With its president more politically isolated and under fire for high rates of Amazon deforestation, Brazil is looking for ways to rebrand itself at COP26
By Fabio Teixeira
RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 27 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Seeking to burnish Brazil's green credentials ahead of the U.N. COP26 climate change conference, the country's government recently said it had asked 200-some organizations to contribute ideas about the country's approach to the summit.
Yet several of those listed in its announcement - including non-profits, think-tanks and state-owned companies - last week told the Brazilian newspaper Estado de Sao Paulo they had not been approached about the meeting, which starts in Glasgow Sunday.
Public outcry was swift following just the latest controversy for Brazil ahead of COP26.
Days earlier, an environmental non-profit accused President Jair Bolsonaro of crimes against humanity over the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.
But Brazil's Environment Minister Joaquim Leite has declared his South American nation will be "part of the solution" at the U.N. negotiations.
"We'll help encourage green projects and move towards a new green economy," Leite - who will lead the country's delegation to the conference - said in a statement earlier this month.
But activists, analysts, and politicians are concerned about Brazil's reception at COP26, where the country's agribusiness sector and stance on carbon trading markets will be scrutinized, as well its high rate of Amazon deforestation.
Experts fear the government will use the conference to try to boost its image with misleading statements - but they say officials could also be more cooperative with other leaders than usual at the climate talks.
"In the past (COP25) conference, in Madrid, the government sabotaged every discussion," said Congressman Rodrigo Agostinho, leader of the environmental caucus in Brazil's Congress.
"We will not be as big of a nuisance this time," predicted Agostinho, who believes one of the reasons is a growing loss of support for Bolsonaro's climate policies in Brazil and abroad.
Internationally, Bolsonaro has become more isolated since former U.S. President Donald Trump - who was dismissive of climate change and pulled his country out of the 2015 Paris Agreement on limiting global warming - lost the 2020 election.
In Brazil, businessmen and politicians have felt the impact of the country's tarnished reputation, Agostinho said, with nations including France seeking alternatives to Brazilian soy and meat, which are linked to deforestation.
"The agro-exporter is under serious pressure from their buyers," said the congressman, as commodity traders strive increasingly to ensure their goods do not come from deforested areas.
He said some legislators in Brazil with ties to agribusiness, who are aware of the growing pressure, "want the government to change its ways".
The Environment Ministry did not reply to a request for comment.
Brazil sees COP26 as an opportunity to repair its tattered reputation on climate change, said Julia Neiva, head of environmental programs at Conectas Direitos Humanos, a non-profit following the government's preparations for the conference.
While the Brazilian government did not reserve a space for presentations at COP25 in 2019, it will have an area in Glasgow.
Yet Neiva said she feared officials might try to present projects still in the planning phase as having already been completed by the government, or share other "distorted information".
For example, Bolsonaro gave a speech last month at the U.N. General Assembly in which he praised Brazil's environment laws - without mentioning his government's efforts to weaken them, she said.
"Whoever listens to the government's presentations should question them ... because they are doing the opposite of what they say," she charged.
Foreign officials seeking a more balanced view of Brazil's efforts should also speak to members of the country's civil society, she said, who will "be able to present a very different reality."
Two of the non-profits listed as having been consulted ahead of COP26 last month by Brazil's Environment Ministry - the Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA) and WWF-Brasil - said they were frustrated by the government's failure to meaningfully engage with them.
"It seems a desperate attempt to try to give some legitimacy to the proposals that the government will take to COP26," said Mauricio Voivodic, executive director of WWF-Brasil, which was on the consultation list but never contacted by the ministry, he said.
One positive point for Brazil at COP26 may be its efforts to resolve thorny questions around Article 6, which covers the role of carbon markets.
The rules governing how such markets should work - key to setting up credible carbon offsetting projects in forests, for example - have remained unresolved since 2015.
Now, with Brazil likely to benefit from payments to keep forests staying, the government has indicated it will propose solutions to contentious points on the issue of carbon trading instead of blocking negotiations, said Stela Herschmann, an expert in climate policy from the Brazilian Climate Observatory.
Brazil's Congress has a bill creating a voluntary national carbon market that could be voted into law fairly quickly, lawmaker Agostinho said.
"Everyone is interested in creating a carbon market that can stand on its own," he said. But a strong market was unlikely until "the day after" Bolsonaro leaves office, he predicted.
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(Reporting by Fabio Teixeira @ffctt; Editing by Kieran Guilbert and Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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