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How will Brazil turn its climate promises into action?

by Nadia Pontes | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 16 September 2016 20:05 GMT

Cows graze on deforested Amazon rainforest, next to another tract recently cleared and burned, near the city of Novo Progresso, Brazil, September 23, 2013. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

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“The country doesn't know yet how to get there,” says the head of the climate observatory

As part of international efforts to limit climate change, Brazil this week ratified its promise, made in Paris last December, to cut its climate-changing emissions,

It was the third big country in the world to do so, behind only the two biggest emitters: China and the United States.

Brazil said it would reduce its emissions by 37 percent by 2025, compared to levels in 2005, and by 2030 emissions would drop by 43 percent.

It also said it would restore 12 million hectares of forest by 2030, eliminate illegal deforestation and expand the use of renewable energy sources other than hydropower in its energy mix to between 28 percent and 33 percent.

But now comes the biggest challenge: to translate those numbers into actions.

In the view of Carlos Rittl, executive secretary of the Brazilian Climate Observatory, the country doesn’t know how that’s going to happen.

“To achieve the goals it is necessary to go a long way, but the country doesn´t know yet how to get there”, he said. 

Brazil is still in the process of submitting early proposals, but that should happen before the upcoming United Nations climate change meeting in Morocco in November, said Everton Frank Lucero, Brazil's Secretary for Climate Change.

“We start now to work on a national strategy for implementation of the goals”, he said.



Between Brazil signing and ratifying the Paris Agreement, however, the starting point for action has changed dramatically.

The country’s emissions for 2005 have ballooned from the 2.1 billion stated at the Paris meeting last year to 2.73 billion, according to new data released in May. That 30 percent boost means Brazil’s emissions-cutting promises are now much less ambitious.

In fact, the correction gives the country a license to raise its emissions and still meet its Paris goals. But that has not promoted any speedy move to set more ambitious targets.

“The baseline for setting the goals was the data available at that time. Therefore, the new data does not change what we have planned”, Lucero said.

In 2005, deforestation was the main source of emissions in Brazil, responsible for 64.5 percent of the total. In 2010, agriculture went to top of the ranking, accounting for 32 percent of emissions, followed by energy at 29 percent and deforestation at 27 percent.

“Deforestation has fallen since 2005, but it is still a big issue. And since 2010 the rate (of deforestation) has not decreased. There is still a long way to reach zero deforestation”, said Paulo Barreto, a researcher at the Amazon Institute of People and the Environment (Imazon).

According to the National Institute of Space Research (INPE), 5,851 square kilometers of Amazon forest were destroyed in 2015, an area half the size of the nation of Qatar.

Little has been done to reduce agricultural emissions contributing to climate change, said Marina Piatto, a researcher at the Institute of Agricultural and Forest Management and Certification (Imaflora).

“This sector has not modernised its agricultural policy. We have the same financing plan for decades”, she said.

The Low-Carbon Agriculture Plan, launched by the Brazilian government in 2010, still receives only 2 percent of total government resources for agriculture, she said. “This is totally disconnected with the goals the country aims to reach”, Platto said.

Rittl said that in the new government plan signed by Michel Temer, who took over as Brazil’s president after the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, topics such as climate change, reforestation and low-carbon agriculture were not even mentioned.

“The government must realize that from now on the adjustments in the economy (must) go towards a low-carbon economy. Therefore, we need investments, new public policy and dialogue with civil society. But, for now, there are only expectations,” Rittl said.


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