COP26: For Ecuador it’s all about finding a balance

This interview is an exclusive from the COP26 headquarters in Glasgow, Scotland.
This interview is an exclusive from the COP26 headquarters in Glasgow, Scotland.

Since 31 October, dozens of world leaders, expert negotiators, civil society representatives, and activists have gathered in Glasgow, Scotland at COP26 to discuss climate change. Ecuador also attended. His participation in the first days of the conference has been outstanding, to the point of even stealing headlines around the world: on November 1, President Guillemo Lasso was at the summit and announced the creation of a new marine reserve in Galapagos . 

This announcement went around the world to the applause of conservationists , organizations and even prominent figures such as Leonardo DiCaprio. Other activists, especially the Amazon, criticized the Ecuadorian government for what they considered an apparent contradiction between the creation of the new marine reserve and the policy of doubling the country’s oil exploitation . In this exclusive interview from Glasgow, Gustavo Manrique , Minister of the Environment, Water and Ecological Transition, talks about Ecuador’s challenges in the face of climate change the country’s ecological transition and extractivismthat devastates ecosystems throughout the country, but especially in the Amazon.

Sitting in one of the small restaurants inside the COP26 headquarters, surrounded by Ecuadorian negotiators and hundreds of other people from around the world, Minister Manrique answers my questions . From time to time, Karina Barrera, Secretary of Climate Change of the Ministry , intervenes . Manrique is wearing a gray suit and a light green tie that stands out to the naked eye. On the jacket, it has a silver recycling symbol pin.

He is without a mask, although we are quite close, and from time to time, when he gets excited, he takes my arm enthusiastically. In the middle of the table there is a bowl of potato chips that they have brought us to share. And there is a lot of noise around us.

We are a country that is already feeling the consequences of climate change and that has had to adapt in different ways From the Ministry of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition, what do you think have been the most serious effects of climate change in Ecuador?

There are several ways of looking at it. I was casually checking this morning that Ecuador has had losses of almost 450 million dollars just due to the drought in the period 2000 to 2017. 

Droughts are a clear expression of climate change. In visual terms, you can see how our glaciers are melting. One says well, the glacier is melting, what does that have of effect? Well, it affects the economy, it affects the adaptation of people who used to have economies [in those places].

When the temperature at a certain height is 28 Celsius, there is a certain area in which potatoes will be grown, for example. Suddenly climate change comes and where before there were 28 degrees, now there are 30 – we must remember that the limit of 1.5 is the global average, and there are some places where there will be more change, and other places where there will be less change. However, finally, what we are trying to achieve in the COP, for example, is that it does not rise to 1.5 or 2 

Because then the temperature there is really going to be 30 or 31 degrees, and you can’t grow potatoes anymore. So what has to be done? You have to go a little higher, where the lowest temperature is so that you can grow the potatoes. But in doing so, there is no longer access to water [because the wasteland is wearing away] and if there is no access to water, chances are you will not have roads or other necessary infrastructure. This is happening: you can see on the slopes of Chimborazo that the páramo has disappeared. 

Ecuador has nine hydrographic basins, from which we obtain all the water for our communities. Eight come from the moor 

If we do not take care of the moors and they are affected, we simply will not have water 

What are the effects of this on people? For example, in Loja there is already migration due to drought . The vice minister of water, Óscar Rojas, is a climate change migrant. He migrated from his area, which is called Célica, because the area ran out of water. 

That is a concrete effect of climate change . And that, instead, goes and puts pressure on another area [to which people migrate] because that other area now needs more resources: more sewerage, for example. There is a study called “Drought Plan” where there is information on, for example, the impact of climate change related to drought. 

How can we make this information known? Because it is valuable information that is not outside, which is not being talked about.

Karina Barrera, Secretary of Climate Change of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition intervenes , and explains:

We have a climate change platform where all the studies are located, the PLANACC platform [Platform on Adaptation to Climate Change]. There are all the studies on climate change and it is available to the public 

In addition, there is the library of the Ministry of the Environment that has a series of documents on climate change, and all this documentation that we are talking about is accessible to the public. 

We do monthly newsletters through this platform, but possibly what we need is to have strategic partners like you [journalists] who can share these newsletters, because not everyone knows them. There is first-hand information that is broadcast on climate change on a monthly basis.

With that answer, I ask Minister Manrique again.

What is Ecuador’s position on achieving global net zero of greenhouse gases, which is one of the main issues being addressed at this COP?

Before I specifically answer that question, I must tell you what we have done before we got here. 

Ecuador signed a national pact in this government, which we call the National Pact for decarbonization , and we made an alliance with the French Development Agency, which gave us cooperation funds 

With this national pact, we are going to work above all with the public sector, which is responsible for the ministries of agriculture, housing, production, energy, and transport and mobility, because with them are more than half of the gases greenhouse effect emitted by Ecuador and which are the main causes of climate change. 

With them we will work until 2023 in working groups to make emission reduction strategies. 

How to make the Ministry of Energy, for example, have a more sustainable energy transition? How to make the Ministry of Education reinforce its academic curriculum so that students who are going to go out into the workforce tomorrow come with that understanding and that academic knowledge of lowering emissions? How to make agriculture use less chemicals, be more efficient in production and waste less? They are specific work tables where we are going to establish measurable objectives in each one of them. 

The other project is called Ecuador Zero Carbon which is more focused on the private sector 

The idea is that companies start, first, to make a carbon footprint measurement strategy because you can correct what is not known. The first thing is the measurement of the carbon footprint : knowing what its contribution to pollution is. Understand that I, say, for producing this paper,

The minister takes a brown sugar envelope that was on the table and shows it to me, as a didactic:

I pollute “a thousand”. “Thousand” is a lot, is it little?

You have to have a dynamic understanding of that. The next step in the Ecuador zero carbon program is for them to carry out a reduction strategy. 

Well I pollute a thousand, but how do I go about polluting “900”? Or, what can I do to contaminate “800”? 

Look, these are attitude changes, policy changes, investments. 

Finally: the idea is to reach a third exercise that can be a compensation or payment for conservation where international verifiers will intervene who say ‘okay I polluted a thousand, and now I pollute 900 because I made a change in the business administration policy, and finally I am going to pay [x amount] so that these forests remain pristine, they remain perfect and thus this forest does the task of capturing the 900 that I can no longer reduce, so that those 900 that are CO2, become 900 O2 of oxygen ‘ . 

In that we are with several Ecuadorian negotiators.

How many negotiators are at the COP? 

We are with six negotiators who are participating in different tables. 

This is an event that lasts 13 days and they are very complex negotiations with different countries, in which we agree on binding public policy that allows us to make the changes that humanity needs. 

We are very firm in the position of how to obtain the financing, through whom to obtain the financing, to whom they give the financing, and why they give us the financing. 

But Ecuador has a dichotomy. What is that dichotomy? That we only pollute 0.18% of what pollutes the world. Only 0.18%. However, the ecosystem service we provide places us among the 20 richest countries in biodiversity. So, the dichotomy is “I pollute a little bit, but I give you an enormous ecosystem service”. 

Who the rich countries have to pay is us . Ecuador has the new currency that humanity needs and I am not referring to bitcoin: I am referring to the currency of biodiversity 

The entire planet has to pay countries like Ecuador, which have this richness in biodiversity that provides the ecosystem service that you and I need to breathe, to live, to bathe, to drink water, and to feed ourselves, which come from the Amazon and other mega diverse sites in Ecuador. 

That is the position that Ecuador brings to COP26. You will understand then that they are very complex negotiations in which the interests of each country and the laws of each country are involved. 

The announcement of the new Galapagos reserve and the debt swap is excellent news, but there has also been criticism about the doubling of oil production that drives fossil fuels.How does the Ministry of the Environment reconcile these contradictions with the government?

Ecuador is a country that still has not met some basic needs of its population. Food security drinking water child malnutrition 

So while you and I are here working to try to save the world, tonight one in three Ecuadorian children will not eat. In Ecuador, one in three children has chronic childhood malnutrition. One in three children. 

It is very easy to have a position when you say “no to oil exploitation or no to such a position”, when you, Doménica, have three meals a day, you are here in Glasgow rubbing shoulders with important people, and learning and contributing as well.

We have to find a balance on how to attract immediate resources . We are the country with the highest rate of chronic child malnutrition in the region, with 27%, and President Lasso has said, and it is a great challenge, “I want to drop six points in four years.” 

But you need the millions of dollars that are needed to vaccinate in the first thousand days of birth of these children, because if you do not manage to vaccinate them, the consequences later are irreversible and those are millions of dollars. 

Hence, too, are the food, education and other programs. So now, these [ oil and mining ] productions have to be with the best and largest technology available in the world, with automated systems, reports, etc., and the water, for example, have to be returned in equal or better conditions. . There must be renewal of equipment, controls and others.

The burning of natural gas in lighters is a problem in oil extraction, for example.

Exactly. For example, that gas is methane. 

Methane gas is several dozen times more polluting than CO2 . That is, if you have a ton of CO2 and you have a ton of methane, that of methane, I am not going to tell you the figure because I have read several and there are discrepancies, but the most conservative I have seen is that it is 24 times more polluting than CO2. This is a problem and we can solve this in an important and rapid way with the creation of a public policy to capture the gas that comes out of the lighters so that you can reinject it into energy. 

That’s the kind of thing we’re working on, but we understand that it can distort the message . However, with policies such as the one that President Lasso has just declared, so advanced, it is possible. 

In other words, you walk through the corridors and when you say that you are Ecuador and what have you done here, people say “that is the reason for the COP.”  The COP seeks practical agreements, not that 2070, 2050, no : we are signing the decree today, rhetorically today, because we will sign it in the next few days when we arrive in Ecuador, or well, the President will sign it. 

Also noteworthy are the pragmatic things we are doing. We took over the administration with 18,000 hectares of water protection areas. Today we already have 64,000 hectares of water protection, we took it with 10 areas and today there are 14. 

And how are they taking care of those areas? Because last year there were dismissals of park rangers who are basically the ones who should protect them .

The [water protection] areas that we have declared have been the products of dialogue with the community and with decentralized autonomous governments. 

They are in charge, under our supervision, of creating the water boards and of creating the joint systems so that together they protect the water, and not only the water but the páramo. So they are participatory processes with the communities, where there are even private areas, where the private sector has said “I allocate [money] for this area of ​​water protection.” 

Believe me with the environmental management plan, those are the experiences that I can tell you, and just to finish the idea, I told you that we started with 18,000 hectares and went to 64,000, but when we finish this administration in 2025, there will be 284,000 hectares of protection water 

As I said: eight of our nine watersheds come from páramo. That means that the water is born there and that is even related to chronic child malnutrition because one of its causes is water pollution. 

Then yesterday the Minister of the Environment of England told me “I cannot believe the clarity that the government has about how the principle of sustainability helps in health, what clarity there is about the protection of water, because when the water goes down cleaner, you directly combat the problem of chronic child malnutrition ”. 

How long is it expected to achieve Ecuador’s ecological transition? 

The ecological transition began on day 1 with the signing of the decree [that changed the name of the Ministry of the Environment and Water to the Ministry of the Environment, Water and Ecological Transition]. 

It followed the next day with the declaration of a water protection area, and the next day, and the next day. 

I am saying rhetorically, but it continued the next day with the signing of the Ministerial Agreement that obliges importing producers of batteries to recycle 80% because if not, they will not have the permits to operate the following year, and the next day when we start working in conservation projects in Galapagos, where we are going to reinsert three species that have disappeared on Floreana Island because invasive species have eaten them 

These species are cucuves, Floreana’s eagle, turtles, finches and a species of snake. With this program we are going to begin to reinsert the species in two years, but we have already started with the adaptation of the ecosystem, the care of the infrastructure and others. 

The ecological transition started by being here . The ecological transition began with the creation of the new marine reserve, and it is an ongoing process. It’s like when do you stop being a parent? They are never continuous, dynamic, dialogue processes. 

It began with the signing of the national pact in which we are working in all these tables of the ministries, the signing of the start of the Ecuador zero carbon program, with having gone to Geneva and having called all the countries of the world to come to talk about public policy for the conservation of the oceans due to plastic pollution. 140 arrived. 

In addition, in the next quarter we will be in Africa discussing a public policy for the protection of the oceans . I can go on if you don’t stop me. 

And if we speak, for example, of the transition to a more sustainable transport, what is being done? 

Well electric cars no longer have ICE. Also, in this second entry of the assembly in the tax reform of the urgent economic law, we already removed the intention that there was at some point to tax electric cars with VAT. 

Now they will not have VAT either. Solar panels and various things do not have VAT. 

In addition, I estimate that in the next six months, the Ministry of the Environment, Water and Ecological Transition, will be signing 400-odd megawatts of wind or solar energy. And so: there are a thousand ways to achieve the transition and we are working tirelessly with the team to arrive at concrete actions. 

The entire Amazon has been deforested by 22% in the region, experts say that this is already a point of no return. If we take this into account, what has the Ministry of the Environment specifically proposed to protect the Amazon of Ecuador? 

We have several projects there. Some through FIAS [Sustainable Environmental Investment Fund] and some directly through the State portfolio. 

ProAmazonía is a great example where we have a payment for results through the REDD + program , where we have obtained 18.5 million dollars to channel it into bio-enterprises and avoided deforestation 

In other words, it is not that they pay Ecuador not to deforest, but rather that they pay us if we show that our rate of deforestation has decreased.

Thus, for having shown that our rates went down, they paid us $ 18.5 million . It is a famous moment in the world that Ecuador has obtained that.

Now we are also working with the LEAF project, which is a coalition of England, the United States, and Norway in which they are going to channel a billion dollars for the countries that work in favor of avoided deforestation, and with that you promote bio-entrepreneurship in The Amazon. 

In addition, the idea is to come out with a very strong certification that says, for example, this is a soap made in the Amazon and has a certification of avoided deforestation.

What main projects for climate change mitigation does the ministry now have?

Karina Barrera, undersecretary of climate change of the MAATE, intervenes again:

Well, it is important to understand that it is not only the Ministry of the Environment because mitigation is a transversal axis. 

Mitigation has five important sectors : energy, change and land use of industrial processes, waste and agriculture. 

So the mitigation actions are not only the Ministry of the Environment, but also all those State portfolios. That is very important to understand. What corresponds within this line to the Ministry of the Environment? For example, REDD +: the REDD + policy and action plan, and within that we have a project called ProAmazonía and another project called REM, which seeks to reduce emissions from deforestation with four strategic axes 

On the one hand, it is working on public policy at the subnational government level, the transition towards sustainable production systems, sustainable forest management, and also some financial mechanisms for the maintenance of these systems. 

That is a big project. It is a large program that is part of the National Plan. It is a state policy. 

We are working hand in hand with the Ministry of Energy on projects for the energy transition that go along the same lines as decarbonization. With agriculture we have these transition projects towards sustainable production systems free of deforestation as well. 

So, in each line you will find different actions that are also reflected in the NDC implementation plan *. So you will find many projects or many actions that also occur in sub-national governments. I mean, if you realize everything is transversal, lateral and downwards.

* The NDCs are the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and it is the plan that establishes how the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will be measured to meet the commitments of the Paris Agreement.

Regarding the announcement in the new Galapagos Marine Reserve, how will the Ministry intervene to ensure that the reserve is adequately protected and that the funds are used efficiently? A few months ago I was in Galapagos and they told us that they need park guards, equipment, fishermen, and more.  

Minister Manrique responds

On Monday at the press conference , President Lasso announced the executive decision to create a new marine reserve in the corridor that connects with international waters and to one side. 

This is accompanied by another decision by the president, which is the creation of a debt swap that, he has said, will be the largest debt swap in human history . And what does the debt swap mean? 

That there is a certain debt in the market with a certain time and a certain rate. The country comes out and says “I’m going to make this expansion of the reserve”, and there are international organizations that say, “hey, if you make that effort to create that reserve that is important to the world, we buy part of that debt”. 

So, this debt that was bigger, I reduce it, with better terms and better costs. Those savings, President Lasso has stated that they will go to a trust that is estimated to be of 14 million dollars a year, which fully satisfies all the need for technology, controls and others that are needed to control this marina, and the 100% of these resources will go to conservation, studies, science, and technology to control the new reserve and obviously the other reserve as well.

 So that’s a mechanism that the president has devised to get the resources for protection. The idea is that it is protected by the Ministry of the Environment and the National Park. The National Park is an institution attached to the Ministry of the Environment. 

This story was originally published on, with the support of Climate Tracker.

Doménica Montaño
Doménica is a journalist from Ecuador who loves to write stories about the environment, climate change, indigenous communities, and human rights. Her favorite story is one she wrote over a year ago about nine girls who sued the Ecuadorian state for violating their rights with the gas flaring systems that are still being used by oil companies in the Amazon. She’s very proud to say that that story was awarded an honorable mention in a human rights journalism competition.
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