The meeting between Barack Obama, and Dilma Rousseff this past week resulted in several bilateral agreements related to trade, education and technology cooperation and a highly expected Joint Statement on Climate Change. This statement is important as Brazil and the United States are two key countries in the international climate change negotiations and have achieved substantive results in mitigating carbon emissions since 2005. Moreover, following the USA and China Joint Statement on climate change from November 2014, we expected that this meeting would lead to new strong and clear commitments that would contribute to send a positive signal towards the Paris Climate Change Conference in December 2015. From a Brazilian perspective, at least, the statement fell short of doing so.
Those that expected new information on the Brazilian INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contribution) from this meeting are most likely to be disappointed. By stating that its INDC will be based on policies that includes a range of sectors (forestry, land-use, industry, and energy), President Dilma reaffirmed what Brazilian diplomats and ministers had already been saying for a while, but did not indicate that the country will adopt an economy-wide mitigation target. Brazil also did not indicate the peak year for its carbon emissions, something that was expected to come out of this meeting given China’s announcement last May.
Brazil’s new announcements centered on three main issues: deforestation, reforestation commitments and renewable energy. While they all suggest positive trends, they fail to demonstrate high levels of ambition by the Brazilian government.
Deforestation: Brazil has committed to “pursue policies aimed at eliminating illegal deforestation”. The novelty here is the language of “illegal”. While tackling illegal deforestation is obviously welcome, it is a matter of combating a systematic crime that has been perpetrated in the country for decades. Therefore, it is a duty that the government already has (or should have) been fulfilling with its own citizens regardless of the climate implications this measure has.
Reforestation: President Dilma announced that “Brazil intends to restore and reforest 12 million hectares of forests by 2030”. Commitments on reforestation are new in this context and obviously more than welcome. However, again, this is even less than what some experts estimate would be needed in order to comply with the new Brazilian Forest Code commands.
Renewable Energy: Brazil “intends that its total energy matrix reach a share of 28% to 33% from renewable sources (electricity and biofuels) other than hydropower by 2030”. Again, reaffirming this intention is a positive sign, especially if it sends strong market signals to advance renewable energy sources that currently have a negligible role in the country’s energy supply, like wind and solar. However, if we look at the most updated data of official energy scenarios for 2030, Brazil was already considering to have 33,1% of other renewable sources (disregarding hydropower and electricity) by that time.
Electricity: Brazil’s announcement says that it intends to increase the share of renewables – beyond hydropower – in its electricity generation mix to the level of 20% by 2030. The question here is whether this commitment means what in common jargon we call “exchanging six for half a dozen”. Brazil already enjoys one of the cleanest electricity matrix in the world, with more than 70% of its electricity coming from hydropower in 2013. According to the official National Energy Balance, the share of hydropower will reach 77% of Brazil’s electricity by 2030. As the country has been facing severe droughts and changes in rainfall patterns, it is expected and welcome that the government reflects on its heavy dependence on water-generated energy in the coming future. Thus, the 20% target for renewable electricity supply may be achievable at the expense of a reduction on the share of hydropower energy. This could increase electricity generation from other renewables, but also non-renewable sources. While this could be a signal that Brazil is indeed moving to an almost 100% renewable electric energy supply, this path seems highly unlikely given the prospects of increase in oil and natural gas supply in Brazil. Not to mention that in the very same Joint Statement, there is also a clear indication of the intention to foster nuclear energy in the country.
All these announcements suggest that Brazil is committed to reduce its carbon emissions from deforestation and somehow not move backwards in terms of dirtying its already substantively clean energy matrix. However, an issue that remains completely overlooked in the Joint-Statement and in current INDC debates within Brazil is the urban dimension of the commitments. Brazil has more than 80% of its population living in cities, where transportation based on fossil fuels and the urgency to adapt to water shortages is becoming a public opinion issue. In order to seize the opportunity that the INDC development process provides to plan the country’s future development model and reflect on the structural economic shifts that are necessary to move to a low carbon economy, the urban discussion needs to be on the table.
While a more comprehensive analysis of Brazil’s level of ambition will only be possible when the official INDC is released in the next months, Brazil’s recent announcements fell short in corroborating the leadership position of the country that Brazilians expect it to have in the international climate negotiations and in Paris. We hope that during the upcoming BRICS Summit in Russia and the bilateral meeting with Chancellor Merkel next month, Brazil will seize these opportunities to score a more remarkable goal.