Sat. Jul 20th, 2024

Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s Latin America Brief. The highlights this week: Oil-rich Colombia hones its climate diplomacy, the conservative leaders of Argentina and El Salvador charm U.S. audiences at CPAC, and how the Brazilian açaí bowl might fall victim to climate change. Subscribe to Latin America Brief for more insights every Friday.

Last week, Colombian officials announced that the city of Cali will host this year’s United Nations Biodiversity Conference. The last such gathering, held in Montreal in 2022, produced a landmark deal to protect 30 percent of the world’s land and oceans by 2030. At the Cali summit, scheduled over two weeks in October and November, nations will report their national-level plans for reaching global conservation goals. The event also will feature negotiations on climate finance and a check-in on countries’ implementation of a global agreement on fair use of genetic resources that was adopted in 2010.

Hosting the conference is key to leftist Colombian President Gustavo Petro’s geopolitical ambitions. Oil is Colombia’s No. 1 export, but the president is spearheading a concerted push to green Colombia’s economy and halted new oil exploration contracts after taking office in August 2022. Bogotá has also ramped up efforts to slow deforestation in the parts of the Amazon that fall within its borders, yielding strong results early in Petro’s term.

Protecting nature “should become a strategic interest of countries from the global south,” Colombian Environment Minister Susana Muhamad said in an interview with Foreign Policy on Tuesday. She argued that the “old rules of the economy” need to change for developing countries to meet their environmental goals. These include rules about sovereign debt and the conditions for climate-related loans. At last year’s U.N. climate conference in Dubai, known as COP28, Bogotá became the first significant oil exporter to join a global alliance calling for a fossil fuel nonproliferation treaty. Organizers say such an agreement would aim to commit countries to their energy transitions while also guaranteeing they have the money to do so.

“We hope, by the end of the year, to be able to announce that in 2025 we will start negotiating a binding treaty,” Muhamad said. However unrealistic such a deal may seem, the campaign appears to have borne early results. In Dubai, calls for the treaty “generated momentum” around the need for a summit communiqué that explicitly mentioned the necessity of moving away from fossil fuels—a first in the history of U.N. negotiations, Ilan Zugman of the environmental group said. Colombia’s efforts dovetailed with Emirati pressure on Saudi Arabia to relax its opposition to fossil fuels being mentioned in the document, Zugman added.

At COP28, Colombia also partnered with France and Kenya to launch an expert panel that will publish information about how rules for dealing with sovereign debt affect countries’ abilities to meet their climate goals. Colombia’s opposition to new fossil fuel exploration has put pressure on its neighbors. At a summit of Amazon rainforest nations last year, Petro publicly called on countries such as Brazil to commit to abstaining from oil exploration in the Amazon region. Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva—who has signaled support for fossil fuel exploration in the name of economic growth—remained silent when pressed by Petro and reporters on the issue.

“This is healthy for the region because Petro is pushing Lula and Brazil to do more,” Zugman said. Colombia’s confrontational climate diplomacy carries some risks. The moratorium on new oil contracts could mean the country misses out on short-term economic growth. Oil exports remained steady from 2022 to 2023 as companies continued to pump oil under existing contracts, but Petro’s critics have warned that a drop in export revenue could be around the corner as Colombian oil reserves dwindle. Investment across all sectors of Colombia’s economy fell by more than 24 percent last year, and GDP growth dropped to less than 1 percent.

While the Petro administration is currently enjoying the reputational glow of reduced Amazon deforestation, its strategy on this front carries its own hazards. Deforestation fell in Colombia in part because a rainforest-based insurgent group that is in cease-fire talks with the government has cracked down on illegal logging as part of the negotiations, a senior Colombian official told reporters this week in Washington. If the talks fail, some forest protection could collapse, too. For now, however, Bogotá’s strong actions on climate have increased its sway in environmental diplomacy. That influence will be on full display in Cali later this year.

Friday, March 1: St. Vincent and the Grenadines hosts a summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). Wednesday, March 20, to Thursday, March 21: The U.N. Human Rights Council discusses Venezuela. Caribbean confabs. At two summits this week, high-ranking Latin American and Caribbean diplomats have devoted their agendas to the region’s biggest crises: Haiti’s security breakdown and Venezuela’s presidential election, which is expected to be held later this year but is unlikely to be free or fair. At a Caribbean Community summit in Guyana, leaders issued a statement saying that acting Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who was in attendance, had agreed to hold elections by mid-2025—a longtime demand of Haitian civil society groups. Henry is unelected and has been ruling since former President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in July 2021. At the CELAC summit in St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Friday, Lula is due to hold a one-on-one meeting with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to urge Maduro to uphold electoral conditions he committed to as part of a deal negotiated with Venezuela’s opposition in Barbados last year. The meeting may reveal the extent of Brazil’s leverage and how serious Lula is about using it. The United States has thrown its weight behind the Barbados deal, lifting some sanctions on Venezuela in the hope that doing so will compel Maduro to comply. But, as David Smilde and Isabel Rowan Scarpino wrote last week in Foreign Policy, Washington’s ability to influence events in Caracas is limited. Diplomatic data. A new index from the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank, includes a power ranking of countries based on the number of diplomatic outposts each has around the world. Lowy analyst Jack Sato wrote that Mexico’s massive diplomatic presence in the United States stood out in the data; across the country, Mexico boasts 51 diplomatic facilities. Mexico has fewer outposts in the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean combined, underscoring how closely it is intertwined with its northern neighbor. Diplomatic outposts are often founded to serve diaspora communities, Sato added, citing Brazil as an example. Japan, Italy, Spain, and Germany all have numerous consulates in Brazil; each has seen sizable emigration flows to Brazil over its history. Acaí berries are seen on display at the Acaí Market on the shores of the Guajará Bay in Belem, Brazil, on Aug. 4, 2023. Acaí berries are seen on display at the Acaí Market on the shores of the Guajará Bay in Belem, Brazil, on Aug. 4, 2023.Evaristo Sa/AFP via Getty Images Salty superfood? Climate change could put the taste of Brazil’s famous açaí berries at risk. The heartland of açaí harvesting lies at the mouth of the Amazon River, which carries freshwater to the ocean. But in recent years, droughts have caused the river’s water level to drop, while sea level rise has led salty ocean water to flow into the river’s mouth. As the Amazon River experienced its worst drought in history last year and salty water surrounded açaí plants, the berries acquired an unusually salty taste, Mongabay reported. In addition to hurting the economic prospects of açaí harvesters, the salty water limited residents’ ability to cook and bathe using water from the river. Açaí berries became a global superfood craze in part thanks to health food marketers, but they may now be the next harbinger of a warming planet. Where do açaí berries grow? On a tree On a bush On a vine In a swamp Açaí trees are technically a type of palm tree. Argentine President Javier Milei arrives to speak during the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, on Feb. 24. Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images Several right-wing Latin American politicians…

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