With Lula as a possible balance point between generations, Latin America's new left adopts a greener discourse

As Latin America sees a new shift to the left, with Boric in Chile and possibly Petro in Colombia, the “greener” tone of new leaders contrasts with the “resource nationalism” of the old guard.

Former Brazil President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva during an event. May, 2022. Photo: REUTERS/Washington Alves
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Favorite to win Colombia‘s presidency so far, Gustavo Petro wants, if he wins the election scheduled for the end of this month, to stop all new oil exploration and lead the country towards a greener future. The position aligns with Chile’s newly sworn-in president Gabriel Boric, a millennial who has also pledged to take a firm stand on combating climate change.

As Latin America sees a new shift to the left — which by the end of 2022 is expected to rule most of the continent — the “greener” tone of new leaders contrasts with the “resource nationalism” of the old guard, which is often seen tight control in energy and metals as the best path to economic progress and self-determination.

Former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva may be the balance point between the new and old generation of the left in the region. A leader in opinion polls for Brazil‘s October elections, Lula has long been identified with oil development. Still, at the same time, he also seeks to draw contrasts with President Jair Bolsonaro, a climate change skeptic.

READ ALSO: Boric kicks off a new phase for the left in Latin American politics

Lula often evokes the prosperity that marked his government between 2003 and 2011, when a commodity supercycle fueled by rising Chinese demand for steel, soybeans, and other products helped fill government coffers. He also held the presidency when Petrobras discovered the pre-salt, a reserve of about 50 billion barrels of oil that was seen as a game-changer in the fight against poverty.

In recent interviews, Lula’s party PT dismissed suggestions that he would follow Petro’s tone and avoid potentially profitable oil projects.

Senator Humberto Costa, a close ally of Lula, believes that the energy transition should accelerate in Brazil if the left returns to power. He projects an increase in generation from solar, wind, and biomass sources. “I think that again, there is this issue of environmental and energy concerns. I think this will play an important role”, said Costa. “Our environmental and energy policies were good (in Lula’s previous government)… but today, this issue has become more urgent and broader.”

The senator also stated that Lula would seek “self-sustainable development” in the Amazon, unlike Bolsonaro.

READ ALSO: What does a company mean when it declares itself ‘carbon neutral’?

Later this month, Colombian voters will go to the polls for the first round of the local presidential election, in which Petro, 62, aims to guide the left to its first victory in decades.

The former guerrilla, who later became a parliamentarian and mayor of Bogotá, chose environmental activist and rising progressive star Francia Márquez as his running mate. Márquez, who could become the first Afro-Colombian vice president, stressed in an interview that she and Petro would break with the country’s conservatives, who have long embraced oil and coal, but also with leftist colleagues like the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, an unconditional supporter of fossil fuels.

“The point is that both the left and the right are promoting a policy of extractivism at a time when humanity faces the challenge of making the transition from this extractive economy to a sustainable economy,” said Marquez, 40, a vocal feminist, to Reuters. “Life is not possible without our planet.”

Petro has promised to stop new oil and gas exploration, protect water resources and provide more security for environmentalists in Colombia — the most dangerous country in the world for these activists.

READ ALSO: Here comes the sun: Brazilian Solfácil snags $100 million to boost solar energy

In Chile, a new law must oblige the country to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Companies will have to adapt to the new “borders” established to limit emissions and pollution, Environment Minister Boric told Reuters last Friday.

For traditional leftist leaders in Latin America, the control and use of resources are related to a legacy of exploitation that harkens back to colonial times—and many of their policies are focused on keeping private foreign capital away from its natural wealth.

In Mexico, López Obrador last month won congressional support to nationalize the exploitation of lithium, a crucial metal for the manufacture of batteries that the country does not yet produce.

Since then, the Mexican leader has said he wants to join Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia to advance like-minded development.

He also sought to strengthen the dominance of state oil company Pemex and national electricity company CFE in their respective sectors by canceling oil and renewable energy auctions and prioritizing energy dispatch from CFE plants, even though they are predominantly fossil fuel-powered.

(Translated by LABS)

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