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  • A Fragmented Continent: Latin America and the Global Politics of Climate Change by Guy Edwards and J. Timmons Roberts
  • Christian Brannstrom
A Fragmented Continent: Latin America and the Global Politics of Climate Change. Guy Edwards and J. Timmons Roberts. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2015. xxi + 274 pp. Table, notes, references, and index. $26.00 paper (ISBN 978-0-262-02980-3); $52.00 cloth (ISBN 978-0-262-52811-5); $18.00 electronic (ISBN 978-0-262-33014-5).

We are only beginning to understand political, environmental and social responses to climate change in Latin America. While climate change negotiations seem unable to keep pace with increasing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, scholarly analysis barely keeps up with the political and economic processes that shape negotiations. The authors of this book contribute to closing this gap by analyzing Latin America’s “increasing presence and influence at the global climate talks” (p. 22).

One may view the COPs (Conferences of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC) as unable to deal with rising GHG emissions, carbon dioxide concentration, global temperature increases, cryosphere melting, sea level rise, and ocean acidification. But COPs and the background negotiations and domestic politics of key players are a real part of Latin America’s political and economic geography. The authors describe Latin American contributions to the COP processes with terms such as “emerging leadership” (p. 33), “bellwether” (p. 35), and “decisive” (p. 167).

Fragmented Continent shows, from the perspective of Latin American cases, how negotiators arrived at the COP21 agreement in Paris (December 2015). COP21, the twenty-first Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC, occurred after preparation of this book. But the book shows how the path to COP21 went through Cancun (COP16, in 2010) and Lima (COP20, in 2014). The authors argue that Mexican diplomats—the “new engineers of consensus” (p. 2)—re-established trust and pragmatism (partially by lowering expectations) after the negotiation process nearly unraveled at the Copenhagen COP15.

COP21 received favorable reporting because it was a consensus agreement aimed at keeping global temperature increase to below 2 degrees Celsius, included the US and China, would become binding at a threshold, included a global fund for poorer countries, and required regular national reporting on emissions reductions. The Guardian (UK) praised COP21, for which the signatory process began in April 2016, while noting the need to now focus on reducing the “gap between reality and the ambition of holding global warming below 2C,” calling the agreement “the end of the beginning” (“The Guardian view on the UN climate change treaty: now for some action,” The Guardian, 24 April 2016). Indeed, climate scientists have also questioned the ability of COP21 to keep temperature increase to less than 2 degrees Celsius. Climate scientists have described COP21 as a “historical achievement” while requiring “substantial enhancement or over-delivery” to keep temperature increase to less than 2 degrees Celsius (J. Rogelj, et al., “Paris Agreement climate proposals need a boost to keep warming well below 2° C,” Nature, 2016).

If COP21 marked the “end of the beginning,” then Fragmented Continent shows Latin America’s contributions to this initial process by offering insights into the region’s diplomats, civil society, and economies. The book offers a persuasive way of framing our understanding of past and future actions (or inaction) and highlights individuals who may [End Page 124] develop into major protagonists in climate change policymaking. For example, Patricia Espinosa Cantellano, the Mexican diplomat whom the authors praise for rescuing the negotiations from Copenhagen’s “near meltdown” (p. 1), will replace Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica as UNFCCC Executive Secretary in July 2016.

The authors argue that natural resource endowments, economic development processes, foreign policy objectives, and pressures from civil society organizations are the main driving forces determining type and level of involvement of Latin American countries in climate change negotiations. Receiving less analytical attention are domestic lobbying by economic actors, such as agriculture and petroleum sectors, and the bureaucratic struggles within the state and between appointed officials and career diplomats. A synthetic understanding of science-based estimates for climate change impacts on people and resources is beyond the scope of this book; similarly...


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