BRAZIL USED being one of the main protagonists of the global climate talks, its politicians and assholes coming up with all kinds of new ways to boost greenery. Not anymore. This week, Jair Bolsonaro, the beleaguered president, decided to eat gnocchi with distant relatives in northern Italy rather than attend COP26, the UN climate conference in Glasgow. âEveryone was throwing stones at him,â said Hamilton MourÃ£o, vice-president.
The country’s record on climate change is indeed disastrous. Since Mr. Bolsonaro took office in 2019, the deforestation rate has increased by 45%. Brazil’s total greenhouse gas emissions rose 9.5% last year, according to a study sponsored by the Climate Observatory, a network of 70 NGOs and think tanks, even as emissions fell in the rest of the world. But while Mr Bolsonaro once seemed to enjoy his reputation as an outcast, retreating from the accommodation COP25 years old in 2019 and battling with Emmanuel Macron, the French president, he now seems eager to try and improve his reputation. “I’m not as bad as they say,” he told Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, when she approached him during a g20 dinner in Rome on October 30, which he sat alone. from Brazil COPDelegation 26 hopes to send the same message.
Last month, in an attempt to appear greener, the government announced two climate-focused initiatives: a revamp of an existing plan to encourage low-carbon agriculture and a new green growth agenda, which aims to generate jobs in sustainable fields. In addition, on November 1, Joaquim Leite, the Minister of the Environment, said that Brazil would increase its emissions reduction target to 50% by 2030 from its 2005 level, and advance the year to during which it expects to reach net zero emissions. from 2060 to 2050, as many countries have done. According to Leonardo Cleaver, the main negotiator, Brazil will be “more flexible” on Article 6, a contentious clause of the 2015 Paris agreement which defines the rules for global carbon trading.
Environmentalists are not convinced. Brazil wants all the benefits and none of the costs of COP26 years old, specifies Caroline Prolo, lawyer. Most of the government’s plans to achieve its goals are “vague promises that contain the word ‘green’,” says Stela Herschmann of the Climate Observatory. Last year, the official ceremony of Brazil UN commit to reducing emissions (called a nationally determined contribution, or NDC) placed the country among a tiny minority that not only has not increased its ambition since the Paris Agreement in 2015, but has done the opposite. CO2 the baseline was revised up, but the commitment remained the same.
Part of the problem is that the government tends to see itself as a victim. âBrazil owes more than it receives,â says Cleaver. This position was established long before Mr. Bolsonaro took office. Like other developing countries, he criticizes the rich world for not having kept its pledge, in 2009, to mobilize 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 to help poor countries reduce their emissions and adapt. to climate change.
In his NDC Last year, the Brazilian government also made previously promised emission reductions conditional on receiving these payments (other countries have also done so). He wrote that he would need “at least 10 billion dollars a year” to reduce deforestation and that his “long-term strategy … will take into account the financial transfers to be received”. The Climate Observatory called this âblackmailâ.
Today, however, negotiators claim that Brazil’s commitments are “unconditional”. This easing is perhaps linked to the absence of the most fervent supporter of the âpay-upâ strategy, the former Minister of the Environment Ricardo Salles, who resigned in June. Mr Cleaver also signaled that Brazil might be ready to compromise on two thorny debates surrounding Article 6.
The first concerns carbon credits generated under the rules of the Kyoto summit in 1997. Brazil holds billions of dollars in these credits and believes that they should be integrated into a new international carbon market provided for by article 6. rich countries are wary, because there is debate as to whether the verification of Kyoto credits meets the standards of the Paris agreement. Some have done so, but others are problematic (notably forestry credits).
And under the Kyoto Protocol, only rich countries were required to reduce their emissions, while poorer countries were not required to follow. If the credits that Brazil has sold abroad in the past are accepted in the new system, it will have to remove these reductions from its mitigation results in order to avoid double counting. He resisted it.
The second debate is about what happens when new carbon credits are sold by companies in one country to companies or governments in another. Brazil (or any country whose credits are sold) must make âcorresponding adjustmentsâ to its own mitigation tally to exclude these offsets. For the first time, Brazil has said it will agree to such adjustments – some experts may be speculating, in return for accepting some Kyoto credits, perhaps with certain criteria or during a transition period.
The Paris agreement contains the elegant but utopian principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities”, the idea being that the countries which have historically emitted the most must do more to reduce their emissions. But Brazil’s chance to benefit from this principle is hampered by its inability to accept a great deal of responsibility. The government claims that because renewable sources (including hydroelectric dams) account for 45% of total energy consumption, four times more OECD average, Brazil âalready qualifies as a low carbon economyâ. It is misleading. Unlike other countries, industry and energy are only responsible for about half of Brazil’s emissions; the other half comes from deforestation.
If you factor in deforestation and agriculture, its emissions seem worse (see graph). It is the sixth largest transmitter in the world. In some ways, it should be easier for Brazil to cut emissions than it is for wealthy countries that have already started using clean, low-cost technologies, says Carolina Genin of the World Resources Institute, a think tank. For example, while wind power is now able to supply almost 20% of Brazil’s electricity, the country has yet to tap into its enormous solar potential. But while most countries need to change the way they produce and use energy first, Brazil needs to change the way they use land.
Mr. Leite pledged that Brazil will end illegal deforestation by 2028. It is a laudable goal that seems, at present, totally unattainable. The new programs to help are redesigns of things that already existed; the interministerial committee on climate change now has “and green growth” at the end. More promising, Brazil plans to hire 700 environmental officers in the field to replace the scores who resigned during Mr Salles’ tenure. But like the 3,000 troops sent to put out the fires in 2020 and 2021, they will struggle to stop slash-and-burn agriculture when the government grants slashers and burners near impunity.
Meanwhile, Brazil’s argument about the rich world’s need for money is fallacious, says Izabella Teixeira, former environment minister. Germany and Norway donated $ 1.3 billion to the Brazilian Amazon Fund and were on the verge of giving more before concerns over Mr Bolsonaro’s environmental apathy caused them to freeze it.
In the absence of federal leadership, some states are creating their own climate policies, including subsidized loans for low-carbon farmers and grants of public land for sustainable use. (Eleven governors go COP26.) The Brazilian Congress is debating a bill that would create a regulated carbon market, supported by much of the private sector.
But while Mr Bolsonaro remains in power, it seems unlikely that much will change. Neither he nor those around him seem to take the climate seriously. Progress may have to wait until after the 2022 election, which Mr Bolsonaro risks losing.â
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This article appeared in the Americas section of the print edition under the title “From Hero to Villain”