Brazil climate change plan backfires, doubling steel emissions

by Chris Arsenault | @chrisarsenaul | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 10 February 2015 15:27 GMT

An employee works on a stainless steel hose at the Sociedade Paulista de Tubos Flexiveis (SPTF) metallurgical company in Sao Paulo, Brazil, April 20, 2012. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

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Carbon pollution produced by steel sector doubled in under a decade after switch from coal to charcoal

ROME, Feb 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A plan to reduce climate-changing emissions from Brazil's steel industry has failed, causing the amount of carbon pollution produced by the sector to double in less than a decade, researchers said.

Brazilian steel producers switched their energy source from coal to charcoal from forests, causing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to rise to 182 million tonnes in 2007 from 91 million tonnes in 2000, according to a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

"Increased global demand for steel, and a lack of available plantation forest in Brazil, increased the industry's use of charcoal sourced from native forests, which is not carbon neutral and emits up to nine times more CO2 per tonne of steel than coal," Laura Sonter, a University of Vermont scientist and the study's lead author, said in a statement.

Charcoal derived from plantation forests is carbon neutral, but Brazilian steel producers opted for charcoal sourced from native forests, which has a high carbon footprint and causes "significant deforestation", Sonter said in an email to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The findings have implications beyond Brazil, as the global steel industry generates about 7 percent of all CO2 emissions caused by humans, scientists said.

Analysts who proposed the switch had not thought through the implications of the new energy source, meaning a plan aimed at improving the environment did more harm than good, they added.

Brazil's energy switch was linked to the U.N.-backed Clean Development Mechanism, which is meant to incentivise developing nations to adopt more environmentally friendly policies.

"Climate change mitigation strategies must consider all sources of carbon emissions from an industry, not just focus on minimising coal use," Sonter said.

"Failing to do so in Brazil's steel industry caused significant deforestation of native forests for charcoal production and, as a result, actually increased industry emissions," she added.

(Reporting By Chris Arsenault; editing by Megan Rowling)