Brazil's Climate Plan: A positive and surprising signal for a successful outcome in Paris

Brazil raised the bar of ambition on climate change with its recently announced contribution to COP 21. Its INDC puts positive pressure on other countries, especially developed and emerging economies to rethink and raise their ambition ahead of Paris.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff announced Brazil´s climate plan for 2030 as a contribution to the new climate agreement to be signed in Paris later this year. Following the President´s speech, Brazil has committed to an unconditional economy-wide emissions reduction target of 37% and 42% by 2025 and 2030 respectively, adopting 2005 as the baseline year. The Brazilian contribution is more ambitious and detailed than many expected and builds upon prior successful experiences in the country in curbing deforestation and developing a clean energy matrix.

Brazil's climate plan for 2030 includes an unconditional mitigation target as well as sectorial targets. Brazil seems to be the first country that has targets for both 2025 and 2030, reinforcing its commitment to the ratcheting up approach.

By assuming that its emissions have already peaked in 2005, Brazil is the first major developing country to show that it can and needs to be ambitious on climate change in order to achieve the 2-degree goal. This is relevant because it shows that the Brazilian government is already taking steps to transform economic growth and promote social inclusion through a low carbon economy track.

By adopting an economy-wide target instead of a business-as-usual approach or an intensity target like other developing nations, Brazil showed great leadership and sent a positive signal to the international climate system. Its contribution also puts other developing economies under pressure to do the same and adopt stronger decarbonization language, particularly its BRICS partners and emerging countries like Mexico, Turkey and Indonesia, among others.

The Brazilian announcement reinforced the idea that the INDC is supposed to be a starting point rather than an end point of the post-2030 climate agenda. In this respect, it is important to notice that Dilma reaffirmed at the press conference right after the announcement that Brazil is not relying on financial support from other countries to comply with the commitments of its INDC, alluding that if funding and technology support from other countries is available, Brazil can be even more ambitious in its targets.

An economy-wide target of 37% by 2025 and 43% by 2030

The overall unconditional target commits Brazil to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 37% by 2025 and 43% by 2030 based on 2005 levels.

This target represents an improvement and increase of ambition with respect to Brazil's previous contribution to the UNFCCC negotiations. It has moved from the voluntary target to reduce 36,1% to 38,9% of projected emissions by 2020, which was previously set during COP15 in Copenhagen and incorporated in the Brazilian National Climate Change Policy.

Sectorial targets:

The Brazilian INDC is not only ambitious for its overall target, but because it has detailed its sectorial targets as follows:

Energy:

  • To secure 45% of renewable energy sources including hydroelectric power by 2030 of which at least 16% must come from ethanol and biomass;
  • To increase by 23% the share of solar, wind and biomass of the electric energy supply by 2030; and
  • To increase electric efficiency by 10% by 2030.

These targets need to be contextualized and analysed in light of the country´s current situation. Since at least 2005, Brazil already has an energy matrix that is more than 40% renewables. The projections for 2030 by the Brazilian Ministry of Energy were already counting the share of renewable sources in the country´s electricity supply to be more than 46,6% of total energy ( EPE 2007, pp.168). Moreover, the target is significant if one takes into consideration that Brazil’s economy will grow and that the government intends to maintain its energy matrix relatively clean. What the government is signalling now is the reduction of the share of hydroelectricity in the mix of renewables, with ethanol, biomass, solar and wind playing a complementary, but bigger role in the coming decades. This is a significant message to the energy markets.

On the electricity matrix targets, the good news is that Brazil is planning to reach 89% of renewables sources by 2030: 66% from hydroelectricity and 23% from a combination of solar, wind and biomass. The other 11% could come from fossil fuels or nuclear. It is important to highlight that this electricity targets are not the overall energy targets. While the electricity matrix is relatively clean, the energy matrix continues to rely on fossil fuels for transportation, the Pre-salt reserves, etc. Here, we look at the previous Brazilian forecast announced by the Brazilian Ministry of Energy a few years ago. The percentage in 2030 was already supposed to have these sources account for 80% of the electricity supply by 2030, with a substantive change on the distribution among these sources ( EPE, 2007, pp. 180).

Forestry and Agriculture:

  • Zero illegal deforestation by 2030;
  • 12 million hectares for restoration and reforestation by 2030;
  • 15 million hectares for restoring degraded cattle pasture land by 2030; and
  • 5 million hectares of forest, cattle and agriculture to be use in crop-livestock-forestry integration by 2030

Based on President Dilma’s announcement, the forest-related targets are neither ambitious nor new. The 12 million hectares target for reforestation was already announced and extensively criticized by Brazilian environmentalists after Dilma and Obama’s recent Joint Statement on Climate Change since the commitment to eliminate “illegal” deforestation fell short in sustaining the leadership role Brazil has had in successfully curbing deforestation. Brazilians demand an overall target of zero deforestation and not only of “zero illegal deforestation”. This target suggests tolerance with some level of ‘legal’ deforestation and acceptance of the continuity of the crime of “illegal” deforestation until 2030. Hopefully, this target will be improved over time.

Finally, while the previous bilateral statements did not mention specific targets for fostering low carbon agriculture, they explicitly mentioned that the country would strengthen its Low Carbon Agriculture (ABC) Plan. Th e new targets announced of restoring 15 million hectares of degraded pasture and 5 million hectares of crop-livestock-forestry integration are both positive news and in alignment with initiatives already underway to foster the transition to low carbon agricultural practices.

Filling the Blanks

Once the official document is published in the next hours, further detailed analysis will be needed. For instance, on her speech, t he President did not provide details on the adaptation, means of implementation or South-South Cooperation aspects of the Brazilian INDC. The Brazilian Ministry of Environment has already publicly stated that a national consultation on the new National Adaptation Plan to Climate Change will be opened in the coming weeks. Thus, whatever comes in the contribution, the adaptation component of the Brazilian INDC should not be interpreted as a conclusive indication of what the country is willing to do until 2030.

Nevertheless, it is undeniable that Brazil has raised the bar for ambitious climate action. Its INDC puts a positive pressure on other countries, especially on developed and emerging economies to rethink and revise their contributions for Paris and beyond.

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