Once a climate leader, Brazil falls short in Glasgow

RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazil, a global climate leader who became an environmental criminal under President Jair Bolsonaro, addressed the UN climate conference in Glasgow ready to prove that the changed course, with a commitment to create a program for green jobs, reduce carbon emissions and slow down deforestation.

But even as John Kerry, the US climate envoy, said on Twitter that these steps added “crucial momentum” to combating climate change, environmentalists argued that the plans lacked ambition and the details that would make them credible.

And Mr Bolsonaro’s conspicuous absence from the summit raised questions about his commitment to the turnaround.

One week before the conference started, Mr Bolsonaro said in an interview that he would not attend for “strategic” reasons, without clarifying it. Days later, Vice President Hamilton Mourão suggested that Mr Bolsonaro wanted to protect himself from exposure.

Mr. Bolsonaro, who took office in 2019, has overseen an increase in deforestation of the Amazon and widespread neglect of environmental regulations that have made him the target of condemnation at home and abroad.

If the president attends the summit, “everyone will throw stones at him,” Mr Mourão told reporters. Instead, he said, “there will be a robust team that, with the ability to, let’s say, execute the negotiation strategy.”

Days before the conference, the Brazilian government announced a policy to create green jobs while preserving the country’s vast forests. So on Monday, Brazil pledged to halve emissions by 2030, achieve CO2 neutrality by 2050 and end illegal deforestation by 2028, a step up from its promise last year.

In a video shared at one of the side events of the summit, Mr. Bolsonaro Brazil for “a green power” and declared that “in the fight against climate change we have always been part of the solution, not the problem.”

On Tuesday, Brazil joined more than 100 other countries to commit to reducing methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030. It has historically opposed such an obligation because most of its methane is emitted by the agricultural sector, a major driver of the Brazilian economy.

Still, Mr Bolsonaro’s absence goes against the argument that Brazil is turning the course, said Natalie Unterstell, president of the Institute Talanoa, a climate policy think tank.

“It’s a big contradiction,” she said. “The moment he has to confirm that he wants to be more ambitious around climate issues, he is not present.”

Environmentalists and political opponents in Brazil were also quick to punch holes in the messages. The green growth plan lacked details to make it credible, they said, and the emissions commitments contained a significant warning, revealed by examining the technical aspects of the proposal.

In 2015, as part of the Paris Agreement, Brazil had promised to reduce CO2 emissions by 43 percent. Now it has promised to reduce emissions by 50 percent. But what looks like an improvement is not, experts said. The base figure used for the calculation in both cases – Brazil’s emissions in 2005 – has been adjusted since the first promise. So each commitment translates to cutting roughly the same amount of carbon dioxide, about 1.2 gigatons.

“It’s an old new commitment,” said Marcelo Ramos, a representative of the state of the Amazon and vice president of the lower house of Brazil. “Again, Brazil fails to show ambition.”

Then there is the question of Brazil’s record. By law, the country should have already begun to cut its emissions. Instead, emissions grew to levels not seen since 2006, making it one of the few nations where emissions rose during the pandemic.

The increase was mainly driven by an increase in deforestation. From August 2020 to July 2021, Brazil’s part of the Amazon lost 4,200 square kilometers of wood flooring, according to the latest figures released by the National Institute of Space Research. If Brazil had followed its previous deforestation commitments, the rate would be about a third of what it is now.

Still, the timeline the government issued in time for the Glasgow summit would cause the country to turn its course sharply and cut deforestation by 15 percent from next year – a decline that Brazil has not seen in nearly a decade.

The lack of credibility in Brazil’s commitments is already hurting the country’s economy. Dozens of environmental and human rights groups wrote a letter urging the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development to consider the country’s poor environmental status before accepting it as a member of its club of developed nations. It has also caused political leaders in Europe to delay the conclusion of a free trade treaty between the EU and the South American bloc Mercosur.

Many of Brazil’s other leaders are eager to show that there is more to the country than Mr Bolsonaro’s vision. Leaders of some of Brazil’s best companies and over half of the country’s state governors are in Glasgow, presenting their own plans.

“It’s hard to do much without the federal government,” said Marcello Brito, a spokesman for the Brazilian Coalition for Climate, Forestry and Agriculture, a nonprofit organization that joins leading agricultural companies and environmentalists. “But we want to show our faces and find a way to attract some of the green funding available in the world.”

As the most biodiverse country in the world, with an electricity grid that relies mainly on clean energy, Brazil can greatly benefit from a greener global economy. Stopping illegal deforestation and restoring degraded land can help the country go beyond its carbon dioxide emissions target, allowing it to sell the difference as carbon credits to countries and companies that cannot meet their own targets alone.

The regulation of this international trade in emission credits, described in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, is one of the most ambitious goals that nations hope to achieve in Glasgow. The global market could generate $ 167 billion a year by 2030, according to the International Emissions Trading Association.

And if it is able to take steps to protect its environment, Brazil may be particularly well positioned to take advantage of it.

“We could use the revenue from a CO2 market to reduce inequality,” said Ms Unterstell, a climate policy expert. “Decarbonization does not impose a sacrifice on the Brazilian economy – on the contrary.”

Leave a Comment