Climate and Energy

Interview: ‘Latin Americans must pull their weight on emissions’

Javier Dávalos, senior attorney at AIDA, talks with us on countries’ responsibilities ahead of COP26, and the insufficiency of Mexico’s current goals
<p>Pemex, Mexico&#8217;s state owned petroleum company is one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases in history (photo: <a href="">Flickr</a>)</p>

Pemex, Mexico’s state owned petroleum company is one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases in history (photo: Flickr)

In less than two weeks, COP26, the United Nations’ vital global conference on climate change, will begin – and the stakes are high. After the IPCC’s most recent report predicted a future of accelerating rises in global temperatures, it remains to be seen whether world leaders will be able to deliver ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Ahead of a potentially landmark summit, Diálogo Chino spoke with Javier Dávalos, a senior attorney for the climate change programme at the Inter-American Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA). AIDA is one of the few environmental law organisations in Latin America, and has used its legal expertise to secure environmental justice and protection in cases across the region. Dávalos, based in Ecuador, also focuses on the intersection of climate change and gender in Latin America.

Dávalos spoke about demands for climate finance and Latin American countries recognising their responsibility to mitigate climate change, especially Mexico, the region’s top emitter. Mexico will arrive at COP26 amid a lawsuit from civil society for offering weak ambition in face of ever more urgent climate change.

Diálogo Chino: Some experts argue that Mexico has lost its status as a climate leader in Latin America. How do you see Mexico coming into these negotiations? How is Mexico different from other countries?

Javier Dávalos: Mexico presented its first NDC in 2015 in the first round of the Paris Agreement, of 22% [reduction in GHG emissions], which was interestingly part of its unconditional goal, without international cooperation or external financing. This was very special. They committed to a 51% reduction in black carbon, which are greenhouse gases more potent than CO2. Mexico was one of the only ones that included short-lived pollutants in its NDCs. Along with the push for renewable energy, this made Mexico stand out. In recent years this has slowed down.

In December, Mexico updated its NDC and there was a serious problem, because the scenario used to make the measurement was adjusted, so Mexico’s goal did not change. They just raised the baseline against which the reduction will be measured. Climate Action Tracker, an independent organisation that analyses NDCs, identified that Mexico’s NDC has become insufficient at current levels of warming. Mexico has a large responsibility, as the largest emitter in Latin America.

Private enterprise has to recognise its responsibility and help towards a just energy transition

Greenpeace filed a lawsuit regarding the NDC. In March of this year, a district court said that Greenpeace lacked a strong basis, but another court gave an injunction, and said that the current NDC is suspended. So now there is an interesting limbo, because Mexico submitted an NDC but a court said that this NDC is suspended.

Greenpeace said that the court’s decision should not be a way to avoid emissions, and that the 22% target should not be relaxed, and the baseline should also not be relaxed. Now that COP26 is approaching, it is not very clear what Mexico’s current commitments are.

What role can civil society play in this regard? What active role is civil society taking right now to push Mexico to be more ambitious in its climate agenda?

I am aware of the work of organisations in Mexico such as the air quality observer OCCA of Mexico City, which monitors the serious impacts of pollution and is about to make a statement on all these facts. There is also the Mexican Alliance Against Fracking that is also seeking to prevent fracking in Mexico, which is a current promise, but there is no legal or constitutional prohibition.

Then at the level of the rest of the actors, first, I would say that private enterprise has to recognise its responsibility and help towards a just energy transition. It is a very important role. At the level of grassroots organisations or academia, there is a lot that has been done to promote the transition to just, fair energy, looking for more decentralised sources to move away from the big projects that can only be managed by large public companies. There are many organisations that are preparing for COP26, such as the Climate Action Network. It is very interesting to see this global network of organisations that are trying to get countries to meet their current climate goals. They are doing their best to advocate.

Ahead of COP26, the United States and China have made important announcements about reducing their emissions. What do you think should be the role of developing countries?

Latin America must play its role in demanding climate justice from developed countries that have contributed very high percentages of greenhouse gases in their industrialisation processes, and have the historical responsibility. But Latin America has to promote the idea of climate justice, recognising that it also has a responsibility.

Governments cannot hide behind the weight of responsibility. Pemex [of Mexico] and Petrobras [from Brazil] are among the 20 companies that have emitted the most greenhouse gases in history. They are known as “Carbon Majors”. Governments like those of Mexico and Brazil have to pull their weight, in addition to protecting their ecosystems and communities.

Latin America has to embark on the energy transition as soon as possible, if not, we will always be one step behind

In negotiations, we can differentiate the vulnerability that our region has due to its geographic and economic conditions, which make us very vulnerable to climate change. A key task is to prepare for climate adaptation. At the same time, it is important to highlight the need to receive financing, and to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. The fundamental thing is that Latin America has to embark on the energy transition as soon as possible, because if not, we will always be one step behind.

How do you see the gender issue in climate negotiations? How is the gender agenda being integrated into climate negotiations and what do you think could be better?

It is much broader than just thinking about how climate change affects women differently: the gender perspective is looking at how climate change affects different sectors of the population differently. In terms of a just energy transition, there is a different risk [for men and women] when it comes to changing job roles, or when there is an impact in relation to agriculture, for example.

Even in mitigation, the idea is that there should be recognition of differentiated measures, including sexual and reproductive rights. In general, women are much more responsible for caregiving tasks. If there is a large migration, there is a significant increase in the workload for women. We have to think about the distribution of the workload. There are already countries that have implemented a gender perspective for the NDCs, for example in Ecuador.