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Brazil at a climate crossroads

Brazil’s bid to host international climate talks in 2019 (COP25) made significant progress, 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 28, 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.

About the author

Manuela Andreoni es de Río de Janeiro. Trabaja como periodista y reportera para sitios web, periódicos y revistas brasileños, así como para el Globe and Mail de Toronto y el Sunday Times de Londres. Es la editora de Diálogo Chino en Brasil. 

Manuela Andreoni is a Rio de Janeiro-born journalist. She works as a reporter for Brazilian websites, newspapers and magazines, as well as Toronto’s Globe and Mail and London’s Sunday Times. She is Brazil editor for Diálogo Chino.


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