Is it Enough, or Does Brazil’s Climate Plan Need a Little More?

Mattie J. E. Rush, Climate and Energy Intern

“We want to reach zero [illegal] deforestation by 2030 in Brazil,” Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff told the General Assembly Monday, September 28, as she revealed the country’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC).

Considering outcries against destroying the Amazon rainforest have persisted since 1978, one might think that Rousseff’s announcement comes as a relief to those who have worked to preserve it. In fact, many say that Rousseff’s plan is not enough. Is pledging to stop within the next 15 years something that is already illegal truly a strong commitment? 

I listened to Rousseff’s highly anticipated speech, and felt a twinge of fear. The Amazon, arguably the most impressive rainforest, has been under threat from deforestation and climate change for years. The idea that this deforestation may continue, even at a declining rate, is disheartening. Deforesting the Amazon has major environmentally detrimental impacts, and alarming climate change implications.

Despite this seemingly “weak” commitment to ending deforestation, we here at Partners of the Americas have hope for other aspects of Brazil’s INDC. Our work in Brazil began in 1965 when we founded our first Partners chapter in the country. Our current partnerships in Brazil include our Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA) Senior Fellows program, as well as our Sport for Development and Higher Education programs.

The ECPA Senior Fellows program is an initiative that President Obama established in 2009 to address climate change and energy issues throughout the Western Hemisphere. In previous years, ECPA Senior Fellows, Dr. Dan Kammen and Maria-Paz Gutierrez, and former ECPA Senior Fellow, Roger Duncan, visited Brazil to engage with local leaders and stakeholders regarding energy efficiency and climate change.

Mr. Duncan’s work in Brazil focused on renewable energy and energy efficiency. Maria-Paz Gutierrez also focused on energy efficiency while in Brazil, and more specifically buildings’ use of energy, water, and waste. Dr. Kammen’s trip to Brazil centered on discussions concerning changing energy factors and climate change. Brazil’s INDC also addressed these issues.   

In the international community, it is generally understood that developing countries may have to emit more greenhouse gasses (GHG) as they work to build up their economies, and “catch up” to developed countries. It takes energy to build cities, produce materials, etc. Therefore, developing countries’ pledges for reducing GHG emissions differ significantly from developed countries.

President Rousseff made a surprising announcement when she revealed Brazil, a developing country, will be significantly reducing its GHG emissions over the coming years. Brazil will be reducing emissions by 37 percent by 2025, compared to the country’s 2005 levels set during the Kyoto Protocol. It will further reduce emission levels by 43 percent by 2030, also compared to the 2005 level. In other words, Brazil will not be using the fact that it is a developing country as a reason to emit higher levels of GHG.

Brazil’s plan to base its target emission levels on its 2005 levels is known as an “absolute emission-reduction target,” and it holds important political implications. This plan is considered to be more reliable in reducing emissions than other plans because, even as Brazil’s economy continues to expand, the target level for its INDC remains the same, regardless of the economic growth.

Furthermore, Brazil announced that its INDC includes a commitment to increase its share of renewable energy sources for electricity generation to 23 percent by 2030. This 23 percent does not include hydropower, which currently generates about 66 percent of Brazil’s total electricity. By focusing on non-hydro energy sources, Brazil will look to solar, wind, and biomass to achieve its goal.

It appears to us at Partners that Brazil is taking climate change, as well as the role that an individual country can play, seriously. With significant action, Brazil has the potential to become an example for both developed and developing countries alike. Brazil’s Climate Plan comes on the heels of the Obama Administration’s Clean Energy Power Plan released earlier this summer. It is not surprising that President Obama and President Rousseff also released a joint statement earlier in June reiterating their commitments to mitigating climate change. 

"The global scientific community has made clear that human activity is already changing the world’s climate system, causing serious impacts, putting ever larger numbers of people at risk, posing challenges to sustainable development, affecting particularly the poor and most vulnerable, and harming economies and societies around the world, including in the United States and Brazil," the statement declares. The two also note their hopes for the COP21 (Conference of the Parties) meeting in Paris this December, proclaiming that the, “outcome should send a strong signal to the international community.” 

The COP21 meeting in Paris will bring together 40,000 particpants (delegates, observers, and civil society members), representing each country, with "the aim to reach, for the first time, a universal, legally binding agreement that will enable us to combat climate change effectively and boost the transition towards resilient, low-carbon societies and economies," according to the conference website. The meeting will aim to "achieve a new international agreement on the climate, applicable to all countries." 

 While we applaud Brazil’s reaction to climate change, we still have worries. As ECPA Senior Fellow Dr. Kammen said in a statement regarding Brazil’s INDC, “more could be done,” especially in regards to protecting the Amazon. In fact, it is our hope at Partners that more will be done at the COP 21 meeting, and throughout the globe, as the world witnesses more of our leading countries taking up the call to action against climate change.

So please ask yourself, “What is my community doing?” Have your local leaders initiated a climate plan? If so, find out what you can do to help. If not, reach out to them to see how you may get one established. Let them know that climate change mitigation is important to you, and to the future of your community.