By Valerie Volcovici and William James
GLASGOW (Reuters) – Panama’s top COP26 negotiator Juan Carlos Monterrey Gomez pumps himself up each morning with ‘reggaeton’ music as the 29-year-old prepares to fight for the future of his country and his generation.
“We’re the people who are going to make noise,” Monterrey Gomez told Reuters at the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow.
The 11-member Panamanian negotiating team which Monterrey Gomez leads is the youngest at COP26, with an average age of just 26 and more women than men.
“We’re young. Don’t take us for granted. You want to keep us on the right side. Sometimes we’re nice, but sometimes we need to be not-so-nice,” is how he summarizes his tactics.
During his relatively short lifetime, Monterrey Gomez has seen pledges made by previous generations of negotiators and world leaders repeatedly failed to control climate change.
Greenhouse gas emissions have doubled, while rich nations still have not made good on long-standing promises of finance for poor nations to adapt to the changes global warming brings.
The Panamanian delegation is pushing for talks to result in a firm commitment by rich nations to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
And he warned Britain’s COP president Alok Sharma to take his team seriously on the first day of the summit.
“The point of the Panama delegation … is not only to make change, but it’s also to be disruptive and represent the youth and women of the world,” Monterrey Gomez said.
He represents a youthful country and region, with the median age in central America just 28, compared with 38 in the United States and 42.5 in Europe.
Monterrey Gomez grew up in the dry rural valley of El Pájaro de Pesé, and joined Panama’s environment ministry after studying economics and international public policy in the United States at Tulane University and University of Chicago.
He was 22 when he attended his first U.N. climate summit, in 2015 in Paris, and the experience convinced him it was crucial for young people to be a part of the policymaking machine.
As a ministry climate analyst, he then helped write Panama’s national climate plans for both 2016 and 2020.
Now a veteran on the issue for Panama, Monterrey Gomez said he and his team have a responsibility at COP26 to represent the young climate campaigners and activists who have rallied around the world in recent years for bolder action.
With its government’s full backing, the Panamanians are empowered to make negotiating decisions “and defend them till the last minute”, while others scramble to consult with ministers in their capitals, Monterrey Gomez said.
“If we don’t get a strong call to keep 1.5 alive, then the Glasgow conference is going to be a failure,” he added.
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici and William James; Editing by Alexander Smith)