Brazil has big plans for the Climate Change conference in Poland, named COP26. Premier Mauricio Macri announced Friday that a US $13 billion investment is being made in a new grid to bring renewable energy, wind, solar and fuel-efficient cars to every home in the country.
The move is in conjunction with a 40 billion US dollar funding deal announced in June with China for a “climate fund” in which Brazil will contribute 10 billion US dollars. Brazil, which had overtaken Saudi Arabia in May to be the world’s top emitter of greenhouse gases, has long been a major producer of hydroelectricity and coal. In 2016 it was ranked third among the top emitters of carbon dioxide, with Brazil’s total greenhouse gas emissions of 504 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, falling slightly as its pollution levels dropped by six percent.
But the country is far from a green success story. Brazil’s approach to addressing climate change and its contribution to capping emissions is mixed at best.
While Brazil is still pioneering some of the most ambitious climate change policies on the planet, its commitment to capping emissions remains weak. The country targets to cut its emissions per capita by up to 80 percent by 2050, but the intensity of its emissions has been rising since 1990. Brazil’s total emissions are up to 27 percent higher now than when it obtained independence from Portugal in 1948. Some 34 percent of Brazil’s emissions are emitted in the metropolitan area of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s biggest city and an industrial powerhouse in South America.
Brazil scored poorly in 2012 for meeting its emissions targets under the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Last year, with further accords up for debate in the Lima (colloquially referred to as the “Paris” meeting) one of the summit’s “action plans” targeted Brazil with a plan to cut its total annual emissions to 22 percent below business-as-usual by 2020.
Brazil’s policymakers say they’ve made impressive progress in limiting deforestation rates and reforestation, and in reaching agreements with the Cancun climate talks in 2010 to reduce deforestation rates, which accelerated to 52 percent by 2016 as the country reaped the benefits of a robust soy and meat export industry. But even these gains might not be sustainable, as Brazil’s current president, Jair Bolsonaro, came to power in an election campaign in which deforestation was a central theme. He campaigned on a promise to scrap a landmark climate change law introduced in 2011 to help offset the environmental costs of the soybean and beef industries. The Brazilian government’s “reduction target” for deforestation next year could be as low as 3 percent below the 2016 levels, since the ban on “land-grabs” to protect native forests under the law is being rolled back in the south of the country. The new president has ordered a freeze on royalties paid to the national forests authority.
Brazil’s government has pledged to cut its cumulative forest loss by 60 percent by 2030 from 1990 levels. But the country’s progress has been spotty and there is considerable concern that any progress made on this front could be reversed. As recently as 2014, Brazil’s sustainability ministry issued the conclusion that “Brazil no longer targets 40 percent reduction of deforestation, but could not prevent it” because of the slower enforcement of the forest law.
Brazil’s focus on extracting coal from its ancient and huge swaths of tropical forests might not have played to its strengths in reaching its carbon reduction goals, nor its progress in combating deforestation, despite the impact it has in lowering global temperatures. But the country’s claim that it would be one of the world’s leaders in meeting emission reduction targets has already been called into question. And the new president’s strong environmentalist credentials might bolster the country’s environmental standards, but the environment ministry is so far been seen as unresponsive and severely restricted in its ability to implement climate measures.
Some observers cite the abrupt stop-and-go progress of recent years on deforestation as one of the main reasons why many of the Obama-era initiatives that led to massive emissions reductions from Brazil seem to have fizzled out under the Trump administration. Critics say Brazil was on track to meet its voluntary greenhouse gas emission reduction goals before the Paris accords and is trying to cloak its performance with the vague concept of climate action plans.
“The actions of the past 10 years seem less impressive because they didn’t produce results, and make it harder to be ambitious,” says Bruno Macalintal, director of Greenpeace in Brazil.
“With Brazil taking a leadership role, I’m sure we will see good news on the climate front and (the Trump administration