The coronavirus pandemic rightly deserves to command the forefront of attention as its second wave sets new records – the huge numbers of confirmed cases could always be attributed to more intensive testing, but a daily Covid-19 death toll now soaring beyond 500 for the first time is an absolute number admitting no argument, an irrefutable and irreversible index of tragedy. Yet one day the pandemic will end as the excruciatingly slow but constant trickle of vaccines achieves herd immunity and Argentina will need to face new challenges which have been dangerously neglected in the past 13 months – no lack of them at home but also worldwide and especially climate change, the subject of an international virtual summit on Thursday also attended by President Alberto Fernández.
Attended after a fashion. Fernández clearly has problems seeing international relations as anything but a continuation of foreign debt negotiations by other means. He kicked off by stating: “The Argentine Republic has placed environmental action at the centre of its convictions” but this centrality did not even last the four minutes of his speech – the Frente de Todos leader rapidly changed his priority to the need for a “new international financial architecture,” quoting papal pronouncements as to ecological and social crises being inextricably intertwined (a dubious thesis since the two worst environmental offenders, China and the United States, with nearly half of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, have relatively solid social structures). This was followed by a plea for overseas support against the International Monetary Fund (a government obsession which has absorbed 12 days of Economy Minister Martín Guzmán’s time this month with his European swing) and on two fronts – that Argentina’s share of the special pandemic assistance granted worldwide by the IMF be upped from US$4.4 billion (in the form of special drawing rights) at the expense of richer countries) and that the rollover times be doubled and the interest rates reduced on the US$44 billion owed the IMF from the 2018 stand-by loan.
Concentrate, Alberto, concentrate – the subject is climate change, a crisis which US President Joe Biden organising the summit has defined as “existential.” Fernández did present an objective of 30 percent of Argentina’s energy being renewable by 2030 (a year by which some countries and auto companies plan to complete the electrification of the automobile) but this green rhetoric is not borne out by either the action or inaction of his government. On the same day as this presidential pledge to boost renewable energy Frente de Todos deputies presented a bill to reduce the minimum biofuel requisite in diesel from 10 to five percent while leaving the Energy Department the discretion to reduce it further to three percent – an initiative clearly responding to the pressures of the oil lobby in order to maximise opportunities for the Vaca Muerta shale now paralysed by a fortnight of health worker blockades.
The oil dreams of Kirchnerism (whose origins were funded by Santa Cruz royalties and long inspired by the Venezuelan model) evidently die hard but Argentina’s vision cannot afford to remain stuck in the 1970s of OPEC and ideological strife in energy any more than political terms – the blazing sun in the north of this country and the strong winds in the south offer enormous potential for renewable energy. But the missed opportunity of an insular Argentina to make any meaningful contribution to this key point on tomorrow’s global agenda is also negative beyond the energy sector. Going out to the world begging for debt relief is unworthy of a G20 country. While expanding export markets might be the aim behind opening up to the world, this membership in the international community requires work on a much broader front, including a fuller and more dignified participation in such initiatives as Thursday’s summit on climate change.