Shaping a Just World

Argentina's contradictory bet

Argentina’s contradictory position is on display as the country seeks to finance its energy transition with fossil fuels extraction, despite the impact on local communities.



 

Last October, Latin America and the Caribbean issued a bold demand ahead of COP28 in Dubai. Their request is crystal clear: meet the annual $100 billion target and overhaul the international financial system for better regional access to funds crucial for climate change adaptation and mitigation. As the climate summit looms, the pressure is on, increasing the urgency to address these demands and make meaningful strides in advancing global climate action.

Argentina, staunchly focused on financing during COP27, is gearing up to strengthen its stance at this year’s summit. »Financing for developing countries is scarce,« emphasized Environment Minister Juan Cabandié during the October Climate Week for Latin America and the Caribbean in Panama. National Energy Secretary Flavia Royón echoed this sentiment at a November colloquium, urging multilateral organizations to provide financial backing for the country’s transition.

While Argentina’s call for financial support is undeniably valid, situated as it is in a region disproportionately hit by climate change despite minimal contributions, there is a contentious element. The nation, grappling with conflicting objectives, is seeking to leverage hydrocarbon exploitation to fund its energy transition, as outlined in the National Energy Transition Plan unveiled in July.

Aligned with the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), Argentina’s plan sets ambitious targets, including capping net emissions at 349 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030 and generating over 50 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by the decade’s end.

With a hefty price tag of $86 billion, the plan hinges on revenue from unconventional fossil gas exports, anticipating a notable »development of the hydrocarbon complex«. This contradicts the government’s commitment to a just transition.

 

Vaca Muerta and the »unfair« transition

Argentina relies on natural gas for nearly 60 per cent of its energy mix, making its inclusion in the transition strategy highly contentious. Luciano Caratori, a researcher at the Centre for Global Climate Change Studies, emphasises that the use of natural gas contradicts the essence of a genuine energy transition, stating, »If there is something that is not the energy transition, it is the status quo.«

Vaca Muerta, located in Patagonia, is Argentina’s largest gas exploitation hub. Ranked as the world’s second-largest unconventional gas reserve and fourth-largest unconventional oil resource, it employs fracking, a method linked to extensive water and chemical usage, air pollution, intensive land use, and heightened seismic activity that has damaged local homes.

Exploiting Vaca Muerta has also affected the local economy. A report by the Environment and Natural Resources Foundation highlights the »disproportionately increased« cost of living for local residents. This is attributed to the adjustment of prices to the salaries of oil employees, the majority of whom are workers from other provinces or foreigners seeking new job opportunities.

Vaca Muerta is home to 34 indigenous communities, and the National Institute of Indigenous Affairs calls attention to the fact that land is being occupied by companies through state concessions without prior consultation.

According to the Mapuche Confederation of Neuquén, a collective representing indigenous communities, »All forms of life have been affected by extractivism, not just human life.« They assert that the exploitation fails to yield »any benefit« for the communities in the region.

A notable example is the situation in Añelo, recognised as the capital of Vaca Muerta, where nearly 60 per cent of residents lack access to natural gas. Despite being located above one of the world’s largest gas reserves, the local population does not enjoy its benefits, with over half of them relying on firewood or bottled gas for cooking and heating.

Even after a decade of exploitation, local communities persist in demanding the consolidation of their rights. Looking ahead to the upcoming climate summit in Dubai, the Mapuche Confederation said that even though they will closely watch the developments at COP28, they are not expecting much from the summit.
 

The Argentine delegation is heading to the conference with a contradictory position. On the one hand, it is seeking additional funding for a »just« energy transition but this plea is juxtaposed against the persistent support for natural gas exploitation, casting a shadow of uncertainty over the genuine commitment to positive change for the affected communities.

The outcome of this high-stakes dilemma at COP28 will reverberate in the ongoing global discourse on sustainable development, serving as a litmus test for the sincerity of nations in balancing economic interests with environmental justice.

 


About the author

Belén López Mensaque is a multimedia journalist specialising in reporting about climate change. She works as a television producer, author and content creator for social networks at El Doce in Córdoba, Argentina. Although journalistic writing is her speciality, she is always interested in exploring new communication channels.

 

This year, we are working with Climate Tracker and supporting journalist Belén López Mensaque to take part in their programme. She is receiving training from Climate Tracker, reporting on COP28 for us and also attending events organised by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

The opinions and statements of the guest authors expressed in this article do not reflect the position of  the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.


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