The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

Climate change took center stage during the EU-CELAC summit.

After an eight-year hiatus, marked by a lack of any top-level political summit, the European Union and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) convened once again. The EU-CELAC summit, held in Brussels in mid-July, witnessed broad participation from heads of state, foreign ministers, and civil society members. While the agenda incorporated the EU’s intent to rally the region against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, revamp trade deals, bolster digital infrastructure investments, and promote sustainable development, climate action emerged as the recurring theme.

However, climate change and environmental issues aren’t without disagreements. The two regions often hold diverging and even conflicting stances, primarily underpinned by the contrasting viewpoints of the Global North and the Global South. Prominent conflicts include the ongoing debates over the imposition of environmental clauses, such as those in the EU-Mercosur agreement.

A recent “side letter” proposed by the EU introduced sanctions for violations of environmental clauses, which would be activated upon ratification of the agreement. Despite accusations of European protectionism, particularly by France, Ireland, and Belgium, the side letter was vehemently rejected by Mercosur leaders, led by Brazilian President Lula da Silva, who accused the EU of standard imposition and sovereignty violation. Yet, the shared commitment to climate action offered a larger common ground than the divisive points, facilitating progressive environmental cooperation through various initiatives focused on environmental protection, climate finance, and critical raw materials.

Under CELAC’s request, the EU reiterated its 2009 COP15 pledge to mobilize $100 billion in climate funds for developing countries. This commitment is paramount for LAC states, who may lose faith in developed nations if promises remain unfulfilled. The Final Communiqué, endorsed by 59 out of 60 countries, underscores this goal’s importance.

Although the responsibility rests on EU nations, it’s worth noting that the summit didn’t reach a consensus on any binding agreement or implementation mechanism. Furthermore, both parties reaffirmed their commitments to the objectives of COP26 and COP27, the Paris Agreements, and the Convention on Biological Diversity. While these don’t denote tangible achievements, they symbolize the regions’ shared will to combat climate change.

Tangible strides were indeed made. The Global Gateway initiative was announced, encompassing around €45 billion invested in hundreds of projects, with 130 already underway. With primary focus areas including digital alliance, social development, health, education, and climate action, these investments are driven by Team Europe, a concerted effort of EU investment and political institutions, member states, and other European stakeholders.

Despite a lack of concrete details, it’s clear that a significant portion of the efforts will be directed toward climate action. The European Investment Bank (EIB), acting as the operational arm, signed a €300 million loan for clean energy investments in Brazil during the EU-LAC business forum at the summit. Additionally, flagship projects will target green hydrogen initiatives, public transport electrification, deforestation, and the establishment of sustainable supply chains for critical raw materials.

Beyond the Global Gateway and reaffirmation of international climate commitments, several deals were finalized during bilateral meetings. The EU signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Chile for sustainable critical raw materials supply chains. The non-binding agreement aims to secure the supply of raw materials, such as lithium, essential for the EU Green Deal’s energy transition and improving energy security. Similar agreements were signed with Argentina and Uruguay, focusing predominantly on clean energies.

Certain countries like Denmark contributed individually to the Amazon deforestation battle, a poignant issue garnering widespread political support. Denmark, following Germany and the United States’ example, pledged to donate to the Amazon Fund, a mechanism established in 2009 to protect the critically important Amazon Rainforest which saw significant deforestation under the previous government of Jair Bolsonaro.

As expected, the deep divisions over environmental clauses in the EU-Mercosur deal remain a significant hurdle, threatening to derail a trade agreement over two decades in the making. Nevertheless, climate change action, energy transition, and the protection of forests and biodiversity have emerged as consensus areas between the EU and Latin America. Both regions are committed to sustainable development principles and announced a series of initiatives during the summit, marking tangible, albeit limited, progress in climate action.

Given the strained relations, modest concrete outcomes were anticipated. The real challenge lies in implementing these declarations to prevent void promises, risking the credibility of both partners, particularly the EU. As Ralf Gonsalves candidly expressed, failure to see actual funds by 2025, in line with the EU’s commitments to double climate adaptation finance, would be disastrous, undermining the cooperation’s foundation.

Andrea Colombo is currently a Master's student at the University of Salamanca, Stockholm University and Sorbonne Nouvelle University Paris III as part of an Erasmus Mundus Degree in Latin American Studies. He previously interned at the Inter-American Dialogue, Insight Crime and EastWest European Institute. He's interested in Latin American politics and Western cooperation with the region