Environmental tale of two Brazils

brasilobserver - Feb 15 2016
Brasília- DF Foto Lula Marques/foto Públicas. 14-04-2015 Indios durante proteto em frente ao STF e Palácio do Planalto
For Ilan Cuperstein, indigenous groups are responsible for the preservation of much of the national forests, but are still seen as an obstacle to “development”; in the picture, indigenous point arrows to the Presidential Palace during the Indigenous National Mobilization Week in April 2015 (Photo: Lula Marques/Fotos Públicas)

(Leia em Português)


The Paris Agreement was a victory for Brazil, but doubts remain unsettled in Brasília, writes Ilan Cuperstein


In a year dominated by crises, Brazil’s performance at COP21 gave the country the rare opportunity to celebrate a national victory. In the final acts of a turbulent 2015, the Paris Agreement – the highest result of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change – straightened the global climate regime in an attempt to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius. And the agreement, as US president Barack Obama said “has a Brazilian accent”. Brazil’s proposal has been almost entirely followed, and the country’s role during the negotiations was crucial to build bridges between different ideas. The irony, therefore, becomes even crueller amidst the praises: the two most present Brazilian government departments in Paris, Environment and Foreign Affairs, are among those that have been most weakened during the administration of President Dilma Rousseff.

First, let’s face the facts. After years of negotiations for a post-Kyoto Protocol regime, the need for engagement of a larger number of countries became evident, in an attempt to reduce the mistrust between developed and developing countries. The United States, for example, made it clear they were unwilling to negotiate another agreement in which China, the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases since 2006, had no obligations or goals. To achieve this universality, the idea was to introduce greater flexibility. And the instrument for this flexibility were called INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions), which should had been presented by all countries before the negotiations and in various formats – absolute targets, specific projects or implementation of public policies. In practice, INDCs followed the Brazilian proposal of “concentric differentiation”, whereby countries would gradually converge to more ambitious and precise obligations. This proposal represented continuation of the national position of uncompromising defence of the right to development, placing higher expectations of ambitious targets for rich countries and enabling poor nations to environmental protection without the risk of sacrificing the much needed socio-economic growth.

As a leader, Brazil has set an example by being the first developing country to declare absolute targets to reduce emissions on its INDC. Brazil pledged to cut 37% of its emissions by 2025 and 43% by 2030, compared to 2005 levels, and did so without using emission projections or emissions per unit of GDP, as most developing countries did. In addition, Brazil did not condition the achievement of these goals to the access to international financing, making it clear that the goals have become comprehensive public policy and not only issue to be addressed internationally. It is worth mentioning that the goal itself is ambitious as it aims for greater use of renewable energy (45% by 2030) in an array already considered clean and the continuation of the successful program of reforestation and combating deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, which reduced its deforestation by 82% from 2004 to 2014.

The Brazilian INDC goal that generated the most criticisms was the elimination of illegal deforestation by 2030. This not only causes strangeness by the explicit admission that the law is not being followed, but it is a setback since the National Plan on Climate Change from 2007 determined as deadline to stop illegal deforestation the year of 2015. Deforestation in the Amazon, although declining, is still the largest on the world. This matter led Brazil’s Environment Minister, Izabella Teixeira, to receive the Trophy Cara de Pau (a Brazilian idiom that means the one that is shameless), delivered by the NGO Engajamundo at the Embassy of Brazil in Paris.

However, even regarding this criticism, we can celebrate another achievement of the Brazilian position: a vibrant and active participation of civil society, which composed the largest national delegation in Paris, with more than 800 people, all accredited. Despite having ample room to refine the patterns of participation in the formulation of national climate policy, Brazil’s Foreign Affairs Ministry stood out again for permanent dialogue before and during negotiations with different actors of civil society and sub national governments. This lively interaction between state and society can be understood as a cause and consequence of the role that environmental issues, and more specifically the climate change issue, reached the national scene.

If Paris was a victory, major doubts remain unsettled in Brasilia, however. Even before paralyzing political crises seated on the Brazilian capital, the government of Dilma Rousseff had already announced the weakening of the Foreign Affairs and Environment offices. The dramatic decrease on supply to the traditional Ministry of Foreign Affairs made it practically impossible the continuation of the Brazilian leadership in several international guidelines implemented by the government of former President Lula.

The Environment Ministry, that during that government gained unprecedented prominence with strong figures such as Marina Silva and Carlos Minc, was delivered to Izabella Teixeira, a competent technical choice, but without political power to fight gigantic financial interests or claim larger shares of the federal budget. Even the Ministry of Science and Technology, crucial for monitoring, collecting and analyzing information relating to the environment, was occupied by Aldo Rebelo, a confessed denier of manmade climate change, already proven and explained by the international scientific community. Given these movements and the fragility of President Rousseff, the so-called Bancada Ruralista (pro-agro business caucus) joined forces since the discussion of the new Forest Code and now strides to give Brazil the shameful title of the largest consumer of transgenic seeds on the world.

In another effort for social regression, the same political group tries to withdraw from the Union and give to Congress the power for demarcation of indigenous lands, evoking the colonialist and genocidal discourse that indigenous are not only unworthy of the most basic rights and reparations but also represent an obstacle for the mythical “development”. Indigenous groups at the same time suffer from social marginalization and structural and physical violence, but they are also responsible for the preservation of much of the national forests still untouched. No wonder Amazon deforestation increased by 16% last year, calling the alert to the highest Brazilian environmental achievement.

Because of this and other things, Mario Montovani, one of the most important environmental lobbyists in Congress, recently said that Dilma Rousseff presides over the “worst government in the history for the environment”. The statement seems exaggerated when we remember the military regime, which saw nature (and many of those who dwell in it) as an enemy to be defeated and conquered for development, but the criticism deserves reflection. As well as foreign policy, environmental policy today is one of the targets of the dismantling of a country project, so well dreamed and started in the first term of the Lula’s government. The Brazil from Brasília needs a little more of the Brazil from Paris to make national climate policy a convincing success.

*Ilan Cuperstein is the COPPE/UFRJ representative at the China Brasil Center for Climate Change and Energy Technology Innovation

Originally published at Brasil Observer edition 35