Interview with Ms. María Cecilia Alvarado, Vice-President of Azuay
14th November, 2016 – during COP22
How is Azuay engaged with climate action and what is your government doing to ensure concrete climate actions of the floor?
First, I would like to highlight the importance of RegionsAdapt and our recognition to nrg4SD for putting forward that initiative. Indeed, RegionsAdapt enables regional governments to raise our voice in climate adaptation and to show the world our crucial we are in understanding and promoting the rural-urban link, since cities have a major debt with rural areas. Indeed, rural areas should not only be considered as supply stock for water, food or ecosystem services, but also as a space for integrated development. In Ecuador, and particularly in Azuay, we consider this a priority. Indeed, we are all aware that our water and food supplies, our forests and protected areas, and the preservation of flora and fauna, are located in rural areas, and therefore it should be a priority to empower and give prominence to those areas. Cities tend to think that their problems start and finish within their boundaries, whereas when determined to solve the cities’ problems we need –as Habitat III stated- to ensure an integrated development and focus on rural areas.
In that context, Azuay is engaged in creating its own Climate Strategy that entails an important effort in rising of awareness and civil society engagement, including all non-governmental sectors such as farmers, academia and research or businesses, among other. All aiming at achieving a powerful tool capable of creating climate adaptation policies at local level, following one of RegionsAdapt goals. We strongly believe that our initiative must include both mitigation and adaptation, but also reversion of climate change. That is, by using creativity we aim at showing indicators that not only state we are contributing to solve climate issues, but also that state an improvement with regards to current indicators. In climate change globalization and global effects are important, but also successful stories at local level are, and it should be our aim as regional governments to achieve small spots where public policies under civil society ownership can render an oasis or paradise despite neighbour regions or countries may not work likewise.
Our main concern in climate change has to do with the collective thought of waiting until we all do something, and until that happens it seems nobody does a thing. In Azuay we believe that each of us needs to do something despite the others, and therefore we take it very seriously when acting in our territory since we know our actions are useful to our people. In this regard, one of the initiatives we are currently involved in is a project devoted to water supply protection to ensure availability for human consumption, agriculture and business. In particular, the Government of Azuay is very concerned about the gold and silver mining activities developed in our territory and affecting seriously our water sprouts. In this sense, we have confronted our national government and the entire world to defend our water resources from pollution and have stated to prefer that rather than metal mining. This is neither a romantic or demagogic perspective, but rather a firm will that we consider feasible. There are international examples such as Colombia, where their Constitutional Court stated unconstitutional any mining activity above 3000 metres of altitude over the sea level. Moreover, Costa Rica is an example of how environmental issues should be always put in front of business or industrial interests. We believe that Ecuador still needs to learn much about that, we need to be coherent in terms of what our Constitution and our laws say, and what we do on the ground, we need to be braver and take action instead of giving speeches. In this sense, I am proud to share that the Climate Strategy of Azuay includes as one of its main immediate actions the protection of our water sprouts, recognising them as free metal zones.
How do you think RegionsAdapt can help Azuay in its climate adaptation efforts?
RegionsAdapt is a wonderful platform to meet fellow counterparts. It enables us to work with other regional governments from different continents who are also showing their national governments the valuable initiatives developed in our territories. RegionsAdapt shows us we are not alone and encourages keeping on working in a collaborative way. Besides, RegionsAdapt compiles us to assume our responsibility to act, report and reflect on our policies. When a government endorses the initiative it commits to internationally report on the actions developed in its territory, therefore it entails an extra motivation to take action and implement written measures. Besides, it acts as validation and controlling mechanism and this is important too. Regional governments must render explanations to their citizens but it is very good to complement that exercise with an international network such as nrg4SD that can validate actions and welcome successful initiatives while alerting on risky ones. This type of external control ensures that policies do not rely on each ruling party but rather in the territories and its peoples’ decisions. The Climate Strategy of Azuay is at present promoted by the Government of President Carrasco and I as Vice-President. Nevertheless, we need a strategy assumed by civil society, academia and the business sector as of its own to ensure that the initiative will endure in time and will be able to achieve its goals, which are medium-long term.
According to you, what should be the joint statement of regional governments with regards to their role in climate adaptation?
We should be more self-confident about what we represent and we do, we need to believe in the obligations we have as elected political representatives in representing our citizens and in taking action; as mentioned earlier we cannot wait for everybody to take action but just doing it each of us. We need to take responsibility, we need to do our part and be capable of recognizing that the grain of sand we contribute with at global level is already a great action in our territories. The sum up of many regional grains of sand can definitely make the global changes that we are currently discussing in Marrakech these days.
How is Azuay following the evolution and potential outcomes of this UNFCCC COP 22?
As always in real life, sometimes expectations are greater than real things. I believe to date the main challenge of COP 22 is achieving what the world is expecting for: that this COP edition turns into the one of action. As repeatedly mentioned in all official speeches, if COP 21 was the summit for agreement –and we have succeeded in entering into force the Paris Agreement- then COP 22 must be the summit for action and implementing those agreements on the ground. So there are no excuses not to achieve it, it true though that there is an open discussion on how to develop effectively that implementation. In the recent Habitat III held in Quito, discussions focused on vertical and cross-cutting sustainable development, however here in Marrakech it seems we are discussing about a different planet, and indeed it is the same one! It is the same planet that needs urban sustainable development but also decrease of GHG emissions and protection of sustainable ecosystems. Therefore, the efforts to be done by political authorities from all governmental levels are realising that our strategy needs to be common and that we need to be capable of link our speeches, goals and plans. Otherwise, we will continue planning cities separately from territories and developing urban planning without considering environmental aspects.