Shrinking Forests Undermine Brazil’s Climate Plan
Critics say Brazil’s climate plan shows it is “not interested in contributing” to the global effort. Continuing large-scale deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon region suggests a new government aim to become “carbon neutral” by 2060 lacks credibility, Brazilian scientists said Thursday.
Under the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, countries are due to submit updated plans to cut planet-heating emissions and better adapt to climate impacts by the end of this year. But Brazil’s revised plan, announced this week, lacks updated goals to cut emissions by 2030, suggesting it will not put the country on a realistic path to carbon neutrality by 2060, scientists said. “This shows that Brazil is not interested in contributing to solving the problem of the climate crisis,” said Márcio Astrini, executive secretary of the Climate Observatory, in a telephone interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The observatory, a network of nearly 60 civil society groups, has put together its own proposal for an updated plan for Brazil compatible with the Paris climate agreement goals. It calls for an 81% net reduction in emissions by 2030, compared to 2005 levels. The plan announced by Environment Minister Ricardo Salles on Wednesday, by comparison, calls for a 43% reduction by 2030 – the same level the country promised in 2015, at the Paris pact launch. Achieving the 2060 carbon-neutrality goal, Salles added, was contingent on Brazil receiving $10 billion a year in international sustainable development support grants, starting next year.
Globally, wealthier countries have promised under the Paris Agreement to raise $100 billion a year in funding to help the poorest countries develop cleanly and deal with climate impacts. Until 2019, Brazil received tens of millions of dollars a year from the donor-supported Amazon Fund to help protect and sustainably use its forests – but that money was suspended as deforestation shot up under Bolsonaro’s administration. Ministry officials, asked for comment on criticism of their strategy by scientists, did not respond.
Brazil’s new plan comes as a growing number of major-emitting countries around the world – including Japan and South Korea – have announced 2050 net-zero emissions target. Gilberto Camara, former director of Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and part of the team that developed the country’s 2015 climate plan, said the updated strategy did not match what was happening on the ground. “What Brazil has presented now has no basis. No serious study has been done. This is a shame for Brazil,” said Camara by phone from Switzerland, where he now works as secretariat director of the Group on Earth Observations.
“This government has no credibility in the international community,” he added. Brazil, the fifth-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, has on the books good long-term plans to cut emissions from farming and to curb deforestation – but those are not being implemented by President Jair Bolsonaro’s government, Camara said. In Brazil’s Amazon, deforestation – an important contributor to climate change – hit an 11-year high in 2019 and soared a further 25% in the first half of 2020, according to INPE.
Expansion of cattle-ranching, soy cultivation, illegal gold mining and logging were key drivers, scientists said. Environmentalists blame Bolsonaro’s right-wing government for emboldening illegal loggers, miners and land speculators to cut down the forest, in line with his vision of economic development for the Amazon region. Astrini said the Climate Observatory’s proposed deeper emissions cuts for 2030 were “totally viable” for the country. “Our proposal is based on policies and technologies that exist in Brazil,” though they would need more investment, he added. But halting rising losses of forests was an obvious way to hold the line on emissions and protect global climate stability, he said. “In the case of deforestation, it is our duty to end this problem,” he said.
The Climate Observatory has said Brazil needs to eliminate deforestation in all its ecosystems by 2030 and restore 14 million hectares of reserves and conservation areas between 2021 and 2030. Such measures are necessary to bring Brazil’s climate plans in line with the most ambitious Paris Agreement aim of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times, according to the observatory. Global emissions are still rising, despite efforts to limit them, and scientists say temperatures have already risen by about 1.2C, producing worsening extreme heat, storms, droughts, crop failures and sea level rise.
Climate-changing emissions have risen by an average of 1.4% a year since 2010 – but last year growth surged to 2.6%, in part as a result of a large increase in forest fires around the world, a report this week by the United Nations Environment Programme noted. Governments will join a U.N-backed event on Dec. 12 to mark five years since the Paris accord was agreed, with about 70 leaders expected to showcase new commitments to tackle climate change.
Image: Sebastien Goldberg-Unsplash Reported by Mauricio Angelo; Edited by Laurie Goering Thomas Reuters Foundation