Brazil disappoints U.N. climate envoy with its inaction on deforestation

Swiss U.N. climate chief Patricia Espinosa welcomed Brazil at the U.N. climate change conference in Poland, which runs through Friday.

But not everyone there shared her enthusiasm.

In December, Brazil’s approval rating plummeted following another round of damaging government corruption scandals. And it is also struggling to curb deforestation in the Amazon, which is one of the top global sources of carbon emissions. According to the last United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) report, deforestation jumped 20 percent between 2014 and 2015 in Amazonas state alone, Brazil’s largest state in terms of land area.

Corruption-fighting prosecutors are probing former President Dilma Rousseff and former Environment Minister Marina Silva, who ran for vice president in 2014 and is running for president again in October, respectively. Independent investigations also have dug up documents pointing to the involvement of former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and other top leaders in a massive bribery scheme. Rousseff is currently on trial on charges that she and Silva broke budget rules by pursuing business for the government in the way it accounts for the cost of its public works. Silva has said that the graft on which she is implicated was just “small fish.”

Despite all this, the government of President Michel Temer, who took office in 2017, has expressed big plans to reduce carbon emissions, according to the International Business Times.

The government has recently launched a “national vegetation plan” to combat deforestation. Part of that plan includes the implementation of a new satellite-based system that will give farmers real-time data on exactly where crops will grow next year and give them a chance to modify their land use. The goal is to set aside about 3 percent of the country’s farmland and forest for conservation. Another five percent could be reserved for biomass plantations that would turn forests into fuel for power plants. The government also plans to plant trees, which would fight against erosion and raise carbon emissions if the Amazon forest were to eventually collapse. The country hopes to save some 7.6 million trees, though it’s not certain how well the plan would work.

Beyond deforestation and carbon emissions, Brazil also has other concerns to face at the U.N. conference, and big plans to implement. It recently approved the world’s biggest commitment to clean energy, with a goal of getting 60 percent of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2030. The nation also hopes to limit its emissions to 0.8 percent below levels seen in 2005, and has pledged to draw half of its energy from nuclear power by 2050.

But the country has not always succeeded in reducing deforestation. Temer blamed Congress’s passing of a constitutional amendment that would have changed the Amazon’s conservation status to one of the “natural commons,” saying that did not happen because Congress was under “the influence of foreign interests,” the Associated Press reported.

Prior to that incident, the government announced that it would reduce deforestation from 62 percent in 2016 to 37 percent this year — but it has failed to attain this target. By early 2019, an independent group estimated that only about 19 percent of the lost territory had been reclaimed. And media reports indicate that initial efforts to restore areas are not getting the cooperation that could speed up the process.

Brazil is also struggling to take advantage of a global deal aimed at keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The country has committed to increase its renewable energy share from 23.5 percent to 33 percent. It also has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from 25 percent in 2020 to between 26 to 28 percent in 2030.

But a recent UNEP report revealed that environmental policymaking was “on a downward trajectory.”

The government has announced that it plans to bring substantial legislation to be presented in Congress in April to advance these climate goals. This will be a key deadline for Brazil’s progress, which stands in contrast to the policies of other developed nations such as the United States and Australia. Brazil’s ambitious climate change measures could set an important precedent for the rest of the world to follow.


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