As he labored over the final details of his speech, all handwritten, Gustavo Petro even skipped the official photo of heads of state at COP27. He had announced he would deliver a “decalogue” of recommendations on how to fight the climate crisis, and he wanted his message to come through loud and clear. And it’s undeniable that the Colombian president hit the mark.
During his seven-minute speech, Petro urged the contribution of the international community to save the Amazon – which he called one of the fundamental “climate pillars” – while pledging that his country will do its part, allocating $200 million a year for 20 years. But he didn’t stop there. “From the first COP to today, the political leadership has failed,” and this is because it failed to take the only possible path to overcome the climate crisis: “stop consuming hydrocarbons.”
For this, he said, an immediate global decarbonization plan was needed: “The solution is a world without coal and oil.” But the market “cannot be the main mechanism” to combat the climate emergency, given that “it is precisely the accumulation of capital that has produced it”: being the cause, it cannot also be the remedy. Necessarily, it will be the mobilization of humanity that will bring about a change of direction, “not agreement between technocrats influenced by the interests of hydrocarbon companies”: it is, in short, “the time of humanity, not that of the markets.”
Petro had criticism for everyone: the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund must respect the decisions of the COP, not vice versa; the IMF must start a program to replace debt with investments in adaptation and mitigation; banks must stop financing the hydrocarbon economy. And, finally, peace negotiations must begin immediately: “War,” he concluded, “takes vital time away from humanity to avoid extinction.”
While his staunch anti-extractivist position is an exception in Latin America, Petro can count on major allies on the Amazon defense front. First and foremost is Lula, who will arrive in Sharm El-Sheikh on November 14, accompanied by, among others, Marina Silva, whom many would like to see return to the role of Environment Minister, and with enormous expectations worldwide. Out of 34 congratulatory messages from heads of state that arrived on the day of his victory, it’s no accident that 10 referred explicitly to the environmental issue.
Although, unlike Petro, he continues to rely on extractivism, Lula has pledged to decisively fight deforestation – responsible for nearly 50% of Brazil’s climate-changing emissions – by bringing back the strategies that had led to an almost 80% reduction in deforestation rates in the past. And he also promised the creation of a Ministry of Indigenous Peoples, which he might officially announce during COP27, and which will probably be headed by one of the country’s greatest indigenous leaders, Sônia Guajajara, newly elected federal deputy.
Maduro has also chosen to side with Petro and Lula, although he too is very far removed from the Colombian president’s anti-extractivist position: unsurprisingly, he has been heavily criticized on environmental issues since he approved the launch of the Orinoco Mining Arc megaproject in 2016, the exploitation of an area of 120,000 square kilometers in the Venezuelan Amazon – about a third of the size of Italy – where, in addition to oil, large quantities of gold, coltan, diamonds, iron, bauxite and other minerals have been discovered.
Nonetheless, Maduro came to the COP27 with new proposals, starting with “resuming the defense of the Amazon,” in agreement with Petro and Lula, by relaunching the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (OTCA), established in 1995 by Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela, and organizing a Latin American summit for the protection of the rainforest as soon as possible.
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