Ecuador’s participation in the Conferences of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change tends to go unnoticed, although the country is already heating up as a result of this crisis. This year was different. President Guillermo Lasso’s announcement of the creation of a new marine reserve in Galapagos at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, brought Ecuador’s participation in the summit to the fore. But beyond that announcement, Ecuador also signed agreements that seek to deal with the climate crisis.
However, none of the declarations or the Glasgow Climate Pact, signed at the end of the meeting, are mandatory to comply with. So the only question that remains after 13 days of negotiations, signing of agreements and important announcements is: will they be fulfilled or will they remain on paper?
The new marine reserve
On the second day of COP26, at a press conference, President Guillermo Lasso announced that he would create a new marine reserve in Galapagos . The objective, he said, will be to complement the existing reserve and ensure the protection of 60 thousand square kilometers of ocean in two vulnerable areas of the waters surrounding the Enchanted Islands. However, more than 15 days have passed since the announcement was made and it has not been officially created by executive decree as it was said to be done.
In an exclusive interview with GK at the COP headquarters in Glasgow, the Minister of Environment, Water, and Ecological Transition, Gustavo Manrique, said that the decree would be signed “in the next few days when we arrive in Ecuador.” But the Minister and the President already arrived two weeks ago and it has not happened. When asked about the decree, an official from the Presidency told GK that she “understands” that it will be signed “between the end of this year and the beginning of next year because they want to do it at an event.”
However, creating the reservation involves more than a signature. The President said that this will work with a debt-for-nature swap, which is when one or more organizations buy a part of the foreign debt of a country in exchange for the commitment of that country to promote the care of the environment or, in this case , take care of the new reserve. But so far it is only known, according to the President’s statements, that the swap will be for the “highest amount of debt in history.”
Tarsicio Granizo, director of WWF Ecuador and former Minister of the Environment, says that the debt swap will be important because it was already done once in the 1980s and it proved to be quite good. However, he assures that it must be a transparent and public process: “the exchange must be known to all.” The expert also explains that when the exchange is already made, it must be defined very well how the trust with which it will work will be managed. He says that it is necessary to define: how are the funds going to be used and distributed equitably among the different projects? And who will make the decisions about the new reserve?
On this point, he points out a risk because “in a country that is ravaged by corruption,” says Granizo, there is a danger that resources are not well managed and the reserve remains unprotected.
The Pacific maritime corridor
Another advance by Ecuador at COP26 was the signing of the Declaration for the Conservation of the Marine Corridor of the Eastern Tropical Pacific (CMAR) together with Colombia, Costa Rica and Panama. The corridor is an idea that emerged in 2004 —under the Declaration of San José— but it had only been recognized by the Ministers of the Environment of the four countries and not by heads of state. So the declaration signed in Glasgow by the presidents, says Tarsicio Hail, is a big step.
- Read more: What is COP26 and what is Ecuador’s role?
This declaration will help conserve the biodiversity and marine and coastal resources of the marine protected areas of Malpelo in Colombia, Coiba in Panama, Galapagos in Ecuador and Cocos in Costa Rica. Hail believes that for the declaration to be fulfilled, it is necessary for countries to create and share a biosphere reserve – a territory recognized by UNESCO where there is a balance between the conservation of nature and human beings . But it will not be enough to create the reservation.
The former minister assures that there must also be a financial plan – because without resources it will not be able to be implemented – and clear governance.
To finance the Corridor, the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF) announced that it will contribute one million dollars. However, Luis Suárez, vice president and executive director of Conservation International Ecuador, says that this value is not enough.
Suárez believes that CAF resources are an important initial contribution, but that everything involved in conserving this area “is expensive,” and that he hopes that this first contribution will serve to motivate financing from other parts.
In the first week of COP26, Ecuador signed the Declaration on Forests and Land Use to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030. Until the end of the conference, the declaration was signed by 141 countries that, according to official data from COP26 , “cover 90% of the world’s forests”.
The declaration is important because in addition to showing a commitment to protect forests, 12 countries said they would also provide $ 12 billion in public funding to support actions in developing countries related to the protection of these ecosystems, and the restoration of degraded lands. In addition, for the first time, other countries promised to deliver at least $ 1.7 billion, also between 2021 and 2025, to promote the forest property rights of indigenous peoples and support their work as guardians of the forests.
Avoiding deforestation and forest degradation is essential in the fight against climate change. The conservationist and former Minister of the Environment, Yolanda Kakabadse, explains that forests are important carbon sinks that also play an essential role in regulating rainfall. So losing them exacerbates climate change not only because it changes rain patterns but also because it increases the levels of CO2 that are emitted into the atmosphere.
When forests are deforested, all the carbon they held is released and global warming worsens. Karina Barrera, Secretary for Climate Change at the Ministry of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition, says that if all the world’s forests were to be lost, at least “6 billion tons of carbon” would be released into the atmosphere, causing a climate catastrophe. irreversible.
In Ecuador, deforestation is a problem that constantly threatens tropical forests. In the last 28 years the country has lost more than 2 million hectares of tropical forest, the majority on the coast, due to pressure to extract timber and the expansion of the agricultural frontier. So far, experts estimate that the amount lost is equivalent to about 7.8% of the surface of the national territory. However, the number could be higher due to the lack of studies and data collection, and now scientists fear that they will continue to be lost, this time in the Amazon. German scientist Richard Fischer, who has worked with forests in Ecuador for more than five years, says it “would be fatal” if the Amazon forests are lost.
For this, says Tarsicio Granizo, it is good that Ecuador, in Glasgow, has committed to taking care of them. However, the expert considers that the declaration should be translated into a “planning” that defines how Ecuador will achieve zero deforestation in the future. Hail says that this plan must be respected by any government that comes along and that it must also have the necessary funds to implement it.
He says that the plan must above all seek the true transition to an economic model that does not deforest the forests neither in the Amazon nor in any other part of the country. If the government does not define a plan or allocate funds, the statement could only remain on paper.
In the world, this commitment is, somehow, still on paper. In 2014, a group of countries signed the New York Declaration on Forests, which proposed bringing deforestation to zero by 2030. It was assumed that in 2020 – when COP26 was supposed to take place but did not occur due to the covid pandemic – 19— that goal should be 50% met. But in recent years, deforestation rates in the world have increased.
Carolina Zambrano, climate justice leader of the Hivos organization, says that the contradiction of this declaration must be evaluated to combat deforestation with the current Ecuadorian policy of doubling oil production and expanding mining concessions in the country.
Zambrano says it is not possible to stop deforestation until 2030 – as the statement proposes – when the oil and mining industries continue to grow. New extractive projects, beyond drilling and soil degradation, always require the construction of roads and other infrastructures that cause deforestation.
Another according to which Ecuador was signed during COP26 was the Global Commitment Methane ( The Global Methane Pledge ) that seeks to limit methane emissions by 30% to 2030-compared to the levels of 2020. After carbon dioxide, Methane is the most widely emitted greenhouse gas in the world, and is more than 20 times more harmful than CO2.
According to Carolina Zambrano, in Ecuador the three main sources of methane are livestock, rice plantations, and landfills. Although Tarsicio Granizo also says that another major emitter of this gas is the oil industry.
And although Ecuador is not one of the largest methane emitters in the world, Granizo considers it important that the country has committed to reducing emissions of this gas. However, Zambrano considers that it is necessary to have plans on how it is planned to meet the reduction goal so that it does not remain only in a declaration.
The director of WWF Ecuador says that, for example, something that can be done is to convert open-air dumps that exist in “50% of Decentralized Autonomous Governments” into sanitary landfills. Another solution could also be to improve the technology of the oil industry.
Minister Gustavo Manrique said in an interview with GK that the lighters of the oil blocks where natural gas is burned are large emitters of methane, and that it can be “solved… with the creation of a public policy to capture the gas that comes out. of the lighters so that it reinjects it in energy ”.
But these proposals must be put into action, and according to Carolina Zambrano, the role of civil society will be essential there to ensure that promises are kept.
From the Glasgow Climate Pact
At the end of COP26, 197 countries signed the Glasgow Climate Pact and pledged to continue joining forces to combat the current climate crisis. And although everything agreed is important for Ecuador, being one of the signatory countries, one of the most important points of the pact for the country is adaptation.
The pact not only recognizes the importance of including adaptation in each nation’s plans to tackle climate change, but urges developed countries to “at least double their provision of climate finance for adaptation” until 2025 to support to developing countries.
The expert Carolina Zambrano believes that this is one of the positive points of COP26 because it was necessary to find a balance between mitigation and adaptation. But for Ecuador, this point is particularly important because Walter Schuldt, delegate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the COP, told GK before the summit ended, that one of the things the country wanted to achieve there was precisely that: funds. for adaptation.
However, Zambrano says that while financing is essential, now it is necessary to think beyond. The biologist assures that now it is important to start talking about the means of implementation and the necessary technology and capacity.
Another important point of the Glasgow Climate Pact is that it calls on countries to accelerate efforts to phase out “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.” At a global level, this is a key point in the fight against climate change because the burning of fossil fuels is one of the main sources of CO2 that are released into the atmosphere and exacerbate climate change. But in Ecuador, says Walter Schuldt, it is a sensitive issue. In 2021 alone , fuel subsidies could reach $ 1.9 billion, and domestic gas subsidies at $ 813 million.
Carolina Zambrano says that this is “the essential moment” to have a conversation about subsidies beyond the political and economic. He adds that we have to start talking about how to have the least possible social impact by withdrawing the subsidies — through a targeting policy where it is analyzed in depth where those funds have to go. But also start talking about the change in the energy matrix, especially in mobility, which makes us dependent on oil.
According to the biologist, this particular topic has been excluded from national conversations about the elimination of subsidies, but it should not be. Zambrano says we should think about how we use climate finance to, for example, change the public transport fleet, so that it is no longer dependent on subsidies.
Ecuador’s participation in COP26 has shown a commitment to the environment, but experts conclude that without policies, plans and financing, the signed agreements and declarations could remain up in the air. In addition, the logic behind the signing of certain declarations such as that of the Transition from Coal to Clean Energy is questioned , which, according to experts such as Tarsicio Granizo and Carolina Zambrano, do not affect Ecuador at all because energy is not generated in the country with Coal.
However, now that the commitments have been established, experts believe that it is now the job of citizens and civil society to ensure that these are met, even if they are not mandatory.