Brazil’s Countdown to Copenhagen

Brazilian Amazon deforestation Brazil has followed a long and winding road to reach the Fifteenth Conference of the Parties to the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), or COP15, in Copenhagen this month. This journey began in 1972 at the first United Nations conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm where the Brazilian diplomat responsible for defending the country’s positions, Miguel Ozório de Almeida, cautioned that “environmental protectionism” should not stand in the way of economic development among the less developed countries.

Over three decades later Brazil arrives at Copenhagen well prepared to make the case that the most developed nations take stronger measures to mitigate greenhouse gases while providing the financing and technical assistance necessary for low carbon, sustainable development throughout the world. While Brazil largely played defense at Stockholm, expect the Lula administration to score a few goals at Copenhagen.

Since Stockholm, Brazil has increasingly asserted its leadership in international environmental forums while also rapidly increasing its own greenhouse gas emissions, primarily from deforestation. In 1992 the Brazilian government hosted the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development, also known as the Earth Summit (, in Rio de Janeiro.

The Earth Summit was the largest UN conference and meeting of heads of government to date, a crown jewel of Brazilian diplomacy that committed the nation to lead on efforts to reconcile environmental protection with economic development.

At the Earth Summit, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC, was signed by 192 countries, setting the stage to negotiate how the world would address global warming and climate change.

Five years later Brazil played a pivotal role in negotiations over the structure of emission reduction commitments and financing for sustainable development activities that framed the Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC. The U.S. government insisted on the use of market mechanisms to “induce” the private sector to adopt and diffuse low carbon and renewable energy technologies.

The Brazilians favored a global public fund to finance the transfer of such technologies to the developing world. Together they negotiated a deal making compromise that established the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to allow developed countries to offset their emission reduction obligations through investments in CDM projects in the developing world, including Brazil, China, India, and Mexico.

In 2005, following the Russian Federation’s ratification, the Kyoto Protocol entered into force and Brazilians doubled their efforts to meet their country’s reporting obligations and accelerate emission reductions.

In a few short years Brazil has measurably ramped up a set of policies and programs to address global warming while challenging the developed countries, including the U.S., to step up efforts to sharply reduce emissions and increase financial assistance for mitigation and adaption projects in the poorest countries.

The Ministry of Science and Technology and the Inter-ministerial Commission on Climate Change worked together to set up the Designated National Authority to orient investors and authorize CDM projects.

Currently Brazil has 220 operational CDM projects (, ranking third behind China and India, and constituting 6.98% of the worldwide Certified Emission Reductions (CERs) associated with the CDM (

In 2008 the Brazilian government unveiled its National Climate Change Plan (referred to as the PNMC). The PNMC was the outcome of a deliberative policymaking process led by the Inter-ministerial Commission on Climate Change and the Brazilian Forum on Climate Change (, and included active deliberations at the local, state, and national levels through the organization of the Third National Conference on the Environment.

The PNMC carefully details Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions profile, strategies for reducing emissions, and how governmental authorities working with the private sector and civil society are expected to achieve the plan’s goals for mitigation and adaptation. Significant attention is given to deepening Brazil’s impressive biofuel model, including expanded production of biodiesel with accompanying blend mandates as well as deforestation and land use.

The PNMC is both a statement of intentions and a blueprint for steering Brazil, both public and private sectors, toward sustainable development and lessening emissions.

In the transportation sector, the use of biofuels is rapidly expanding along with the manufacture and sales of “flex fuel” passenger vehicles. Most of this expansion is due to the rapid increase in ethanol production from sugarcane which is sold at the pump as E100 or blended up to twenty five percent with gasoline. The production of ethanol from sugarcane is expected to double by 2014 while costs continue to fall.

On the demand side, by 2008 over ninety percent of passenger vehicles sold were flex fuel and consumers were eager to buy the cheaper, less carbon intensive ethanol. Brazil’s successful demonstration of the biofuel model serves as a compelling alternative to petroleum as well as the basis for CDM projects for those nations capable of growing sugarcane and producing ethanol eco-efficiently.

Most importantly, Brazil is finally addressing its largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and international controversy, deforestation. Upon the inauguration of President Lula in 2003, then Minister of the Environment, Marina Silva, spearheaded efforts to coordinate government efforts to significantly reduce deforestation, primarily in the Amazon region, through the Action Plan to Prevent and Control Deforestation in the Legal Amazon (

This effort, despite stiff opposition by ranchers well connected to Brasília and the political violence unleashed against environmental justice advocates such as Sister Dorothy Stang (, shows signs of sustainable progress.

Upon taking office, the Lula government was faced with significant annual increases in Amazonian deforestation ranging between 20-40 percent and reaching 27,000 square kilometers by 2004 ( Since this peak year, the Action Plan in combination with other efforts, such as the Plan for a Sustainable Amazon, has reduced deforestation by up to 40 percent based upon the rolling average from 1996 to 2005.

A large portion of this “avoided” deforestation is due to increased surveillance capacity, the establishment of forest reserves, and the formal recognition of the land rights of indigenous forest communities. More than any other mitigation activity, Brazil’s recent resolve to lower the rate of deforestation multiplies its leadership and strengthens its negotiating positions at Copenhagen and beyond.

The COP15 is essentially a multilateral negotiation over the allocation of resources and costs associated with both lessening the carbon content of economic development and coping with the devastating impacts of rising global temperatures and ocean levels. As one of the strongest voices of the developing world and leader of the Group of 77 or G77, the Brazilian delegation will likely play an instrumental role in framing the post-Kyoto Protocol regime that emerges from the Copenhagen talks.

According to Luiz Pinguelli Rosa, Executive Director of the Brazilian Forum on Climate Change, Brazil’s rapid recovery from the global financial crisis places it within a “comfortable position to assume greater responsibilities for emission reductions” without ignoring the historical obligation of the developed countries to agree on a new round of deeper mandatory reductions.

Brazil’s willingness to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions and invest in sustainable economic development secures its moral standing and amplifies its political influence among both developed nations and the G77.

Guido Mantega, Brazil’s Finance Minister, explains that “we have to struggle for more equitable and just international regimes that do not limit the sustainable development potential of our country” and ensure that “environmental protectionism” is not used to limit our opportunities.

He argues that Brazil is uniquely positioned to become a very competitive force in a new global economic architecture that eventually transcends the old dichotomy that pits environmental protection against economic growth as Ambassador Ozório de Almeida argued at Stockholm.

Hence, the challenge for the Brazilian delegation at Copenhagen is to transcend the stalemate and steer the proceedings toward mechanisms for financing and transferring technology so that the developing world can both cut emissions while catching up with the rest of the world.

Commenting on this challenge, Luiz Pinguelli Rosa argues that the world cannot depend upon market mechanisms alone, such as the CDM, to adequately respond to global warming. Expect the Brazilian delegation to work for an agreement that encourages governments to adopt fiscal measures and regulatory policies that promote alternatives to fossil fuels.

Moreover, as Brazil argued in 1997 at Kyoto, the delegation will likely insist that the CDM mechanism be counterbalanced with a global fund, controlled by the parties of the UNFCCC, in order to avoid the “transbordering” of carbon emissions wherein developed countries avoid lessening emissions at home by obtaining allowances generated through the CDM and carbon credit markets abroad.

This issue is central to Brazil’s mission at Copenhagen, striking at the heart of this country’s efforts to reconcile economic development and environmental protection. It touches directly upon the most sensitive issue of all for Brazilians, deforestation and the COP15 incorporation of Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation or REDD (

For years Brazil resisted efforts to “put the Amazon up for sale” by negotiating an agreement on REDD that would allow nations to earn carbon credits through “avoided” deforestation. Brazil’s historic position on this issue may change at Copenhagen, especially given the country’s emission profile and energy matrix.

Minister Mantega argues, “Brazil has a tremendous potential to generate carbon credits from forests, making possible a significant influx of financial resources to sustain our policies aimed at reducing deforestation. Yet, such a mechanism should be carefully considered. We cannot permit the creation of carbon credits through a REDD mechanism if it depreciates their value to the point of discouraging the accelerated evolution of polluting industries, especially those of the developed nations, toward the adoption of technologies for sustainable economic development.”

Expect the Brazilian delegation to pursue and achieve an agreement on a mixed approach, including both market and public financing options, to place an appropriate value on “avoided” deforestation.

According to Todd Stern, the U.S. Envoy charged with negotiating Copenhagen for the Obama administration, this particular issue poses an historic challenge to Brazil and an opportunity to assume “global leadership” on climate change. Cutting a deal and framing a new international regime on climate change at Copenhagen requires that Brazil succeed in its historic mission to hold developed countries accountable for their emissions while bending the arc of history toward sustainable economic development.

To do this, the Brazilian delegation must first resolve to engage on REDD and find a mechanism or two that can place a higher value on standing forests rather than lumber or cattle grazing. Second, the delegation must ensure that such mechanisms do not offer countries such as the U.S., and industries such as coal fired power plants, the opportunity to conduct business as usual by financing a few forest reserves in Brazil or Indonesia. More than any other issue at Copenhagen, Brazil’s influence over the treatment of REDD within a new global regime to confront global warming will define its success or failure.

However Brazil will likely score other points of agreement as well, including provisions that encourage the diffusion and liberalization of biofuels, the planning of a global fund to finance mitigation activities in the developing world, and even the establishment of a new international environmental and sustainable development organization to be founded at the Rio+20 conference slated for 2012 in Rio de Janeiro (

The COP15 negotiations are just starting to intensify and may very well stretch on into 2010, but expect Brazil to push forward, play offense, and even score a goal or two for sustainable development.

Mark S. Langevin, Ph.D. is Director of BrazilWorks (, Adjunct Associate Professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland-University College, and Associate Researcher at the Laboratório de Estudos Políticos (LEP)-Departamento de Ciências Sociais da Universidade Federal de Espírito Santo, Brasil.


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