Three hundred specially selected attendees were joined by environmental experts, Nobel Prize winners and green business leaders last week in the city of Córdoba for the 2017 Green Economy Summit, an event hosted by the provincial government there to foster environmental thought, networking and action in Argentina and beyond.
Moderating the discussion panel on new technologies was former United States Ambassador to Argentina Noah Mamet, who returned to the country as a private citizen a few months ago after handing in his resignation following the inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the United States.
Mamet agreed to speak to The Bubble on Argentina’s green business outlook and the fact that the Trump administration still hasn’t picked a new ambassador to Argentina yet.
Since your resignation as US ambassador to Argentina you’ve expressed a desire and taken steps to become a nexus between foreign investors and local business opportunities. Do you believe Argentina is an interesting place to invest, particularly for green businesses?
I think it may be one of the best in the world. When I first got here I was told that less than 1 percent of the energy was coming from renewables and this was in January of 2015. Now I think that the country is working hard to get to that 8 percent goal by the end of next year and 20 percent from renewables by 2025.
I think that’s just the start. What I always said is Argentina has some of the best sun in the world in the north and some of the best wind in the world in the south, you just need to capture it and put it on the grid.
The US Government worked closely with the Ministry of Energy and Sebastian Kind, who is the Subsecretary of Renewable Energy, on the construction of RenovAr 1 [Argentina’s federal renewable energy plan] and there was 100 percent more interest than there were megawatts available, so they had a RenovAr 1.5 and now they’re in the middle of the 2.0 for RenovAr. It’s an amazing opportunity.
I think there’s challenges such as the grid size… they need to upgrade the grid so you can get more solar and more wind [energy], but it’s going in the right direction and there’s interest all over the world. The proof is that on RenovAr 1 there was so much interest it drove the price down to something like US $60/kW when only a week before the estimates said it was going to be closer to US $100/kW. That just shows you that people are willing to do it for less, they have confidence in Argentina. I also think the World Bank being a part of that structure provided great confidence.
What would you say is the main obstacle to foreign investment in Argentina?
It took about a year to a year and a half for many investors and companies who were not in Argentina already to get comfortable with the idea of investing here because they had read ten years of pretty negative headlines. So the confidence wasn’t there. But many of the CEOs, many investors, many companies, many family offices came to visit many times in the last year or year and a half and I think we’re over the first hurdle which is having confidence to invest.
Now we’re really at the second phase which is investors and companies looking for partners and looking for specific projects to invest in. We’re in a really good time right now and [the midterm election] will just supercharge that interest in investing in Argentina for a long run.
On the global stage, do you think Argentina is today a reliable partner on environmental issues?
I do. In fact to me the proof of that was that on the first day of the Macri administration I found out from our US negotiators in Paris, during the Paris climate accord negotiations, that Argentina’s delegation there was still being difficult. It was still siding with the Saudis and the Chinese and against much stronger goals.
When I let the administration know, they completely changed the team that was in Paris and within 24 hours they were supporting not just the US but also Europe and the rest of the world on much stronger goals. Argentina changing their position on the climate agreement… I thought was a huge development in getting an agreement within 24 hours after that.
That’s just one example, but I know President Macri and his team want to be leaders when it comes to sustainability and a green economy. They know that that’s the future where the jobs are and also want to combat climate change.
The seat of the US ambassador to Argentina has remained vacant for nine months now and in fact plenty of ambassadorships around the world don’t even have a nominee yet. When do you think there will be a US Ambassador to Argentina and who might that person be?
I have no idea who the person would be. As I understand it, no one has been nominated yet, but that’s the situation in many countries. Unfortunately I think the White House has been extremely slow on nominations in general including ambassadors, but also towards other positions within the Federal Government.
It’s no secret that there’s a little bit of chaos in Washington and I think that’s slowed many things including Ambassadorships.