Latin America & the Caribbean Assess Climate Ambition and Action Ahead of COP26

Wallhouse, Dominica, 2017, a few days after Category 5 Hurricane Maria struck the island. At the Latin America and the Caribbean Climate Week the Dominican Republic called for a consolidated regional vision in the face of climate change that would bring a strong regional position to COP26. Credit: Alison Kentish/IPS

Wallhouse, Dominica, 2017, a few days after Category 5 Hurricane Maria struck the island. At the Latin America and the Caribbean Climate Week the Dominican Republic called for a consolidated regional vision in the face of climate change that would bring a strong regional position to COP26. Credit: Alison Kentish/IPS

By Alison Kentish
UNITED NATIONS, May 13 2021 – The Dominican Republic opened the 2021 virtual Latin America and the Caribbean Climate Week with a pledge to increase the country’s climate ambition by reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 27 percent and maintaining progress towards climate neutrality according to the goals of the Paris Agreement.

“For us, climate action is not just about mitigation. We need to prepare for what is coming. We especially welcome this Latin America and Caribbean Climate Week. Let’s consolidate a regional vision in the face of climate change and bring a strong regional position to COP26,” said Dominican Republic’s Environment and Natural Resources Minister Orlando Jorge Mera.

Jorge’s emissions announcement and call to action come as the United Nations is urging countries to put climate action and sustainable development at the center of COVID-19 pandemic recovery efforts.

Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Patricia Espinosa said the May 11 to 14 Climate Week is an opportunity to face the sobering reality that current ambition and action levels are insufficient to tackle the climate crisis.

“Despite all the evidence, the numbers, statistics, human misery, nations have not yet moved the Paris Agreement from adoption to implementation, nor have they fulfilled commitments under it,” she told the opening ceremony.

This year’s Latin America and the Caribbean Climate week is taking place six months ahead of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow. The organisers are hoping that the regional talks end with a commitment to put accelerated climate action at the heart of COVID-19 recovery efforts.

The event’s backdrop is a grim one. It includes the findings of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Adaptation Gap Report released earlier this year, which concluded that the world is lagging far behind in adaptation to climate change, finance and implementation.

As countries continue to deal with the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Meteorological Organisation recently published its State of the Global Climate Report, which found that concentrations of the major greenhouse gases increased, despite a temporary reduction in emissions in 2020, due to COVID-19 containment measures.

The report also noted that 2020 was one of three warmest years on record.

It is against these reports that the UNFCC says this week’s talks are taking place at a time of ‘great urgency.’ 2021 is regarded as a historic year for climate action and the Caribbean, with its small island states, warming ocean temperatures and increasingly intense storms, is on the frontlines of the climate emergency.

“This is the year we either lose sight of the Paris targets, or it is the year we start implementing the Paris Agreement. It is our opportunity to increase global climate ambition in COVID-19 recovery and kick-start a decade of action,” a UNFCC statement said.

The regional climate week talks are divided into three thematic themes; national actions and economy-wide approaches, integrated approaches for climate-resilient development and seizing transformation opportunities.

Organisers are hoping to amplify the Latin American and Caribbean youth voice on climate action and convened a special event focused on helping young people to take a leading role in climate advocacy.

Madrelle, Loubiere, Dominica 2017, a few days after Category 5 Hurricane Maria struck the island. The Latin America and the Caribbean Climate Week is exploring challenges and ambitious solutions to protect lives and livelihoods from climate change impacts. Credit: Alison Kentish/IPS

Madrelle, Loubiere, Dominica 2017, a few days after Category 5 Hurricane Maria struck the island. The Latin America and the Caribbean Climate Week is exploring challenges and ambitious solutions to protect lives and livelihoods from climate change impacts. Credit: Alison Kentish/IPS

Youth climate activist and Caribbean Youth Environment Network Special Envoy Jevanic Henry of Saint Lucia addressed that panel. He told IPS that as climate change poses a significant threat to lives and livelihoods, platforms like climate week are critical for youth contribution to solutions.

I always emphasise on the need for youth led-entities particularly in our Small Island Developing States to use their collective strength, building partnerships across the region, to facilitate great knowledge exchange and resource sharing which can contribute towards scaling up youth capacity building initiatives,” he told IPS.

“Going forward, I believe there is still a need for an increase in dedicated resource facilities both at the national and sub-regional level which are easily accessible for grassroots youth-led entities, that they can use in strengthening the capacity of young people from all walks of life, in line with the Sustainable Development Agenda of ‘Leaving no-one behind.’”

Henry, a youth award winner for his work in climate change and sustainable development, said he is pleased with the increasing inclusion of youth in climate solutions.

“I have seen the steady growth of youth involvement in climate action at the national and regional level. It is due to such increased youth action I can say with Saint Lucia’s recent submission of its updated NDCs, not only as young people we were engaged in the revision process, but also in this submission the Children/Youth component of the NDC has been strengthened,” he told IPS.

Like the UN officials at this week’s summit, Henry said there is room for improvement, particularly in holding governments accountable to climate commitments between 2021-2030.

“Until such time that the climate crisis is a staple in the minds and discussions of all young people like with the COVID19 pandemic, there will still be a need for improving our national and regional youth climate movement,” he said.

The UNFCC said this regional meeting is an opportunity for ‘grassroots exchange’ among youth, government, civil society and the business community, to contribute to COP26.

The message is that the time for a surge in action is now.

“You cannot measure climate change by numbers, statistics and economics alone. Its true impact is measured in human misery, loss and death. Nor can numbers capture the growing sense of fear and anxiety from people throughout the world who know that climate change is not some future challenge, but a problem that their leaders are simply not working hard enough to address today,” said Espinosa.

The organisers will convene two more regional climate talks ahead of COP26.

Asia-Pacific Climate Week is scheduled for Jul. 6 to 9, while Africa Climate Week will take place from Jul. 19 to 22.

Russia’s Sputnik Diplomacy

Older adults are amongst the first Peruvians to receive COVID-19 vaccines at a vaccination site in Lima, Peru. “The World Health Organisation’s Global Vaccine Access Fund, or Covax, amounts to a clearinghouse for the West’s leftovers,” says the writer. Credit: UNICEF/Jose Vilca

By Valentina Lares
MADRID, May 13 2021 – While Western countries were busy with their own vaccination campaigns, Russia has filled the leadership vacuum in developing countries.

Amid the West’s scramble for vaccines, a trickle of news flies under the radar. Argentina becomes the first country in South America to produce Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. The first shipment of Sputnik V is promised to Peru by May.

Some 11,000 Sputnik V doses reach North Macedonia, while Tunisia begins administering 30,000 doses, and 1.7 million more are promised to Bolivia by May. The African Union confirms it has received an offer of 300 million doses from Russia, which has already signed agreements to produce tens of millions of doses in China, Brazil, Iran and Serbia.

While we weren’t looking, Russia’s Sputnik V became the cornerstone of pandemic response for the developing world.

The race for influence

The vaccine offers a unique chance to launder Russia’s reputation. But the Sputnik V jab is about more than image. It’s a calculated campaign to increase the Kremlin’s power and influence through a global scientific, diplomatic, and media influence operation.

Russian capabilities align elegantly with the world’s pandemic needs. As developing countries tried and failed to secure enough vaccine supplies through Western mechanisms, headlines worldwide hail Russia as the partner that really comes through when it counts.

As developing countries tried and failed to secure enough vaccine supplies through Western mechanisms, headlines worldwide hail Russia as the partner that really comes through when it counts.

Sputnik V is the image of Russia the Kremlin wants to project. Far from the authoritarian, bellicose, annexationist Moscow that poisons its domestic political opponents and interferes in its rivals’ elections, Sputnik V casts Russia in the role of scientific superpower and pandemic saviour.

Flexing the media-muscle

Russia’s official mouthpieces — Russia Today, Sputnik Radio, and the TASS news agency — minutely cover each new country, from Laos to Panama, that approves Sputnik V for use, while the Russian Direct Investment Fund, the Kremlin agency that bankrolled Sputnik V’s development, trumpets Russia’s achievement not just in finding a vaccine first, but also in making it widely available.

Valentina Lares

Sputnik V’s Twitter feed (because of course Sputnik V has its own Twitter feed) pumps out messages once or twice an hour — ‘A planeload of vaccines lands in Armenia!’ — or retweets good news from partner countries, such as this one, from the Mexican Health Ministry, which claims that Sputnik V is the only vaccine with a 0 per cent chance of producing serious adverse side effects.

What Russia can no longer achieve with its declining military strength, Flemming Splidsboel Hansen at the Danish Institute for International Studies writes, it now seeks through cognitive and digital means.

And Russia’s storied bot armies are on the march on the vaccine’s behalf. In December 2020, an investigation in The Daily Beast found that a Russian state-linked content farm known as Caliwax was behind Why Africa should focus on Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, a viral WhatsApp chain that spread far and wide through Ghana and Nigeria.

Meanwhile, sources that the State Department’s Global Engagement Centre describes as ‘guided’ by Russian state intelligence have been peddling between two and three pieces a day hyping the arrival of Sputnik V in locations around the world.
What Russia can no longer achieve with its declining military strength, Flemming Splidsboel Hansen at the Danish Institute for International Studies writes, it now seeks through cognitive and digital means.

Supporting allies

First in line for the Russian jab have been Moscow’s long-time allies, typically led by autocrats like Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela. ‘The vaccines underline the anti-Western bloc’s scientific prowess,’ says Félix Arellano, a professor of international relations at the Universidad Central de Venezuela in Caracas.

‘Ideology demands it be portrayed as greater than the West’s. Russia’s posture, in offering up highly effective vaccines at a low price for countries like Venezuela, is media-driven. It’s how Russia and its allies seek to show that authoritarian governments can also grow in the scientific realm, that it’s possible to grow without democracy.’

Argentina, under a proto-socialist government, was the first to send a team to Moscow to translate Sputnik V’s technical documentation to Spanish and set up its own production facilities.

Other countries soon followed suit: Mexico, Brazil, Bolivia, and even U.S. allies like Peru, Chile, and Colombia. These last three were the ultimate feather in the Kremlin’s cap, the final seal of approval on an operation that is succeeding largely thanks to the West’s navel-gazing inaction.

‘At this point the discussion, at least in Peru, grants the need to negotiate to secure whatever vaccine is on offer,’ explains Oscar Vidarte, a professor of international relations at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Perú in Lima.

Western failures are Russia’s success

For Colombia, Washington’s most reliable ally in South America, buying into Sputnik V serves two purposes: immunising a vulnerable population and rebuilding bilateral links with Moscow, which had been icy since Colombia expelled two Russian diplomats accused of spying in Colombian oil and mining regions last December.

‘We’re [Washington’s] key ally in the region,’ says Mauricio Jaramillo, who teaches international relations at the Universidad del Rosario in Bogotá, ‘and the U.S. is not trying to leverage vaccines to project its power or earn prestige.’

Russia makes sure to portray vaccine supply deals not as charity, but as partnerships among equals. Giving the leaders of poor countries the chance to say ‘I’m doing something about this’ is almost as big a prize as the shots themselves, he says.

The West hasn’t so much lost this fight as forfeited it. The World Health Organisation’s Global Vaccine Access Fund, or Covax, amounts to a clearinghouse for the West’s leftovers.

The Biden administration has pledged some $4 billion to Covax, but the WHO’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, acknowledges that ‘when there are no vaccines to buy, money is irrelevant.’

Arellano has pointed out that it’s not just access to ample supply that’s tilting the field in Moscow’s favour: It’s how the Russians approach supply agreements. Russia makes sure to portray vaccine supply deals not as charity, but as partnerships among equals.

Giving the leaders of poor countries the chance to say ‘I’m doing something about this’ is almost as big a prize as the shots themselves, he says.

Coming through when it really counts

Sputnik V’s successes keep mounting. The European Union’s shambolic vaccine roll-out has brought even some member countries like Slovakia, Hungary, Greece, and the Czech Republic knocking on Moscow’s door. Each has had to negotiate unilaterally for its share.

Italy and Spain are now considering doing the same, and the European Medicines Agency has had no choice but to formally consider certifying the Russian vaccine, softening its line in the wake of Crimea and Navalny.

To be sure, liberal democracy need not fear for its life from the Russian vaccine. But the West has left a huge leadership vacuum at a moment of acute crisis that Russia is determined to exploit.

Western democracies, and particularly the United States, have lost too many opportunities to the pandemic — not least among them the chance to back their allies, firm up their influence and position themselves as the go-to model for how to manage a crisis that, many scientists fear, could be repeated sooner than many realise.

Where will the world turn then?

Source: International Politics and Society (IPS) published by the International Political Analysis Unit of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Hiroshimastrasse 28, D-10785 Berlin.

This article was originally published in the community blog Persuasion.

 


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The writer is a journalist and managing editor of Armando.info, an investigative journalism site.