On May 14th, as the French coastal city of Cannes swelled with celebrities, with heavyweights such as Spielberg, Polanski, and the like littering the streets for the famous annual film festival, the streets of Lima experienced an equally similar and momentous influx of its own. On the same day, heads of state from Latin American, Caribbean, and European Union countries met in Peru for the ALC-EU Summit, the fifth meeting of its kind, to discuss bi-regional development. And the big names there took the form of Merkel, Lula, and Calderon, to name a few.
The summit, which was first held in Rio in 1999, was formed with the intent to create a forum to discuss issues of poverty, equality, and social justice in Latin American countries. This year’s summit, however, had a slightly different slant and beyond poverty, focused on the environment, specifically sustainable development, climate change, and energy policy.
Citing Fidel Castro’s “prophetic warning” to the UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, the talks opened with an address by Cuba’s newly elected vice president, Jose Ramon Machado Ventura. “An important biological species,” he quoted, “is at risk of disappearing as a result of the rapid and progressive destruction of its natural living conditions: humanity.” What was a very eloquent characterization 16 years ago seemed to have taken on a new level of poignancy, as the summit’s declaration emphasized repeatedly the need to implement “ambitious and timely policies” to address the challenges humanity faces today.
The addressing of the large and consuming environmental problems we face today, however, is nothing new.
What are notable, though, are the moments when the direction seemed to go beyond that. From alleviating poverty to finding pathways for trade to defining efficient methods of resource allocation, the members of the summit recognized the interconnectedness of economic and sustainable development. “We are committed to the establishment and implementation of economic policies that take into account the need to protect the environment and to strengthen social inclusion,” outlines the Summit Declaration.
Many of the highlights of the summit include commitments to raise awareness about unsustainable consumption, the preservation of biodiversity, and the causes and potential impacts of climate change on economic growth. And this is something that has relevancy for the most developed of nations in Europe, for those like Chile and Brazil that are transitioning somewhere in the middle, as well as for a country like Bolivia that struggles on a daily basis to find some semblance of political and economic stability.
The members of the summit also committed to finding a plan for the “full, effective and sustained implementation” of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, specifically the Kyoto Protocol. What that plan might be, however, was not mentioned, and it will be interesting to see how member nations move to make those adoptions, something that the United States itself has been bereft to commit to.
An Opportune Arena
The summit also served as a venue for individual nations to make environmental strides of their own. On May 13th, one day before the summit, Peruvian president Alan Garcia Perez announced the formation of the country’s first Ministry of the Environment. With well-known scientist and environmentalist, Antonio Brack Egg, appointed as its head, the ministry in large part has been received positively, as more and more Peruvian politicians and academics recognize the need for sustainable development in the country.
With a resume of numerous national awards and ecological publications, Egg has become a figurehead for the green movement in Peru in the past few years, and recently has received many comparisons to Al Gore. However, what concerns most critics are not the merits of the newly appointed minister, but what the ministry itself will stand for. Many fear that the ministry will be more of a device of political maneuvering on the president’s part rather than a step in a more sustainable direction, where the conservation and preservation of the country’s resources are prioritized.
And those critics may not be without merit. As Garcia made his address, exhorting the new ministry to be “the spur and the whip behind the government,” he failed to mention that the forming of the ministry was a stipulation to accord a free trade agreement with the United States. Timing the announcement with summit seemed to have been a clever move as well, as Peru is seeking a similar agreement with the EU.
Egg doesn’t seem overly concerned, though. Even as various officials approached him during the summit warning him of Garcia’s intentions, Egg took a different viewpoint to the politics surrounding him. “If I am used to bring [Peru] out in the world environmental stage and can contribute to Peru’s organization, with a culture of environmental awareness and sustainability in the long term,” he said, “[then] may I be used, may I be reused, may I be recycled.”