By Guy Edwards and Cody Zeger*
As Mexico hosts the G20 Leaders’ Summit followed later this week by the Rio+20 Conference in Brazil, both countries climate credentials are under serious scrutiny. Little serious bilateral cooperation has taken place between these regional and global leaders on climate change. However, cooperation could prove essential for achieving greater action on climate change in Latin America and abroad.
Mexico and Brazil have made efforts to improve their relations on trade, security, energy and biofuels. However, taking into account geographical differences and distinct regional and international perspectives, cooperation is limited. Relations appear to be positive but competition between Latin America’s two largest economies and carbon emitters is unquestionable.
In the run up to the G20 and Rio+20 it is unclear what cooperation took place between Brazil and Mexico. Brazil did change the original dates for Rio+20 due to a clash with the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II and to accommodate Asian leaders attending the G20 Summit. With Rio+20 being described as ‘too important to fail’ by the UN chief Ban ki-Moon and Mexico’s assertive action on low carbon development, it is unsurprising that Mexico’s fifth priority for the G20 includes ‘promoting sustainable development, green growth and the fight against climate change’.
Mexico is walking on a diplomatic tightrope. The G20 lacks legitimacy and is lambasted for being secretive, closed to 174 countries and civil society and subservient to financial markets. In turn, the UN’s Rio+20 is regarded as inclusive and highly democratic. Mexico may have put green growth on the G20 agenda but this concept is riddled with problems similar to the criticisms leveled at the G20 itself. Mexico requires a careful balancing act to ensure the G20 complements and improves the likelihood of success at the Rio+20.
The proximity of the G20 and Rio+20 reminds us that Mexico and Brazil have more in common than their rivalry suggests. As world leaders on climate, the competition between them is a constructive part of the effort to confront global warming and achieve sustainable development.
At the UNFCCC climate talks, Mexico is considered more of a flexible and ambitious player given its role in successfully hosting the COP16, its membership of the Cartagena Dialogue and as the original proponent of the Green Climate Fund. Brazil may be too conservative on the concept of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities, but is still highly influential and can be credited for helping to keep some of its BASIC partners (China, India and South Africa) in line during negotiations on the Durban Package in Bonn last month.
Brazil and Mexico have been active in securing domestic legislation on climate change. In 2009 former Brazilian President Lula signed a law establishing the National Climate Change Policy which sets a voluntary national greenhouse gas reduction target of between 36.1 and 38.9 percent of projected emissions by 2020. This includes a target to reduce deforestation rates in the Amazon by 80%. This month President Calderon signed Mexico’s Climate Change Law which includes targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2020 and by 50% by 2050 and achieve 35% of Mexico’s energy from renewable sources by 2024.
Brazil may have recently announced the lowest deforestation rates on record due to tough government action, but it faces a testing time ahead if it is to maintain its leadership on climate change. A presentation by the Alliance of Small Island States suggests that 2011 data from the Brazilian government shows emissions will grow more rapidly than previously expected due to larger projected emissions from deforestation and other sources in part due to the likely changes to the Forest Code.
On clean energy, Brazil continues to be a world leader on hydropower capacity and ethanol production while Mexico lags behind but is seeing strong interest from European companies interested in its wind and solar potential. According to Climatescope 2012, Brazil is in poll position with the most amenable environment for climate-related investments in Latin America with Mexico in sixth place.
Mexico and Brazil are competitors in the race towards low carbon resilient development. This competition is necessary and a constructive force for driving change. Enhanced cooperation, however, is required to take better advantage of the attributes of these emerging powers and could be decisive for regional and international action on climate change and low carbon resilient development.
With both countries pushing for a new global climate treaty and touting their own climate legislation, contingent on international funding and technology transfer, their combined power pushing for these demands could be pivotal. Sharing lessons and best practice on clean energy, REDD+, disaster risk reduction, adaptation and climate finance could also feature prominently.
As Mexican president Calderon said in 2010 referring to Brazil: ‘Imagine what we can do together; imagine if we complement each other’. With the G20 and Rio+20 underway, now is the time to seize the momentum.
*Cody Zeger, Brown University