remaining in the Paris Agreement.   


France and the United Kingdom make strides

Under a draft bill submitted in September, France will no longer issue new oil and gas exploration permits on its mainland and territories, and current concessions will be phased out by 2040.   This bill is largely a symbolic move, as France imports the vast majority of its hydrocarbons used for consumption.  Hulot also announced France will ban petrol and diesel cars by 2040 and has been vocal about reducing France’s dependence on nuclear energy.

Following France’s lead, the British government announced its intention to ban all petrol and diesel cars by 2040.  

Scottish Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse announced an effective ban on fracking after a public consultation demonstrated overwhelming opposition to the technology.


Tesla and Volvo make advances in electric vehicles

In July, Volvo announced that all new vehicles from 2019 onwards would be hybrid or fully electric.  In a historic move, the Swedish car company announced that it would produce five fully electric models between 2019 and 2021.
Elon Musk revealed an electric semi-truck produced by Tesla in November, promising production would start in 2019.  This new truck can travel up to 500 miles in between charges. 

Giant iceberg splits from Antarctica

An iceberg roughly one-ninth the size of Costa Rica and weighing one trillion tons, split from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica.  While it was unclear the extent that climate change played, this event was symbolic of the urgency of the threat global warming poses.

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America’s Pledge: Filling the Void at COP23

During the COP23 Conference in Bonn earlier this month, a group of leaders from state and local governments, the business world, colleges and faith organizations established the U.S. Climate Action Center, a giant pavilion where they reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement.  High profile figures such as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Vice President Al Gore and California Governor Jerry Brown spoke about the importance of transitioning to a low-carbon economy and meeting the two-degree climate target established in Paris.

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IMG_2995During COP23, Bloomberg and Brown held a launch event for America’s Pledge, an initiative that brings together public and private sector leaders committed to meeting the goals set forth in the Paris Agreement. This broad alliance sent a message to the rest of the world that much of the United States was willing to move forward, despite President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the accord.  Governors, senators, mayors, corporate executives, university presidents, and religious leaders pledged to do their share to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support renewable energy.  

 

“The group of U.S. cities, states, and businesses who remain committed to the Paris Agreement represents a bigger economy than any nation outside the U.S. and China,” said Bloomberg in his remarks about America’s Pledge at COP23. “We should have a seat at the table – and the ability to work with peers in other nations. And that’s the aim of this pavilion.”

Bloomberg went on to say: “The Trump Administration did send a delegation here to Bonn, and this might be the first climate conference where coal is promoted as an example of sustainability – but it will also likely be the last. The world is moving on, and so is the U.S.”

Leaders of America’s Pledge initiative were not without their critics who pointed out that many of these leaders have often been at odds with environmentalists.

Governor Brown, who was targeted throughout his appearances in Bonn, presides over the country’s third largest oil- and gas-producing state.  And while Brown has been hailed by some as a climate hero for helping extend California’s cap-and-trade program to 2030 and signing green energy agreements with partnering Chinese cities, he has often been criticized by “keep it in the ground” activists for embracing fracking and urban drilling in California.

Bloomberg has also been a proponent of fracking and was critical of New York’s decision to ban the technology, coauthoring an op-ed piece in The Washington Post entitled “Fracking is too important to foul up.”  Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who spoke at COP23, has been criticized by environmentalists for backing natural gas pipelines and championing off-shore drilling.  

Corporations and banks represented at the U.S. Climate Action Center, such as Walmart, Citigroup, Inc., and JPMorgan Chase, also have mixed environmental records.  While Walmart has pledged to become 100 percent supplied by renewable energy and create zero waste, only about 13 percent of its energy use in the United States comes from renewable energy.   Citigroup, Inc. has committed $100 billion to finance sustainable growth over a 10-year period, but has spent billions of dollars financing coal power plant operators.  JPMorgan Chase financed billions of dollars in extreme oil projects, such as Arctic drilling and tar sands extraction.

While many of the leaders of this initiative have far from immaculate environmental records, their defiant stand at COP23 helps fill the void in U.S. climate leadership that was left by the current administration.  As Bloomberg pointed out, this coalition represents more than half of the U.S. economy and would constitute the world’s third largest economy.  

“Cities, states, regions, and businesses can help to lead the way. Around the world, we need to empower local and regional governments to take action – and to work with business leaders to leverage their resources and expertise,” said Bloomberg. “America’s Pledge seeks to do just that – and we hope the UN will continue working on ways to incorporate non-state actors into the international process, in every country in the world.”

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If America is to meet its commitment to the Paris Agreement, it will require an all-hands-on-deck strategy. With the current administration turning its back on climate change, other players must step in.  As the world continues to fall short of the Paris Agreement targets, this new coalition of U.S. politicians, corporate executives, religious leaders and university presidents must take leadership in denouncing fossil fuel extraction and committing to carbon neutrality.

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Notes from the Bonn Zone Day 11

Thursday marked the next to last day of COP23 as negotiations edged toward a close.

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On Thursday morning, a side event on the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) was held in the French Pavilion, where the CAFI presidency was transferred from Norway to France.  The CAFI Initiative partners a group of Central African countries with donors to “recognize and preserve the value of the forests in the region to mitigate climate change, reduce poverty and contribute to sustainable development.” The CAFI event featured a variety of speakers from Europe and Central Africa, including Norway’s Minister of Climate and the Environment, Vidar Helgesen, and France’s Minister of Ecological and Solidarity Transition, Nicolas Hulot.   They discussed the importance and urgency of CAFI and the role their countries have played in the initiative.

“The gluttony of man for the earth can be limitless.  The planet will not survive the loss of its forest resources,” said Hulot.  

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Norway’s Minister of Climate and the Environment, Vidar Helgesen, speaks on CAFI at the French Pavilion.

Hulot stressed the need to be good stewards of the forest: “Our window is getting shorter and shorter.”

Thursday morning also featured a high-profile event on “Uniting for Climate Education Further, Faster, Together through Partnerships.”  The speakers included UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa, Princess of Morocco Lalla Hasnaa, Saint Lucia Minister of Education Gale Tracy Christiane Rigobert, Italy’s Director General for Sustainable Development, Energy and Climate Francesco La Camera, and climate and education advocate Zuriel Odulowe.

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Climate and education advocate Zuriel Odulowe speaks at high-profile event on Uniting for Climate Change.

In her opening remarks, Espinosa highlighted the important work the UNFCCC is doing in relation to climate change.  However, she stressed that there is much work to be done, noting that only 40 percent of countries have climate change in their education curricula.

“We need to do more to prepare people of all ages for the challenges that climate change poses to our societies and our economies,” said Espinosa.  “I call it the age of renewal. Those prepared to lead it will be the ones who will define this century.”

Following her opening remarks, Espinosa signed  a formal cooperation agreement on climate education between the UNFCCC and Morocco’s Mohammad VI Foundation.

The COP Presidency Event on Integrating Human Rights in Climate Action featured a strong lineup of speakers and panelists that included COP President and Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, President of the Marshall Islands Hilda Heine, Former Irish President Mary Robinson and Minister for Environment and Energy for Costa Rica Edgar Guitierrez Espeleta.  Speakers and panelists discussed the connection between climate change and human rights, their frustration with the lack of progress being made on the ground and the importance of the Geneva Pledge on Human Rights and Climate Action.

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Former Irish President Mary Robinson addresses Integrating Human Rights in Climate Action 

Robinson delivered the event’s closing remarks with a powerful reminder of the threat climate change poses to human rights.  

“There is no doubt it’s the biggest human rights threat that we face because it becomes an existential threat to the human race if we don’t deal with it,” said Robinson.  “That existential threat is closer than we think.”