Trajectory and conditions of the climate commitment in Latin America: Uruguay, Costa Rica and Chile

Project: Research project

Project Details


Climate change - as a central element of the global environmental crisis known as Anthropocene - is consolidating as one of the most relevant challenges for humanity in the 21st century. Both the effects of climate extremes and our governance responses to the problem will decisively affect the dynamics of social processes in all geographies and levels of analysis. Thus, from the effects of climate variability on food production to the consequences of the eventual abandonment of fossil fuels will alter economic, social, and political relations across the planet, domestically and internationally.
In this framework, the Latin American region does not escape the need to prepare for the varied and complex derivations of this phenomenon, both in terms of adaptation (response to the consequences of changes in climate patterns) and in terms of mitigation (systematic reduction of Greenhouse Gases -GG). Thus, Latin America is one of the most vulnerable regions of the planet while representing about 8% of global emissions (WRI-CAIT). Moreover, with the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015, almost all the countries of the world have committed themselves - to a variable degree and insufficient to maintain climate stability - to take action to combat climate change.
Despite the growing evidence about the relevance of the problem, there is a gap in the literature of International Relations (and social sciences in general) regarding this issue for the Latin American region, particularly on two fundamental questions, one descriptive: 1) what are the countries of the region doing in terms of climate change mitigation? and the other causal: 2) what are the factors that incline these societies to accept or not pay the costs of the transition to less carbon-intensive economies; that is, what factors are converging with higher and lower levels of climate commitment?
A first answer to these questions was given by this professor in his doctoral and post-doctoral research between 2012 and 2018, based on the cases of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela. Thus, in relation to the descriptive inference, it was possible to conclude that
First, Brazil and Mexico showed higher levels of climate commitment, due to the progress of national policies and international mitigation commitments in the last decade. In contrast, Argentina and Venezuela were at the conservative end of the sample, with increased greenhouse gas emissions and almost no relevant climate policy action. Colombia was between the two groups, combining relatively low emissions with little climate policy development.
Second, climate policies did not have a major impact on the emissions trajectory of the countries under consideration in the period studied.
Third, even in the most committed countries, progress in climate policy has been limited, focusing primarily on mitigation options with lower economic and political costs (low-hanging fruits): controlling deforestation in Brazil and replacing oil with natural gas in the electricity generation sector in Mexico.
This observation suggests a hypothesis about a sequence of climate policies: a first step where there are no specific mitigation policies, a second step where climate policies are designed using existing sectoral policies that have impacts on GHG emissions and low economic and political costs, and a third step where robust and relatively costly climate policies are established. In this categorization and for the period under consideration, Argentina and Venezuela were in phase 1, Mexico and Brazil in phase 2 and Colombia in transition from phase 1 to phase 2.
With regard to the causal inference, the comparison showed that four conditions are associated with higher levels of climate commitment in the cases analyzed. First, the presence of climate leadership; in both Brazil and Mexico, the climate agenda was stimulated by a relevant political figure: senator and 2010 presidential candidate Marina Silva in the first case, and President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) in the second case. In the negative cases of Venezuela and Argentina, such leadership was absent, while in the Colombian case with President Manuel Santos (2010-2018) it was timid. Secondly, the country's international insertion profile, since the countries most reluctant to accept the rules of the international liberal order - Argentina and Venezuela - showed lower levels of climate commitment during the period.
Thirdly, the perception of the cost-benefit of mitigation policies. In the positive cases in the sample, governments perceived that already explored mitigation options could easily be transformed into climate policies (Phase 2), a process we call climate packaging. This was the case in Brazil with deforestation policies in the Amazon and the substitution of oil for natural gas in the energy sector in Mexico. Colombia has also based the incipient development of climate policies on this logic, while neither Argentina nor Venezuela have explored these types of options. Fourthly, the country's position in the international system: Brazil and Mexico, the region's major players in terms of economy and emissions, presented the highest levels of climate commitment in the sample.
In carrying out this research, the scarce literature available on the issue, both in empirical and theoretical terms, and the recent nature of climate responses in the countries of the region, made it essential to travel to each of the locations in order to conduct interviews and collect documents.
Thus, the objective of this funding request is to gather information on additional cases in the region, Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay. As in the previous cases, and for similar reasons, it will be necessary to conduct interviews and collect documentary information in all three locations. The interviews, as in the five previous cases, will be conducted with climate change specialists from different fields: academia, state bureaucracies, civil society and business. The questions will be focused on obtaining the analysis of the people interviewed in relation to the trajectory of climate mitigation and policies in the country, and on what would be the main relevant factors behind that development.
The incorporation of three new cases has the main objective of checking the coherence of the analytical framework proposed for the five initial cases. The selection of new cases is based on the fact that the three countries have made significant progress on the climate change agenda over the past five years. In particular, Chile has made significant progress in energy efficiency, in addition to being one of the region's main economies; Costa Rica has been a pioneer in energy decarbonization and forest protection; and finally, Uruguay has made rapid progress in incorporating alternative energies -particularly wind energy- into its generation matrix.
The test of the analytical framework in the three new cases will be threefold, maintaining the methodological options described above. Thus, first, it will analyse the level of climate commitment of the new cases, to see what relative position they occupy in relation to the five original cases. Second, it will test the extent to which the climate policy sequencing scenario applies to the new cases. Finally, it will be checked whether the causal assumptions on the vectors of climate commitment are applicable to these cases.


Article proposed for publication in Q1 journal.
Completion of the manuscript of the book on trajectories and conditions of climate commitment in Latin American countries by the end of the funding period (September 2020).
StatusNot started

Main Funding Source

  • Internal