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The Road to Copenhagen: A Brazilian Perspective

October 27, 2009 // 12:00pm1:15pm
Event Co-sponsors: 
Brazil Institute

On October 27, Wilson Center on the Hill in conjunction with the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center hosted an event that addressed the challenges developed and developing countries face in the upcoming negotiations on a new international agreement to control emissions of greenhouse gases.

In all Climate Change Negotiation fora, the issue of what the major developing countries can do and what they are likely to do is crucial. Yet, in preparation for the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, specifically, all eyes are on U.S. Climate Change legislation making its way through the House and Senate. Nothing more fitting then, that on the first day of the three-day hearings on Climate Change legislation in the U.S. Senate, Brazilian Senator Marina Silva (PV-AC), former Minister of Environment in Brazil and a leader of the Brazilian environmental movement, showcased Brazil's progress and prospects in achieving a low-carbon economy to an audience of Capitol Hill staffers at a public luncheon.

Discussions on how to achieve a significant reduction in carbon emissions must be couched in a sense of urgency. There is strong agreement among the members of the IPCC that human activity is very likely the cause for the rapid increase in global average temperatures over the past several decades. Anything beyond an increase of 2 degree Celsius in the temperature will be intolerable, so in order to avoid that C02 emissions would need to be stabilized at 450PPM, which will require emissions cuts of around 50% globally and as much as 80% from developed countries.

But how will we achieve such a daunting task? Sen. Silva argues that to be successful in creating a low carbon economy, a new development model is needed; one that avoids the side effects of cutting carbon emissions and creates positive externalities. This model of development would allow those with an already high quality of life to maintain it and those with low quality of life to improve on it, through new technological advancements that optimize our use of natural resources. Perceived as an inflexion point in a civilizing mission in which we must take a different developmental path—that of the clean technology revolution coupled with an awareness of our relationship with nature. Additionally, there must be transfer of this clean technology and of resources to implement it in developing countries so that they avoid making the mistakes that developed countries made when they were developing and which caused the historical accumulation of carbon emissions that we are faced with today.

The issue of historic cumulative emissions segues into another crucial obstacle in the international climate change regime—that of passing the buck. Historically developed countries are those most responsible for the greenhouses gases in our atmosphere, but developing countries are those whose emissions are already the majority and tend to increase most rapidly. Developed and developing countries have, thus, common but differentiated responsibilities, which does not mean that developing countries are not shielded from responsibilities for their current emissions and that developed countries can abstain from meeting their emission cutting goals because developing countries have yet to be given goals. Chiefly because a 50% reduction in carbon emissions will not be possible if countries like Mexico, China, India and Brazil don't do their part, even if developed countries meet all of their goals. Yet the principle of fairness should not be taken lightly either. India and China, for example, have very low per capita emissions if compared to the U.S. and their people, most of whom lack basic health care and sanitation, shouldn't be expected to contribute as much as the American people to achieve our global carbon emissions goals. Which highlights the crucial need for research, development, and transferring of technology in order to de-link carbon emissions from development.

What Brazil has done in the past 30 years is the key to breaking this developed v. developing standoff and showcases the first steps in achieving the new model of development. Brazil has developed biofuels technology and will adopt new agricultural production technology in the next 20 years. While Sen. Silva was Minister of Environment, deforestation, which accounted for 75% of Brazil's carbon emissions when she first took office, fell from 27,000 square kilometers/year in 2004 to 12,000 in 2007 and continues to fall in 2009. Sen. Silva established a quasi-real time deforestation monitoring system available to the public to increase transparency in government, create awareness among the population of the importance of deforestation and offer citizens a tool with which to pressure the government to improve. Sen. Silva also reinforced the measures that denied credit to illegal activities and suspended any license to deforest from the 36 municipalities that did most deforestation and criminalized all those involved in the illegal productive chain, arresting 725 people and passing out 4 billion dollars worth of fines for illegal logging.

Brazil has struggled to make this contribution and now it can be the link between developed countries and developing countries. Once deforestation was under control Sen. Silva realized that establishing deforestation goals were possible. Brazil will present its voluntary 80% goal in reductions of deforestation until 2020 in Copenhagen. Now, Sen. Silva is calling for a nation-wide goal, one that encompasses all the industries, setting goals for agriculture, energy and industry. Yet, deforestation goals alone show developed nations that if a country with less monetary and technological resources than them can do it, so should they. It also signals to the developing countries, the G77, emerging countries like China and India but also to Mexico and to South Africa that it is possible for developing countries to commit to targets while keeping their legitimate expectations of improved living conditions. Lastly, to prove that technology transfer is viable Brazil is providing all the expertise it has, including in the production of renewable energy, to countries that have tropical forests and plans to establish South-South cooperation projects in reduction of deforestation.

We are at an inflexion point in our development path and all that prevents us from taking the correct path is a lone ranger mindset, which we must change. Brazil's example provides best practices in collaboration and of the ecological benefits of setting domestic goals that can be easily adopted by both developed and developing countries. If we approach the issue of Climate Change with the sense of urgency that it deserves and take stock of our knowledge base, we come to the conclusion that we have all the technical answers. All we need to do is put our technical expertise in the service of the ethics of sustainable development.

Drafted by Jana Nelson
Paulo Sotero, Director, Brazil Institute

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