The world leaders have confirmed the prisoner’s dilemma; unfortunately the entire world will face punishment. Faced with what scientists fear would be climate changes that threaten life on earth, world leaders met in Copenhagen to reach an agreement to limit carbon emissions. The meeting was a failure, mutual mistrust and the supremacy of self-interest over collective benefit undermined any potential to cooperate.
Between the optimistic rhetoric and cynical negotiations it is difficult to determine where negotiations failed. In the end, the participants were not willing to take responsibility or trust their competitors would emulate their economic sacrifices. Newly industrialized countries refused to take responsibility for the future unless traditional economic powers accepted responsibility for the past.
Developing nations refused compensation for their extra efforts to avoid carbon emotions as inadequate. The two greatest economic powers and polluters, China and the U.S., were unwilling to agree to strong limitations that would diminish their economic growth for fear of ceding an economic advantage to the other.
Save for the attention paid to the issue of global warming and the publicity for the potential environmental calamities we face, the conference was a failure. Over 10 years after the Kyoto Protocol and the world is paralyzed to face its gravest challenge.
Brazil was the exception. After praise for his programs to cut hunger at the U.N. Hunger Summit President in Rome, President Lula attempted to show the same leadership at the U.N. Climate Summit in Copenhagen. Suffering from problems affecting underdeveloped countries but on the brink of creating a modernized society, Brazil enjoys worldwide credibility few leaders cannot envy.
President Lula fulfilled expectations and generously offered to cut emissions by 36%. The offer shamed the proposals offered by the traditional economic powers and their long implementation timelines.
Certainly, environmental activism is a priority to the government of President Lula. The many environment programs launched in his government and considerable investments into sustainable development programs prove his commitment. A few of the more interesting examples include: the condoms supplied by the government will come from a state run factory that only uses sustainably harvested rubber.
The Amazon Biotechnology Center in Manaus is dedicated to develop products from the Amazon to benefit residents and incentivize its preservation. And more directly, Bolsa Floresta, a derivation of the Bolsa Família program that reimburses inhabitants of the rain forest to maintain it.
However, despite the governments many environmental programs, President Lula’s commitment to the environment may not entirely lie in his conscience. He may have the heart of a leftist, but he has the mind of a realist. He is aware that Brazil is better prepared than any other large economy in the world to adapt to any imposed environmental regulations. The Brazilian economy would thrive where other countries would struggle.
Brazil’s comparative advantages are numerous: about half of Brazil’s energy is renewable (compared to about 5 percent in the OECD), the biofuel production is the most efficient in the world, costs about US$ 1 per gallon and has replaced 26% of the gasoline production in the country.
The biodiesel is well integrated in the economy. Almost every new light automobile in the country runs on biodiesel and Embraer will manufacture a jet engine that can run on biodiesel. Renewable energy is not limited to transportation; Brazil meets over 80% of its electricity demand from hydroelectricity. Brazil’s economy is insulated from any requirements to reduce carbon emissions.
The carbon that is emitted by Brazil should be easy to reduce, over half of Brazil’s carbon emissions are from deforestation for agricultural production. The potential to cut emissions is reasonably easy since it is a particular industry and not the keystone to the national economy.
Further, Brazil may benefit, any limits of carbon emission or an international cap and trade program could be an easy way for countries with more carbon intensive economies to meet their reduction targets by paying Brazil to conserve the Amazon.
Regardless of the government’s motivation, the fact that the government voluntarily undertakes such efforts is exemplary. Certainly, the temptation to employ development models that promise higher growth through cheaper, more wasteful methods must be great.
Tax dollars used for social programs to protect the environment could be left with taxpayers to increase consumption. Similar discipline in free-market democratic system is proving difficult to find in other countries around the world.
Copenhagen is lost and further environmental action seems unlikely in the near future but Brazil has little to fear. Should the world decide to limit consumption and emission of carbon Brazil should be able to abide by such laws without jeopardizing economic growth.
If the world does not, Brazil can rely on its large reserve of natural resources to feed the growth of markets both foreign and domestic. The Brazilian economy is on sound footing unfortunately the same cannot be said about the survival of planet earth.
A D.C.-native, Gregory Melus is currently a freelance reporter based in São Paulo, Brazil. He worked on the Obama campaign after serving in a Congressional Office on Capitol Hill for over two years. Greg is trilingual and has lived abroad for years to investigate the controversial conflicts and issues that affect our age first-hand. His experience includes working and volunteering for international aid institutions at the Grameen Bank in Argentina and Al-Najaf University in Palestine. A graduate of the University of North Carolina, Greg will be pursuing a JD at American University College of Law in 2010.