Argentina will host this Wednesday (8) a Latin American climate summit. The absence of President Jair Bolsonaro at the meeting benefits Argentine President Alberto Fernández’s strategy of filling the vacuum left by Brazil as the region’s environmental leader and, in this way, approaching US President Joe Biden.
The Latin American summit will be a preview of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP-26) which, between October 31 and November 12, will bring together world leaders in Glasgow, Scotland. Alberto Fernández will lead the virtual meeting, entitled “High-Level Dialogue on Climate Action in the Americas”, at the Casa Rosada Bicentennial Museum, seat of the Argentine government.
The announced objective of the meeting is to promote dialogue to emphasize the urgency of climate action in the Americas, to promote the architecture of innovative mechanisms in the implementation of actions and to encourage cooperation in the hemisphere. Over five panels, the meeting will be attended by the presidents of Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, Paraguay and the Dominican Republic, the Prime Minister of Barbados, the US Special Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, the Secretary General from the UN, António Guterres, in addition to the Environment Ministers of Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Panama.
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The absence of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is the most visible, but also the most predictable. Far from emptying the meeting, the vacuum left by Brazil is conducive to Argentina’s objective of occupying this space as an interlocutor between the region and world leaders. Fernández hopes the meeting will be a springboard for a bilateral meeting with Joe Biden.
Credit in exchange for climate action
The meeting began to take shape last May 14, when Fernández proposed the idea of a regional conference on climate change to the American John Kerry during a bilateral meeting they had in Rome.
That moment, the argentinian has outlined a strategy that unites his domestic financing needs with the international community’s objective of environmental preservation: the exchange of debt for actions to preserve the environment.
“I explained to John Kerry that we should think about ways of financing countries that address climate change. This could involve debtor countries to which the United States, instead of giving financial resources, could reduce their debts”, explained Fernández at the time .
The conversation between the Argentine president and Joe Biden’s government envoy also had as its subject a way to involve Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro in the commitment to protecting the environment. Kerry underlined this geopolitical aspect about Brazil.
“The president [Alberto Fernández] is very interested in helping the countries of Latin America and its leadership on the climate issue is welcome. We look forward to working with Bolsonaro to move forward,” Kerry said.
Argentina wants to lead the region
The climate issue is a window of opportunity that Argentina found to become a reference in Latin America, taking advantage of the Brazilian government’s contempt for the matter. Fernández raises the environmental flag, a topic still unknown to Argentines. He seeks to lead the climate agenda in the region in opposition to Bolsonaro, in open disrepute by world powers.
Last April 21 and 22, during the Ibero-American Summit and the Summit of Leaders on Climate, promoted by Biden, the Argentine associated the environmental issue with his internal needs for money.
“Credit to developing countries, incorporating elements of climate action to beneficiaries and establishing a virtuous relationship between financial relief and environmental care“, proposed Fernández at the Ibero-American meeting. “Payments for ecosystem services and debt swaps for climate action,” added the Argentine leader at the Summit of Leaders on Climate.
Argentina seeks to deepen its dialogue with Washington in the context of its need for a financial agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The United States is the main partner of the IMF and the only country with veto power over agreements.
If former president Donald Trump represented distance for the Argentine government, Joe Biden offers a chance to get closer, exactly the opposite of what he represents for Brazil.
“Argentina should occupy the vacuum that Brazil left behind. With a good political nose, Fernández takes advantage of international forums to take a stand,” Argentine international analyst Raúl Aragón explains to the RFI.
“The question is to what extent Fernández’s environmental agenda is genuine or is it just part of an international policy strategy,” asks political scientist Carlos Meléndez, from Universidad Diego Portales in Chile.
Internal limits to regional leadership
The Argentine president’s strength of international prominence may, however, be limited due to his accelerated loss of domestic popularity, pointed out by all opinion polls. The drop is dramatic: Approval for Fernández’s shares went from around 70% in April 2020 to approximately 25% in August 2021.
“In this scenario, it is irrelevant whether Fernández wants to be an environmental leader or not. Fernández’s aspirations for environmental leadership have no endorsement in the current Argentine reality”, assesses former Chancellor Jorge Faurie (2017-2019) to the RFI.