By Valerie Volcovici and William James
GLASGOW, Scotland, Nov 11 (Reuters) – Panama’s top negotiator at COP26, Juan Carlos Monterrey Gómez, wakes up every morning listening to “reggaeton” as he prepares to fight for the future of his country and his generation.
“We are the ones who are going to make noise,” Monterrey Gómez told Reuters at the UN climate summit in Glasgow.
The 11-member Panamanian negotiating team led by Monterrey Gómez is the youngest at COP26, with an average age of only 26 years and more women than men.
“We are young. We must not take ourselves for granted. We must stay on the right side. Sometimes we are nice, but sometimes we have to be not so nice,” is how he sums up his tactic.
During its relatively short life, Monterrey Gómez has seen promises made by previous generations of negotiators and world leaders repeatedly fail to control climate change.
Greenhouse gas emissions have doubled, and rich countries have yet to deliver on long-standing promises of financing for the poorest to adapt to global warming.
The Panamanian delegation is pressing for the talks to lead to a firm commitment by rich countries to prevent global temperature from rising more than 1.5 ° Celsius above the pre-industrial level.
And he warned British COP President Alok Sharma to take his team seriously on the first day of the summit.
“The objective of the delegation of Panama (…) is not only to make the change, but also to be disruptive and represent the youth and women of the world,” said Monterrey Gómez.
The delegate represents a young country and region, since the average age in Central America is only 28 years, compared to 38 in the United States and 42.5 in Europe.
Monterrey Gómez grew up in the arid rural valley of El Pájaro de Pesé, and joined the Panamanian Ministry of the Environment after studying economics and international public policy in the United States at the universities of Tulane and Chicago.
He was 22 years old when he attended his first UN climate summit, in 2015 in Paris, and the experience convinced him that it was crucial for young people to be part of the policymaking machinery.
As a climate analyst for the ministry, he helped draft Panama’s national climate plans for 2016 and 2020.
Now, as a veteran on the issue for Panama, Monterrey Gómez said that he and his team have a responsibility at COP26 to represent the young climate defenders and activists who have demonstrated around the world in recent years in favor of bolder measures.
With the full backing of their government, Panamanians are empowered to make negotiating decisions “and defend them until the last minute,” while others rush to consult ministers in their capitals, said Monterrey Gómez.
“If we don’t get a strong call to keep 1.5 alive, the Glasgow conference will be a failure,” he added. (Report by Valerie Volcovici and William James Edited in Spanish by Javier López de Lérida)