Argentina's Macri gambles G20 leadership with Patagonia fracking plans

by Jennifer Morgan | @climatemorgan | Greenpeace International
Tuesday, 12 June 2018 14:15 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Macri has fallen under the spell of the fossil fuel industry's false narrative that these dangerous and climate-destructive sources of energy could be the solution to Argentina's economic woes

This year’s G20 in Argentina — the first ever hosted by a Latin American country — is the opportunity Argentine President Mauricio Macri has been looking for to re-establish his country as a political and financial leader on the world stage.

The stakes are also much higher after the G7 meeting in Canada ended in disarray as US President Trump rejected the final communique. Macri must now stand firm and reject the US bullying tactics and accentuate the world’s commitment to climate action at the G20.

Macri needs to urgently reconsider his risky gamble on fracking the Patagonian landscape for shale oil and gas and instead invest in today’s economically and technically available renewable energy technologies.

Argentina’s budget deficit and national debt remain high and recent talks with the International Monetary Fund about ‘conditional financial assistance’ have inflamed fears of a return to times past and greater austerity measures.

In targeting shale oil and gas in Patagonia, Macri has fallen under the spell of the fossil fuel industry's false narrative that these dangerous and climate-destructive sources of energy could be the solution to Argentina's economic woes.

Developing the Patagonia Vaca Muerta formation will require huge sums of taxpayer money in upfront investments and risks dragging Argentina further into debt.

Macri’s economic reputation and climate legacy hinge on the country’s next move. Investing in Vaca Muerta - the world’s largest undeveloped non-conventional shale oil and gas reserve - would unleash a carbon bomb incompatible with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The report, Debunked; the G20 Clean Gas Myth, points out that to achieve the Paris goals the majority of the world’s known coal, oil and gas reserves must be kept in the ground, raising the risk that some existing fossil fuel infrastructure — often built at taxpayer cost — will need to be abandoned.

Opening up a new reserve for production in Vaca Muerta — Spanish for dead cow — means that this infrastructure could also become one of these stranded assets, literally a dead asset as the global market accelerates a shift to cheaper renewable energy.

As G20 Energy Ministers prepare to meet in Bariloche in Patagonia this week, Argentina’s Energy Transition Group will release its recommendations for the country’s future energy mix.

This group — set up by Argentine Energy Minister Juan Jose Aranguren, a former CEO of Shell Argentina — will promote fracking in Patagonia under the guise of ‘clean fossil fuels’.

But fossil fuels are neither clean nor good for the climate. Fracking in Patagonia risks destroying the natural landscape and polluting rivers, soil and groundwater. There are already reports of impacts to local fruit growers and disruption in the lives of Indigenous Mapuche communities.

As the environmental impacts mount, some members of Macri’s own government should also be reminded about the economic rationale against opening up the Vaca Muerta formation.

In 2015, before he became energy minister, Aranguren said: [With the money we now spend on fossil fuel subsidies] we can improve education, security, welfare, we can help lift people out of poverty. Subsidising the supply is no longer a rational move [...] It’s more efficient to generate wind energy than to burn imported diesel oil in inefficient engines”.

Since 2016, electricity generated from wind and solar has been the cheapest energy source globally, outperforming power generation from gas and other fossil fuels.

This trend is also being replicated in Argentina, which has potential access to the world’s largest wind resource and some of the largest solar resources, and yet the country’s use of renewable energy is among the lowest in Latin America.    

Both Macri and Aranguren have the opportunity to promote a new Argentina at this year’s G20. By developing a world-leading home-grown renewable energy industry, they can not only shore up Argentina’s position on the world stage but build a legacy of climate leadership.

Jennifer Morgan is executive director of Greenpeace International based in Amsterdam.