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140: Every Country Could Be Carbon Negative with Erika Mouynes

“It doesn’t matter what your economy is. It’s just a matter of deciding of protecting your areas and committing to it.”

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About this episode

Last week it was reported that the world’s governments are currently subsidizing our own destruction to the tune of $1.8 Trillion a year… yeah. Not good. What does it look like to turn these subsidies around to promote nature, clean energy, and equitable access to energy across continents?

Maybe this week we have the answer, because in the midst of those irresponsible subsidies, this week we present a story of responsibility, political courage, and negativity! …The good kind.

Erika Mouynes is the Minister of Foreign Affairs from Panama, a country that recently attained certified Carbon Negative status. How does a country with a fleet of ships that is the 8th largest emitter of greenhouse gases and an economy based on global trade go carbon negative? Minister Mouynes tells all in our interview.

From implementing a Greenhouse Gas Emissions Fee, to the indigenous protection of land, and even some eco-surveillance in space, today’s episode is all about how a Minister of Foreign Affairs goes absolutely Environmental.

And stick around ‘til the end for the African Fusion Soul stylings of ‘Ganda Boys’.

Mentioned links from the episode:


Full Transcript

Tom: [00:00:12] Hello and welcome to Outrage + Optimism! I'm Tom Rivett-Carnac.

Christiana: [00:00:15] I'm Christiana Figueres.

Tom: [00:00:17] And I'm Paul Dickinson.

Tom: [00:00:18] This week we ask whether it is time to stop subsidizing our own destruction. We speak to Erika Mouynes, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Panama, and we have music from Ganda Boys. Thanks for being here. So this week we're going to bring you some interesting analysis of a report that came out that suggested that the world right now is doing the polar opposite of what we requested and suggested last week with Yuval Harari, and we'll get into that in just a minute. But just before we do Christiana, I know you're very close to the team involved in the Earthshot Prize and just this week, in fact, yesterday, for those listeners who are listening to his podcast on the day it comes out, there was some very interesting analysis released that shows how they are thinking about the Earthshot Prize this year. Do you want to just give us a quick overview of what that was?

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Christiana: [00:01:18] Well, the exciting thing about this report that is appearing or has already appeared on www.earthshotprize.org, Roadmap to Regeneration is the name of the report. And strictly speaking, the report has been commissioned in order to establish what the priority areas for the Earthshot Prize for this year are going to be, across all of the five areas that the Earthshot Prize actually works in, which is nature, air, oceans, waste and climate change. However, from the point of view of those who are not specifically involved in the prize, this report is a really, really interesting piece because what it does is it identifies in each of those global components of our crisis that we're in. It identifies the top three areas that would actually have us reach positive tipping points. So for everyone who is asking like, Well, what can I do to have the most impact on oceans or on waste or climate or air or nature? Here is a really, really interesting way, a fast way to say OK, if you're interested in oceans, here are the three things that you could associate your efforts and your brains with, in order to have the most impact. Same thing goes for investors. Many times impact investors are saying, OK, I you know, I have a mandate from my asset owners to look for investment opportunities that are going to have high impact. What are the highest impact areas across any of those five topics? Here is a really quick way of seeing that. So a very exciting report that really points toward the capacity that we have to regenerate all of these five ecosystems or all of these five components of the global challenge and be able to get us to where we need to be by 2030. Let's remember the clock is ticking.

Paul: [00:03:33] And can you just remind us of that URL again?

Christiana: [00:03:35] Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So well, I'm sure if you just type into miss Google, who knows absolutely everything, Roadmap to Regeneration, she will bring it up for you. But if you want to go to the URL, it's www.earthshotprize.org/roadmaptoregeneration. But just Roadmap to Regeneration will get it.

Tom: [00:03:53] I got you. It’s the first time I've heard someone say WWW for a while. I like that.

Christiana: [00:04:00] WWW

Paul: [00:04:02] There you go. Because not a lot of people know this, but World Wide Web is one of the very few examples where the acronym WWW has far more syllables than the words world wide web. So don't say the acronym, just say World Wide Web. So there you go. Now look on this Earthshot, right? Thank you, Paul. I read that report, right? It's helpful. I'm here, right? Know, kind of help me navigate your life. But I read that report and I thought it was just absolutely a perfect example of what I'm going to call a kind of political manifesto unconnected to any party or any ideology. It's like the politics of human survival, which I think is a great unifying force. And it seems to me like this is a kind of a foundational politics that everything else is built on that we can really unify around. So that was just a huge endorsement of that brilliant report. 

Tom: [00:04:51] Yeah. And it's I mean, it's so exciting to see how it's going to go for this year. One thing that really struck me is it's always so difficult when you're putting these kind of methodologies together for how you look at the world to both capture sort of like solutions that are moving along and scaling up, as well as the kind of wild card solutions that could be completely transformative. And I think they've developed a methodology that really encapsulates both. I particularly love the phrase that they're looking for magical, disruptive wildcard solutions. So anyone out there with any of those definitely check out the Earthshot Prize is going to be a big year for it.

Christiana: [00:05:22] Wait, that that deserves repeating, magical wildcard

Tom: [00:05:27] Magical, disruptive wild card solutions.

Christiana: [00:05:31] There you go. Yeah. Not bad for a URL.

Tom: [00:05:34] Or description of Christiana Figueres

Christiana: [00:05:36] A task for tomorrow morning.

Tom: [00:05:37] Well, exactly. Now, last week, listeners will remember we had the brilliant Yuval Noah Harari on the podcast, and he talked about many things but principally about this campaign that he has created to get two percent of global GDP directed towards the solutions to the climate and nature crises, and the day that that podcast came out, another report that came out that demonstrated that right now we are actually spending two percent of GDP on environmentally harmful subsidies that are heading us in the wrong direction, financing

Christiana: [00:06:15] A hundred and eighty opposite direction

Tom: [00:06:18] One point eight trillion US dollars 1.3 trillion British pounds. It's nervous laughter. Financing the annihilation of wildlife, supporting destruction of rainforests. Just a little bit of detail. Six hundred and forty billion of financial support for the fossil fuel industry. Five hundred and twenty billion for agriculture. And 350 billion for unsustainable use of freshwater. And there's lots of examples in this report around how that money is actually being utilized to accelerate this terrible path that we're on. So I would invite both of you. What did you take from this report when you had a look at it before this conversation?

Christiana: [00:06:57] Paul, oh, you always go first.

Paul: [00:07:00] Ok, well, look, you know, what can we say? This is pretty significant. I've been fascinated increasingly with the idea that government isn't super significant in terms of taxation and regulation, but this issue of subsidies and the amount of money going through governments is absolutely critical. I looked it up actually before the call today. Before our conversation. The OECD point out that, for example, of the GDP of France, 55 percent is government spending, 50 percent of the GDP in Germany, 40 percent of the GDP in the UK, 38 percent in the US. So if you think about it, kind of give or take about half the entire economy is the government or a little bit less. And so it's clearly an enormously significant economic opportunity, actually. And it turns out that at the very moment when people like Yuval are saying, we need to put two percent into finding the solutions, and that's quite an achievable political project. We should notice that historically two percent has been kind of carved out by powerful commercial interests and is in many regards, being deployed in 100 percent, 180 degrees, the opposite direction to the one we want. So I think it's worth us just reflecting a little bit upon the fact that in a sense, government is a contested space and very powerful forces do try to make use of the government for things that are potentially quite damaging. And that's something that is another political project we have to focus on.

Christiana: [00:08:24] So as all of you know, I still haven't graduated from kindergarten and every, every thought that I have has a little picture associated with it. Here's my little picture about this, OK? We're standing on the shore and there's this huge wind that comes from the back and we get in a tiny weensy little sailboat and this very forceful wind just goes whoosh and takes a sailboat way off into the ocean. Now, if you're a very good sailor and you know how to tack and your sail is large enough, you can probably manage this. But it does seem like these subsidies are just taking us off into the ocean without any positive consequence whatsoever and just turning the direction 180 degrees would bring us back to safe shores. Now the amazing thing about this is the money is already allocated by governments, right? So that two percent that Yuval was talking about and that Nick Stern has been talking about for decades is not fresh money because we keep on thinking, as you've all reminded us, as though this were new funds that have to be come up with or I have to be printed or something. No, it's already there in budget, it's already allocated. And the question is, can we turn it around? And instead of investing it into our destruction, common destruction, can we invest it into our common regeneration? Now here is a naughty little thought that I would love your reaction on. What if those subsidies were given to the same industries that are receiving them now, but with different terms of reference, with a different mandate? What if the subsidies still went to the fossil fuel industry to say, turn off the faucet? No more digging, no more drilling, no more supply of fossil fuels? You get the subsidies, but for one hundred and eighty degree different product. Turn in the wind completely around. What if those subsidies still went to the agriculture industry, but with a different mandate, you can continue to be, you know, a productive and profitable agricultural sector but with sustainable agricultural practices. What, do you think that would work? It's the same money. It's the same industries. We're not killing any industries, we're just giving them a different mandate.

Tom: [00:11:07] Yeah, no. I think it's exactly the kind of thinking that we need to actually break through and do things in a different way, right? That clearly would be politically very challenging for many friends of ours who would resist that because how dare we in a world that is now accelerating inequality, moving down a path of subsidizing those who already have a lot? So that would make it politically difficult. But I think we need to also use the lens of would it actually solve many of the challenges that we're facing? I mean, I think those subsidies are there for political and for development reasons. And the development reasons are insane because you're continuing to finance your own destruction, you're not helping the development of the people. You're trying to help the political reasons, you know, maybe close to corruption in some cases and in other cases, there's other structural reasons. But the other challenge that may be there with what you just said, Christiana, is my understanding of those subsidies is some of it is cash, but other elements are tax breaks on revenue that you would generate to do a particular thing. So if you look for fossil fuels, you can write off certain elements of your profit as a result of taking the risk on that capital. Now, if you're not doing that and you're not generating revenue, where does the cash come from to provide the subsidy? But nevertheless, I think it's an interesting thought experiment.

Christiana: [00:12:25] Well, it's a naughty thought and definitely, you know, will provoke many rotten tomatoes being thrown at us.

Tom: [00:12:37] Well, I hate tomatoes.

Christiana: [00:12:42] It's a naughty thought and will provoke many rotten tomatoes being thrown at us. But here's the question: many of those subsidies are actually very, very old. They have been there for years, and they have perhaps, perhaps a justifiable existence, historically because they were put in place when governments really wanted to make sure that we did have an agricultural industry that was being profitable and feeding everyone or an energy industry that needed to accelerate, etc. So for historical reasons, they were put there to buttress these industries. Now, the context in which those subsidies are still being granted has radically transformed. And so I'm wondering, the purpose of putting those subsidies in principle still stands, which is we now need an agricultural system and energy system that meets the needs of the moment, just like we did historically. It's just that the needs now are very, very different. So can we therefore change the terms of reference of those subsidies for the needs that we have now? And yes, there will be many who don't agree with that. But let's remember that that money is already being dispersed and could be dispersed to change the direction of the winds that could bring us to shore.

Paul: [00:14:22] And just just to build on that, Christiana, you're absolutely right that as ever and you know, financiers are very clever. It's true that, you know, you might be writing off oil and gas expenditure at risk, you know, with tax breaks, but you could write off, you know, renewable energy investment risk with tax breaks or different sorts of agricultural products. You know, the financial products can be created if governments taking the risk or if it's providing tax incentives, then you can change behaviour, but you do need the political will. And I'm going to just point out that we do live in a little bit of a bubble, sometimes or always. I just spent a little time looking at the leading presenter on Fox News, Tucker Carlson, who some people say is a presidential candidate. He had a physicist on, just a week or two ago who said climate change is a farce created by the media and the politicians it benefits. And he said that the warmest temperatures have not gone up in the last 60 years. So that's going out on the media to millions of people. Fox received two point nine billion income last year, about a billion from advertisers. You know, we've got to recognize that probably when we go out and buy a whole bunch of products ourselves, we're funding climate disinformation that's going out on mainstream media right now. So we still haven't won that ideological debate, and the reason I mentioned, not ideological, but we still haven't won the sort of, the debate in the public forum to the point that you know, we have, for example, with principles like equality or opposing smoking cigarettes. And the reason I mentioned it is because we need to have that absolute consensus to drive through these slightly innovative policies that you're talking about, Christiana.

Tom: [00:16:02] Great conversation. We are going to have to move now to our interview unless either of you have anything to add, particularly before we go. All good? Well, we'll be back afterwards now. Erika Mouynes is the Panamanian Minister of Foreign Affairs. Completely brilliant woman. And Christiana, you know her. I think it would be appropriate for you to do a bit of an introduction.

Christiana: [00:16:18] Well, thank you, I. I have yet to meet her personally, but I have had a few conversations with her.

Tom: [00:16:25] That’s no barrier to becoming good friends, we've learned in the days of COVID. 

Paul: [00:16:28] We have video communication.

Christiana: [00:16:29] This is true in the days of COVID. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So Erika Mouynes is the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Panama since 2020. She is in her mid forties. So a very brilliant young, rising political star, not just in Panama, but one could say probably a leading politician in Latin America coming up. Educated first in Panama and then at the University of California, Berkeley, as a lawyer. She worked first outside of Panama in New York and a couple of other cities in large law firms doing project finance, doing mostly financial legal work at financial institutions. Then in 2004, she returned to Panama to be chief of staff of the Ministry of Commerce and Industries, and then moved over to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2019 as vice minister and was then named 2020 as the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Very likely the youngest ever minister of Foreign Affairs of Panama. What I really love about Erika is that she is what I would call a shining example of a new generation of political leaders who realize that multilateralism in the 21st century has got to become increasingly green, which means environmental issues are in the century and especially in this decade, very quickly rising to be as important as other geopolitical issues that have been either collaborative or confrontational over the past few decades. And so in the international affairs of states, you can no longer separate environmental issues from everything else that needs to be in the conversation between states that is so complex. And she, despite the fact that she's a trained lawyer and her comfort zone is finance, you will note from our conversation with her that she is quite fluent in environmental issues, self studied, and quite delightful that she has done so. So let's listen to this conversation with this brilliant young foreign affairs minister. Please do remember as you listen to the conversation, she's a Foreign Affairs Minister, not an environment minister. 

Christiana: [00:19:19] Minister Erika Mouynes, thank you very much for taking the time to join us here on Outrage+Optimism! You and I had the opportunity of being on the phone with each other a couple of months ago, and when I had the pleasure of meeting you, then I immediately invited you to the podcast because I think the listeners here will be so thrilled to listen to so many innovative things that Panama is doing with respect to climate change. And we'll get into that, but also to hear from such an enlightened foreign minister, because I have to say how delighted I am when I read the news that Panama has decided to impose a fee on the ships that go through the fantastic Panama Canal, and the fee is based actually on their greenhouse gas emissions. Now, the reason that I would love for you to talk about this is, there's a certain irony isn't there that Panama, I think, continues to be the largest registry of ships in the world having the largest shipping fleet. And so I would love to hear from you. How did you come to that decision of charging that fee and when does it go into effect?

Erika Mouynes: [00:20:41] Sure. Thank you for the opportunity. Let's for a minute and I think you mentioned several of what we're known for that puts us in a leadership role, but that it's also a responsibility. So one, we have one of the main waterways of the world.Two, we do, and we still do have the largest ship registry in the world. And three, we're surrounded by water. We have the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. So that leadership, that natural leadership also entails the responsibility and responsibility that is carried out effectively can truly make a change. And it starts by what we're known for and that's the Panama Canal. And yes, some Panamanian or that the flag of the ship is Panamanian will be affected as many others. But it's just the ships right now are if you combine them, they are the eighth emitter of greenhouse gasses in the world. So there is a huge focus at the moment and what we do about the shipping industry to turn it into a greener and more eco-friendly understanding of the damage that they're doing right now and how we can transition effectively. And there are many things that you can do. One, transitioning the fuels that they use, and the second making sure that the incentives are there. And that incentive or disincentives is what Panama has taken up as establishing this new tariff system that we recently announced and will be in effect next year. We are now in discussions with all the shipping, and not all of them are super happy about it. But it is what it is and it will happen regardless of the pushback that I think we are receiving. It is the right incentive. So it's been structured and there are several elements how you structure, what is the fuel that you're using, how much is the reduction that you're proposing to to to make up for what that tariff will be for you? So there are three elements, and I think it's just one of the many areas that we are, I think we're right now very ocean focused. We recently, just last year enacted the protection of literally the equivalent of the size of our country is right now protected in oceans. We were the first after we announced now Costa Rica, Colombia and Ecuador will be joining in that protection. And I think it's just there's so much that we can do in the oceans, and every little thing that we do has a significant impact in what we're trying to do in terms of protecting the planet.

Christiana: [00:23:38] Well, I can understand perfectly well that there was pushback from the owners of the ships abroad who have to use, what was the dynamic inside? Was it immediately taken on or were there some sectors that were concerned about this?

Erika Mouynes: [00:23:54] So we've been talking about it for a while, but it just happened to coincide with the pandemic and the changes and the dynamic in terms of world trade and shipping because of the pandemic itself. So I think the nature of what we're going through has slowed down the implementation, but it will happen regardless of, you know, I think we're all heading towards economic recovery. So there are no more excuses in terms of when that implementation can take effect.

Christiana: [00:24:25] And is there a clear idea already minister of what the resources will be dedicated to?

Erika Mouynes: [00:24:32] Well, the Panama Canal has a specific allocation, some for the operation and then the other one goes into the government. And we're now currently discussing how much of that budget of the general government is allocated to protection and restoration. One of the things that I think that are interesting is on the Pacific right now, we're establishing what will be the largest scientific station in the Pacific, and here's why it's interesting because you'll be able to measure what you are doing that is positive. So because one thing is saying, I am protected. So what does that mean? Are you registering by this march? Or I mean, are there issues that are now starting to regenerate? So having a station and having absolute and specific hard data in terms of what that means for the protection of our oceans and the regeneration of the biomass, I think will be key in convincing other stakeholders on taking similar policies.

Christiana: [00:25:38] So that that's a nice segway minister to another topic that we wanted to invite you to share, which is Panama's status as a carbon negative country, one of only three Bhutan and Surinam. Carbon negative, meaning that Panama absorbs more carbon from the air than it actually emits, than CO2 that it emits. And I totally understand that from Bhutan and Surinam, but from Panama, that is a very interesting equation that you have been able to figure out because Panama definitely has more industry, more transport, more emitting sources than Bhutan and Suriname. So how did you figure that out? Is this the result of the equation of how much of Panama's both forests and oceans are absorbing? Or is that the result of only the land absorption? How did you do that and why is it important for Panama?

Erika Mouynes: [00:26:55] So this is not just for the record of Panama saying we think that we're carbon negative. We actually so there's a certification process and inventory process. So you create an inventory where you bring people along. You set up essentially a catalog of how much you're emitting versus how much you're absorbing, and it is mostly focused on land. And we have historically three elements that finally, I think combined with being able to sort of get a hold on what's happening in Panama. One, historically, indigenous populations have gotten huge amounts of land as protected areas, and that has, and this is not just in Panama, there are several countries in the world where, thanks to those indigenous populations, they are truly the gatekeepers of our forests. So in Panama, they've been able because of those protected areas, to keep away large developments in our forests. So that's number one. Number two, we have a significant amount of renewables in our energy matrix. And number three, the Panama Canal. The Panama Canal meant that we needed to have protected areas to maintain the watersheds. So the basing of the Panama Canal in order to have water for the Panama Canal to operate. So those three elements have been able to allow for this inventory of the carbon that we emit versus the one that we absorb to be positive for Panama and for the planet. Now going back to your point that you understand Bhutan and Surinam, so that's what I find fascinating and that I think is the story for the world. It doesn't matter what your economy is. So Panama, yes, we are an industry and service based economy. We're able to get there, any other country could. It's just a matter of deciding or protecting your areas and actually committing to it. And I think that in our discussions with both Bhutan and Surinam, not even Bhutan and Surinam are also similar in their economies or where they're located. So the three of us are different places, different economies, different everything, and we are able to get there. So I think it's just a positive story to tell that neither the three of us will, I will also say, we also have not received any form of resources from all those wonderful funds that have been created to support and to maintain, to keep off the warming of the planet. So I think that we share not only that positive, but the frustration, as well as not getting those resources that people would assume that you're getting them. And also the challenge because the fact that we're carbon negative now doesn't say or there's no guarantee that we'll stay that well. So there is also efforts in order to make sure that those areas keep on being protected and that the protection always is not something you're saying. That there is actual review surveillance in order to make sure that the areas maintain that pristine component. And in order to do that, you need to have the society believe that is good. There's no way in the world that Bhutan or Panama or anybody could safeguard all their, either their ocean or their forests. You need the people, the citizens, to say this is good for me because ultimately I benefit from it and understand it, because when you have everybody as a gatekeeper for those restoration and reforestation plans, it becomes effective. Otherwise, it's just something nice that you say I'm protecting, but when you do and you actually do the inventory, you realize well, but there's not the force that I thought it would be here because it becomes something that we as a country believe that is good for Panama. And what is good for the economy, is good for the planet. It's just that change of mentality. People think that it's more costly and sometimes it is. But once you get there, it becomes better for the economy. You create more employment. It's renewable. I mean, I will go on and on, but it's just hopefully a change of mentality that we need more countries to follow along.

Christiana: [00:31:18] Well, we would completely agree with you. But how did you get there?

Paul: [00:31:23] Yeah, that’s the question. I have the same question. You know, I said any other country could do it. You said society must believe in it. And we've spent, you know, a couple of years now talking about how so few countries, if any, have managed to do it. So if you can give insight into how you arrived at this incredibly advantageous position, it would be wonderful for our listeners.

Erika Mouynes: [00:31:45] I think that it is the concept of Panamanians. We've always been sort of prone to trade, right? So it's a mercantilist, it's a trade based economy where people are thinking, what is good for me, how do I benefit? And to set up campaigns, which we've done in the idea of, no, you're helping the planet or whatever, you're helping yourself. If you protect that tree in front of you, you are protecting yourself. You're going to get tourists that are going to come, you're going to have the produce of whatever. So to change the mentality, and it's education, the education at the end is the key. We are right now working on a new area and we have two components right now for the new area that will be protected. Education number one, if you're not educating the people that are nearby, then you have riots. They get frustrated, they say I can't eat enough because I used to fish from, for instance, that sea, and now you're precluding me. So education, including how are they going to make their livelihood if you are precluding them from their normal means? And the second surveillance, because again, if you're not making sure that it is happening, then it's just something nice to say, but without any results.

Christiana: [00:33:05] Hmm. And how is that surveillance? Is that monitored through satellites? Is that the Panamanian army or what is the surveillance?

Erika Mouynes: [00:33:14] We have a lot of satellites now working both for the ocean that will be in place for the new protected areas, and we have also for the forest, and for the forest they've been absolutely key because it is hard again to to have this vast area and without somebody actually monitoring, and you'll see the graphics of somebody coming in and then cutting a tree in the middle of the night and then smuggling wood from that tree. And you cannot prevent that other than by having that technology available connected to the environmental police that we have been doing, I think, an incredible job.

Paul: [00:33:55] Minister Mouynes, that’s amazing. Like we have a lot of satellites and this informs the environmental police. I mean, honestly, you're speaking like a minister from the 23rd century, if I might say so, not the 22nd century. So really huge, huge respect. And may I ask a question a little bit, as Christiana alluded earlier to the fact that that you've been pioneering some thinking about how as foreign minister, that's also, you know, mixed with some of the responsibilities of Environment Minister, can you talk us through a little bit of your thinking about how ministerial offices perhaps might be reconfigured in the government of the future?

Erika Mouynes: [00:34:38] Sure. There is a role for governments to play from a foreign policy perspective on everything related to the climate, because you can do a lot from your country and I'll speak, Panama is a small country and what we can do is great, but it only gets to a certain extent the protection of the oceans that I was referring to the fact that we protected our area. We're a tiny country. Colombia, that is next to us, is huge compared to us. The fact that now they've joined this idea of protecting the Pacific Corridor as well as Costa Rica and Ecuador made it amazing. Now we have Galapagos, we have Cocos from Costa Rica. So mixing the foreign policy aspect and making it also a priority, because then you get the support, the political support. These are not easy decisions. The fishing industries, everybody knows that they are very powerful. They move strengths as much as they can or they will in order to get that industrial fishing going on, so having the support from other governments saying do this, it will be costly, will be expensive, it will be hard for you, but I've done it, i've gone through. I'm going to support you. It is also very valuable and trying to think of this as more than each country. What are they doing separately? But what are we doing as a community, as a region and there are tons of projects that we all benefit. I was mentioning, for instance, education. The same education that the Panamanians need on the new protected areas will be the same that Ecuadorians need or that Costa Ricans need. So these are also interchangeable skill sets that it is easy also to get finance and to get the cooperation going. So again, that element of coordinating amongst countries. Bhutan, Surinam and Panama, the three countries. We don't have diplomatic relations with Bhutan, but we were able to talk about this and to form this alliance. So it is a beautiful aspect that we can connect that should be a priority and there is so much that we can do together.

Christiana: [00:36:44] Well, Minister, the listeners of this podcast know that I'm always singing the praises of Costa Rica, on so many different aspects. But I think after this conversation, we're going to have to substitute Costa Rica and start singing the praises of Panama. You've definitely topped the aspiration here, so congratulations to that. And before we, we finish and thank you so much for your time, minister. Just would also love to hear your sense about the role of women. And you were recently quoted by saying, Let me be very clear by failing women, we also fail the planet. Some thoughts about that?

Erika Mouynes: [00:37:30] A lot. Well, you know that there was a study in one hundred and thirty countries where whenever you had a decision on climate, if you had a woman that was leading, she was more inclined to sign it than if it was a man. When we went to the COP26, the picture there of the leaders were, I think, 90 percent men. I don't know if you recall this picture of the leaders, to me that just says where we are, and this is what I think we should do. One, we have to be realistic about what's going on and that the leader should rule. The people that are taking the decisions right now are mostly men. That's the true picture, too. We have to be optimists that we can change that and that more and more people are understanding the value of having women at those leadership positions. And three, we all have to be activists. Whatever role we are, whether we are in the private sector and the public sector, there is a role for you, women or men. It doesn't matter. You have to be an activist. You believe in this to actually drive change.

Christiana: [00:38:39] An activist in women and gender equality. Or you're talking about different kind of activism.

Erika Mouynes: [00:38:47] I think that we need to be activists and support women taking those leadership roles. It's not easy. It's not easy. It takes time, it takes effort and it takes support from men and women at all levels to have more women at those leadership positions and see that the ones that are making the laws are not going to make laws that promote gender equality if they're mostly men. Same for climate. I mean, there are so many aspects that we need just more women right now. I think it's about 20 percent worldwide. I mean, if we're 50-50, why is it that only 20 percent women are at those leadership positions in political power to drive that change that we all desperately need.

Christiana: [00:39:28] Well, and it takes a lot of courage, doesn't it? It takes a lot of courage because we have to break through patterns that are thousands of years old. Behavioral patterns, mental patterns that have been practiced and tolerated for way too long. And when you are courageous enough to begin to question a behavior pattern and say no, that is no longer acceptable, then we do get a lot of criticism from many sides. So it takes a heck of a lot of courage to stand up.

Erika Mouynes: [00:40:02] It does, but that's why you need the support. So if you do something having the support of men or women, this is why we all become activists wherever you are. There is a role for you to play in your community and in wherever to speak up and support and try to shed light to what I was saying. So there is this crude reality that we're all facing, particularly coming out of the pandemic for women. But we have to be optimists. We should be optimists. There have been changes. There's just a lot more than we need to happen and in the short time.

Christiana: [00:40:36] So that takes us to our final question, Minister, and that is we always ask our guests at the end whether, with all the challenges that you have ahead of you, both environmental as well as geopolitical. What makes you still outraged that we're not going as quickly as we should? And what makes you optimistic that we actually have a bright future in front of us?

Erika Mouynes: [00:41:08] Hmm. I am outraged about the lack of political commitment towards the protection of our planet, especially the oceans that I was referring to. You hear a lot about commitment and commitment and commitment. It's all wonderful and compelling speeches that do not translate into anything. There is a lack of accountability right now, and I always say for every speech, there should be a line where there is accountability. So what is it translated to? What? But there are actions and you have to be. I think I am optimistic and encouraged because what we were just talking about, there is an increase in women entering the field science and are trying to lead the way and there is activism. Why are we talking about politics, academia? So these are voices that are getting louder and louder and will produce that accountability and those long term solutions that we all desperately need?

Paul: [00:42:07] Wow, thank you.

Christiana: [00:42:10] Great, minister. Thank you very much. A very busy day for you. Thank you very much for taking the time to join us. My respect to you and to your country and all the best because I think you're right in the middle of quite a few political projects for which you will need much more support. So all the best we shall be following.

Erika Mouynes: [00:42:31] Thank you. Thank you, everybody.

Christiana: [00:42:33] Thank you. Bye bye.

Tom: [00:42:36] So, so fantastic to be to have the Panamanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Erika Mouynes on this podcast. That was an incredible conversation. I was so sad I was able to join you for it. What did you both leave that discussion with? I think, you know, referencing our earlier conversation about government subsidies. Really exciting to see that there's this differential tax for the state of Panama. A huge revenue earner is going to drive decarbonisation in the shipping industry. And part of the money raised from the tariffs will be allocated to environmental protection and restoration. That's a beautiful loop like, you know, driving fossil fuels out of the economy and then using the revenues to go into environmental protection with this incredible project on preserving the oceans in partnership with Costa Rica, Colombia and Ecuador. Just really inspiring to see enlightened multilateral government action, a big tear brimming up in my eye.

Christiana: [00:43:39] Yeah, I totally agree that you know this new carbon fee on the Panama Canal. What a brilliant, eco innovative financial instrument to be able to derive government owned resources and then put them into where they ought to go, which is to the protection. And she reminded us, of course, that the watershed that is on both sides of the Panama Canal is absolutely critical to the functioning of the Panama Canal. If you don't have those two watersheds protected, the canal will not be able to regenerate the amount of water that is necessary for the passing of these ships. Because 52 million gallons of fresh water are used in average by each transit of a ship through the Panama Canal. Wow. So when we say, you know that the watersheds need to regenerate the water, it's not a few drops. 52 million gallons of water for each ship that goes through the Panama Canal, and that's freshwater that is just dumped into the ocean and needs to be, as I say, it needs to be regenerated. So that has to be multiplied by the average of 38 ships that use the waterway each day. Such a beautiful, crisp, clear example of how the protection of nature is actually totally in our interest and why government resources should be allocated to that.

Tom: [00:45:22] Incredible. 

Paul: [00:45:23] I've been trying to do this on my calculator and I haven't got enough zeros on the screen, but there's a lot of water, right? And what did you make of her as an individual, as a person? I mean, isn't she a force of nature?

Christiana: [00:45:34] She's definitely a force of nature. And one thing that some listeners might be interested in is that in addition to the political leadership on environmental issues, we spoke to her exactly in the moment in which she was embroiled in a very, very difficult international standoff between Panama and Mexico, because the Mexican government had proposed the appointment of Pedro Salmerón as the new Mexican ambassador to Panama. But he is surrounded by allegations of sexual harassment. And so the president of Panama, Laurentino Cortizo and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Erika Mouynes, actually did not accept because every country has the right to either accept or not accept ambassadors that are named to them. And they did not accept the naming of this ambassador, Mexican Ambassador to Panama. He is a very powerful politician in Mexico, and the Mexican president was furious and attacked Erika for her refusal to accept his proposed ambassador. But the president of Panama backed her up, but she was right in the middle of that very difficult situation. Fascinating, isn't it, how the MeToo movement has now reached international diplomatic levels.

Paul: [00:47:10] Because of the strength of people who are willing to take a stand? An amazing story. Very impressive.

Paul: [00:47:17] And really nice to be promoting a different Latin American country. Apart from Costa Rica.

Christiana: [00:47:26] Oh boy. I did, I did, I did mention that, you know, please give me credit. I did mention it on the interview. Was very gracious of me.

Tom: [00:47:34] Yeah, well done. Very gracious. Every country is wonderful. No. All right. No, no, that was fantastic. So thank you very much to Erika for joining us this week. This has been a great conversation. And we are now going to get some music as we often do, or as we always do these days. Ganda Boys always this week with their single Tyenda. Hope you enjoy it. Thank you for joining us. We'll be back next week and we'll see you then. Bye bye.

Ganda: [00:48:00] Hi. We are the Ganda Boys. My name is Denis Mugagga and I'm Danny Sewagudde. Introducing our song Tyenda. Tyenda sheds a light on the importance of the environment and the beauty of our land. It is chanted by a tribe that is in charge of the protection of the source of the longest river in the world. So this chant is a happy chant, when we chant it, we remember the tribe that I kept an eye on the source of the Nile and the chant goes.

Tyenda by Ganda Boys: [00:48:33] [song plays]

Clay: [00:51:25] So there you go. Another episode of Outrage+Optimism! I'm Clay, producer of the show. Welcome to the end of this week's episode and thank you for listening. The musical guest you just heard was the Ganda Boys with their track Tyenda. Now I know, that you kno,  that I know that the Ganda boys, you know, their mood and enthusiasm is infectious. As always, I have links in the show notes to listen to more of their music. But if I could recommend just going straight to their YouTube and hitting play on the first video, you can find, you know, interview, behind the scenes, music video doesn't matter. Just start watching videos. You will have so much fun. I spent too much time watching YouTube videos, and I highly recommend that you do too. They're so fun. You just kind of want to be friends. So here's my pitch Ganda Boys. If you're listening, I'm a new fan. Big fan. Please, can I come hang out with you? Just one day I just want to ride around one day. Do whatever you're doing. I'll be quiet. You know, maybe we grab lunch and a coffee. Anything. Please consider my request. So yes, Ganda Boys on YouTube, you'll see more information there about the Ganda Foundation that they started, where they're raising awareness about the dire conditions in hospitals, schools and refugee asylums in Uganda. Now they raise money through concerts. I think I saw they sell coffee and other creative ways, so make sure you learn more about that. The Ganda Boys. OK, this is the last time I'll say it. Danny, Denis, I promise I'll be very cool, but please, please let me be your friend. Speaking of good people doing amazing things, thank you to the Panamanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Erika Mouynes for coming on the show and for her team, for making the recorded conversation go smoothly. You know, when Christiana says someone is a rising star, it's time to go on social media and give that person a follow. Links to Minister Mouynes social media accounts in the show notes for you. OK, that's everything for today. Just want to update you on our schedule for next week with the podcast. Next week is a busy one. We're going to have two episodes in your feed one on Tuesday and then another like regular on Thursday. Tuesday's episode is about the new IPCC report coming out, and that report is coming out on Monday. So our podcast will be in your feed the following morning. And then Thursday's episode is about the crisis surrounding Ukraine and all of the implications of the world's actions in response for climate. So the best thing you can do now to make sure that you don't miss those episodes is to hit, subscribe or follow. Thank you for doing that. And certainly last but not least, if you like this podcast, we are calling on our dedicated listeners to give us a rating and a review on Apple Podcasts. We read every single review you write, and if you have feedback or thoughts on the show, you can email us at podcast@globaloptimism.com There you go. That is it from us. Enjoy the weekend. We will see you on Tuesday, right?


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