In light of Lima: China and Latin America’s climate conundrum
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In light of Lima: China and Latin America’s climate conundrum

As China asserts itself as an increasingly dominant global power, its government, businesses and individuals are forging stronger relationships throughout the world. As pointed out in a new book by U.S. scholar Evan Ellis, this increasing international interdependence signals a new direction for China, which has traditionally tended towards economic independence and political non-intervention. This change is generally driven by economic growth, particularly the thirst for resources. Chinese presence has been increasing significantly in Latin America, especially in terms of oil, farming and mineral extraction.

While Ellis offers plenty of insight into the developing relationship, an article in China Dialogue points out his book’s lack of focus on human rights and environmental issues. There is often the risk in developing countries of domestic national and local governments ignoring indigenous rights — including the ecological health of their lands — for the purpose foreign investment. Whereas Ellis does not believe that China will involve itself politically to the extent of supporting coups in Latin America as the US did with Operation Condor, China Dialogue points out that not taking advantage of illegal behavior vis-à-vis indigenous rights presents one of the most important challenges in Sino-Latin American relations.

An article by Responding to Climate Change focuses on the largely fossil fuel- and mineral-based relationship as central to the current UN climate talks in Lima. Since this relationship is based on the least climate friendly of industries, it’s easy to take a cynical view of the Lima conference. This is especially so in light of upcoming meetings like China-Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) Forum will probably ramp up the current agro-oil-mineral trend.

With slower economic growth forecasts worrying finance and trade ministries in China and Latin America, the Forum’s discussions will probably focus on boosting growth which puts climate change at risk of falling off of the agenda completely.

— Responding to Climate Change

On the other hand, increased development in renewable energy in Latin America, with investment from China, has huge growth potential, according to the Inter-American Development Bank. Whether the players step up is another matter altogether.

It is important to measure the climate-based alliances at the talks as well. The largest player, Brazil, is part of the BASIC group of negotiators, which along with South Africa and India, also includes China. Peru, the host country, while in favor of expanding oil and gas operations in the Amazon, is contrastingly part of the Association of Independent Latin American and Caribbean states negotiating group.

From the Guardian:

Peru is a member of the AILAC bloc of six Latin American nations who are pushing for aggressive emission cuts not only by rich countries, but by big emerging economies such as China and Brazil. The member states – also including Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Panama – are neither very rich, nor very poor and most sit close to the equator, hence their claim to represent the “beautiful middle” in the talks, between the extremes of north and south.

At times China’s behavior goes both ways at once. It leads in the development and sheer scale of renewable energy technology, but also on carbon intensive energy production. Furthermore, China’s recent emissions-limiting agreement with the US is heartening, but some experts doubt that it’s even achievable. One thing is for sure, the country that Napoleon once called a “sleeping giant” is still in the process of awakening from its long slumber.


Mining in the Peruvian Amazon. Pic: Geoff Gallice (Flickr CC)