The CDL’s Professor Timmons Roberts chaired the discussion with leading experts: Professor Eduardo Viola (University of Brasilia), Natalie Unterstell (Kennedy School of Government at Harvard), Professor Kathryn Hochstetler (University of Waterloo) and Carlos Rittl (Executive Secretary of the Brazilian Climate Observatory).
In 2009, Brazil established a national greenhouse gas reduction target of roughly 36 percent below “business as usual” projected emissions by 2020, largely based on reducing deforestation rates. Brazil’s emissions from deforestation have declined considerably but emissions from agriculture and energy have now surpassed them. Brazil under the current administration of President Dilma (like many others around the world) is more concerned with development than with climate change.
In regards to whether Brazil can be considered a leader or spoiler on climate change policy, Carlos Rittl commented that Brazil is not necessarily a big spoiler but not really a leader either. Natalie Unterstell suggested that Brazil has had many opportunities to be a leader but has not taken them. Rittl stated that reducing emissions can bring important benefits to the economy, yet this discourse was failing to gain traction in the current economic climate.
Kathryn Hochstetler said that Brazil’s inconsistent position at the UN climate talks meant that other countries could not count on it. She stated that other country delegates are never sure which Brazil will show up—the leader or the spoiler—making collaboration with other countries more difficult.
Referring to the significance of President Dilma’s cabinet changes, Eduardo Viola commented that two powerful ministers in Brazil are climate skeptics. The minister of agriculture Kátia Abreu has been nicknamed the “chainsaw queen” by green groups and has questioned whether global warming really exists. The minister of science and technology, Aldo Rebelo, is also known as a climate skeptic.
Before the COP21 in Paris, countries are expected to submit their national contributions on climate change. These contributions or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) will serve as countries’ national climate change action plans and will include how they will reduce their emissions and adapt to climate impacts.
Brazil is expected to submit its INDC in October despite major emitters being invited to submit them by March 31. Natalie Unterstell said that Brazil needs to put forward a post-2020 contribution on climate beyond reducing emissions from deforestation. She commented that the Brazilian government has held two public meeting about the preparation of its INDC. Carlos Rittl commented that Brazilian civil society is demanding that the government presents its INDC to the public before officially submitting it to the UN. Eduardo Viola argued that Brazil’s pledge needs to be unconditional, and in absolute terms of tons of CO2, since pledges relative to “Business as Usual” projections are “a fraud.”
The panelists then discussed whether the ongoing droughts across Brazil were having an impact on the climate debate. Eduardo Viola said that the debate had not linked the drought with climate change. Viola added that Brazil is going through an economic and moral crisis in addition to the drought which has resulted in the climate issue falling off the agenda.
Carlos Rittl mentioned that although climate change is not a priority for president Dilma, she has referred to Brazil's vulnerability to climate impacts and how climate will be on the agenda for her State Visit to the US this June. Natalie Unterstell said that the drought and economic crisis in Brazil can be an opportunity to publicly debate Brazil's position for the Paris round.
Reflecting on the role of the Brazilian private sector and civil society on climate policy, Kathryn Hochstetler said that in 2009 the private sector was instrumental in advancing Brazil’s position before COP15. This was due to concerns that proposed legislation in the US which included tariffs on high-carbon imports could adversely affect Brazilian exports. However, in 2015 the private sector is not focusing on climate change, due to the economic crisis.
However, Paolo Moutinho, Executive Director for the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM), said shortly after the panel that this year presents a great opportunity for Brazilian civil society to make a difference on climate change. He pointed out how innovative these groups have been at key moments in Brazil’s environmental history, and how this might just be one.
Kathryn Hochstetler mentioned that Brazil has 1.5 times the power of the huge Belo Monte hydropower project in wind under contract to be built by 2019. Citing the example of reductions in deforestation prior to Brazil announcing its 2009 emissions reduction target, Hochstetler argued that Brazil takes action on climate at the global level once it has made national progress on the issue. With some success developing a wind industry, Brazil could be interested in pushing for further global action to promote clean energy.
This June the EU and the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC) will meet in Brussels for their bi-annual summit. These summits are often characterized by wooly rhetoric and family photos of heads of states. However, the EU will likely prioritize climate on the agenda given France is hosting the COP21. The EU’s INDC, which offers to achieve a 40% reduction in emissions compared to 1990 levels by 2030, presents an encouraging area of discussion. The EU-CELAC Summit could be useful for climate diplomacy and consensus building and promoting cooperation on clean energy between the EU and Brazil and the rest of the region.
*This panel was generously funded by the Fundación Botín.