His Excellency Dr. Eduardo Varela, Ambassador of Argentina in Egypt
We had the pleasure to meet His Excellency Dr. Eduardo Varela to learn about Argentina’s long-standing commitment to the climate agenda globally, and it’s commitment to Egypt reaching its goals for climate action and COP27. We also were very impressed with Dr. Varela’s personal interest and support to sustainability and the climate agenda throughout his career. As a country that has already hosted two COP events in the past, this interview presents a great opportunity to learn from Argentina’s wealth of experience in this space, as well as to hear about the challenges, key issue areas, and recommendations for the future action. In addition, this year marks 75 years of diplomatic relations between Argentina and Egypt, hence this interview is an opportunity to celebrate the strong relations the two countries have had in bridging the climate change challenge, improving livelihoods, and ultimately working towards a healthier, stronger and more sustainable planet.
1. Cop 27 will be held this year in Egypt, how important is this event for the Middle East region and also for Argentina?
Hosting a COP is of course a big effort for any country, not only from the logistic point of view but also for what entails chairing such a complex and wide negotiation process. Argentina had the chance to host the COP4 in 1998 and the COP10 in 2004, so we are well aware of all the work and resources that the host country devotes to this kind of international meetings. In this sense, the fact that Egypt is hosting COP27 is, in my opinion, a clear sign of its commitment towards the climate agenda and also towards multilateralism, both of which my country definitely shares.
In addition, embarking on such a big endeavor also offers opportunities to create momentum in the region and raise awareness on its leadership potential in the field of climate action. A good example of this was the holding, for the first time ever, of the “Climate Week” in the MENA region last March, which gave more visibility to the way the region is embracing the climate agenda.
For Argentina, climate action and sustainability are top priorities. My country is working on the development of a National Adaptation and Mitigation Plan to 2030 and a long-term resilient development strategy with low emissions to 2050, with the aim to present it at COP 27. Therefore, we look forward to working constructively with Egypt and all the members of the international community in having a successful COP27 that can result in concrete action. In this sense, we believe that the success of Egypt´s presidency of the COP27 will be a success for the world and for future generations.
2. Tell us about yourself, your background and your interest in supporting sustainability and combatting climate change?
During my career as a diplomat, I had the chance to work and live in countries from different regions, including China, Australia, Switzerland, Italy, Egypt and of course, Argentina. Over these years, I could see how climate change effects were increasing all over the world. Even if the specific impacts may differ from country to country, with some being more affected by droughts, while others may suffer more from extreme weather, or other phenomena, there is no single region or country that has not become somehow affected by climate change and whose people and livelihoods are not suffering its consequences.
For instance, let me tell you about a very close and recent example. I was born in a province of the northeast of Argentina, called Corrientes, which has valuable areas for conservation, among which there is Esteros del Iberá, home to important endemic species. Since January a wave of fires has affected more than 900 thousand hectares, which represents more than 10% of the surface of the province and which could have tremendous impact on the biodiversity of the area as well as on its livelihoods.
However, to compensate this grim picture, as we continue to see this type of devastating effects, it is also true that local people are willing to mobilize to have their voices heard and take action. In this sense, in October Corrientes will host the national meeting of the Local Youth under the umbrella of the official youth constituency of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, as part of the process towards the COP27. This is just another small example that as much as we are all connected by this common global challenge that is climate change, from Corrientes in South America to Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt, we can, and should, also be connected to be all part of the solution.
3. Are you concerned that many of the cities in this region could be under threat if temperatures continue to rise, as they are expected to be over 60 C in 2050?
Yes, of course, I think there is no region that is not suffering now and that will not suffer from climate change in the near future. In this sense, I believe a sense of urgency on the need to act is becoming clear, because the effects of climate change are now evident and are part of our daily lives.
Here again, it´s good to see our countries working together as members of the Adaptation Action Coalition, an initiative founded by the UK, Egypt, and other countries, to accelerate global action on adaption.
4. What are some of the projects/initiatives/efforts in this area being implements by yourself/Embassy of Argentina to address climate change and support sustainability and who are they targeted to?
Climate change, desertification, biodiversity, use and management of water, protection of wild flora and fauna, among others, constitute some of the greater challenges our societies face today. The impacts of these phenomena condition the development possibilities of the countries and affect the quality of life of their citizens.
Most of these challenges are transnational in nature. That is to say that in almost all of them, the action of a single country individually is not enough to address them. For this reason, foreign policy is a very important instrument.
Within this framework, Argentina works actively at the international level to promote solutions that contribute to maintaining a balance of the three pillars of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental, as enshrined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Having said that, from the Embassy we promote and highlight opportunities for cooperation and joint activities with Egyptian counterparts that can contribute to sustainable development, climate change mitigation and adaptation.
For instance, in 2022 we are looking forward to organizing an awareness raising event with local and international strategic partners on the importance of empowering girls and women and highlighting their key role as agents of change in the climate and sustainability agenda.
Another line of action we are working on focuses on the impacts of climate change on agriculture and food supply, and how Argentina and Egypt can cooperate to address such a big challenge. Our countries are important commercial partners with complementarities that can offer opportunities for synergies and collaboration, in particular amidst the current conditions of the world market of agricultural products.
In relation to this, Argentinian public and private sector entities have developed crop productivity solutions designed to enable the transition of agriculture towards carbon neutrality and promote climate resilient agriculture systems, and we understand this is an area which offers multiple opportunities for cooperation with Egypt.
This is just to mention one of the many fields in which we try to cooperate and create more linkages between Egyptian and Argentinian counterparts on the sustainability agenda. Another area which proved to be of interest of both countries is related to the transition to compressed natural gas in the automobile sector.
5. What do you see as the main challenges in the area of sustainability and low carbon economy, and what is your view some of the solutions to these challenges?
One of the biggest challenges in this area is related to the financial constraints that developing countries face to achieve the transition to a low-carbon economy and the need for innovative financing mechanisms that take into account these situations and differences.
This reality represents an opportunity to rethink the pillars of the international financial architecture, to ensure a just transition to a low carbon economy in all countries, prevent new forms of protectionism and promote access to clean technologies so that the welfare gaps are not widened worldwide. As we came to learn with vaccines in the COVID pandemic, solidarity among countries is of utmost importance when it comes to ensuring a safe, healthy and sustainable future for all.
6. What would be a successful outcome from the Cop 27 meeting from your perspective?
I understand that the most important is that we can see the commitments and promises translated into concrete action.
2022 marks the 30th anniversary of the UNFCCC and it is an opportunity to take stock of what it has represented over these 3 past decades and what is needed to strengthen it.
It is therefore time to pay due attention to the actual needs of the largest part of the world that has very little historic responsibility for the global challenge posed by climate change.
In COP-26 the international community raised the global ambition on mitigation, keeping the hope of maintaining the 1.5C target alive. We expect COP-27 to elevate the ambition in adaptation and finance to the same level. It is now the time to put together all of our efforts to bridge the gap between the needs of developing countries and the resources available to assist them.
7. What is the one thing you will want people to remember about the work that the Embassy of Argentina is implementing in Egypt?
This year Argentina and Egypt celebrate it´s 75° anniversary since the establishment of diplomatic relations. It is a good moment to stock take the rich and varied links and bonds that both countries and their peoples have developed over these years. So, what I would like to see is that we`ve been able to help bringing Egyptian and Argentine peoples even closer, and that despite the geographical distance, we face common challenges and we can find solutions together.
This interview is part of the Yalla Healthy Living (YHL) series: CALL TO ACTION for COP 27 (November 2022, Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt): harnessing the groundswell of energy rising from the Middle East to bring health to people and the planet. Website: yallahealthyliving.com Instagram: yallahealthyliving