Brazil at a climate crossroads

Brazil’s bid to host
international climate talks in 2019 (COP25) made significant progress last
week, just as the country seems poised to elect extreme right-wing climate change sceptic Jair Bolsonaro. Español

A pro-Bolsonaro rally in São Paulo (image: Mídia Ninja)

Brazil’s candidacy was proposed last November, and last week it received
the support of the presidency of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean
Countries (GRULAC), an essential step in the process.

The group represents the
region at the UN. Meanwhile, Bolsonaro has threatened to withdraw not only from
the Paris Agreement, but from the UN itself, and to eliminate the Ministry
of the Environment.

Brazil’s host status is not guaranteed. The country is in political turmoil
as it faces the most important election in recent history. Bolsonaro, a retired
military officer who came close to winning the election in the first round and
will now run-off against Fernando Haddad of the Worker’s Party (PT) on October
27, has made statements on environmental protection and indigenous groups that have
shocked environmentalists.

He has stated that Brazil pays too high a price to
be a signatory of the Paris Accord in promising to maintain millions of
hectares of preserved forests.

“If this continues to be a condition, I will withdraw from the Paris
Accord”, he told journalists during a meeting with businessmen in Rio de Janeiro last month. “If our role is to hand over 136 million hectares of the Amazon, I’m
out”.

Haddad was a former education minister under president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. During Lula’s term, Brazil registered its lowest rates of deforestation in recent decades.

Haddad was a former education minister under president Luiz Inácio Lula da
Silva. During Lula’s term, Brazil registered its lowest rates of deforestation
in recent decades.

But Haddad is having trouble convincing voters. His party’s
image has been demolished by serious allegations of corruption. Lula is now in prison,
convicted of corruption and money laundering.

COP
25 is an essential phase in implementing the Paris Accord, whereby 195
countries committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to limit global
temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius.

Since then, the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of UN commissioned scientists, has
warned that warming must be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Next year’s conference will be held in November. Katowice in Poland will
host this year’s conference (COP 24) from December 3 -14.

Hosting the event would showcase Brazil’s history of strong environmental policies
to the international community. “The country that presides (over the
conference) acts as a facilitator in the global process”, explains Carlos
Rittl, executive secretary of the Climate Observatory. “At the same time, the
conference provides an opportunity to discuss how the host country is
progressing in its domestic policies”.

The opportunity finds Brazil in a vulnerable position. Between 2005 and
2012, Brazilian emissions were reduced by 52%. But progress did not continue.

Then-president Dilma Rousseff (PT) relaxed
rules curbing deforestation as early as 2012. Since then, the slowing-down of deforestation
rates has decreased and environmentalists warn that the country may not meet
its national goals, which were submitted to
the UN as part of the Paris Accord.

Brazil has been the scene of political instability for more than four years
now, and has been home to one of the largest corruption investigations in the
world, Operation Car Wash.

Rousseff was impeached in 2016, and her
successor, current president Michel Temer, has been the target of two criminal
accusations. Weakened governments have been unable – or unwilling – to curb rampant deforestation in supposedly protected areas.

The crisis seems far from being resolved. Even with the support of GRULAC,
Brazil’s role as host of COP 25 is in doubt. GRULAC’s top officials still need
to uphold the recommendation.

“If the secretary considers that a country is unable
to preside well over the conference, alternatives can be found, even though this
would be an unusual development”, explains Rittl.

Any loss of leadership would be detrimental to the region and the world. Brazil is the seventh-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and should it begin to withdraw from the global stage, it could become an obstacle to the overall goals of the Paris Agreement.

But Rittl considers that regional support for Brazil indicated by GRULAC’s
backing is a diplomatic victory. The relationship between different Latin
American countries has been strained, given the political tensions
caused by the crisis in Venezuela and political polarization in Brazil.

There
is some hope that hosting the conference could bring the climate agenda closer
to the center of the political discussion.

For decades, Brazil has been a regional leader in environmental policies. It
was in Rio de Janeiro that the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the body responsible for overseeing climate negotiations, emerged in 1992.

Any loss of leadership would be detrimental to the region and the world.
Brazil is the seventh-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and should it begin
to withdraw from the global stage, it could become an obstacle – along with the
United States – to the overall goals of the Paris Agreement.

“We still have a lot to show”, says Rittl. “But, at the same time, we have
to confront our contradictions”.

This article was previously published by Diálogo Chino and can be read here.

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