The Road to Copenhagen: Perspectives on Brazil, China and India | Wilson Center

The Road to Copenhagen: Perspectives on Brazil, China and India

A lone ranger mindset inflicting both developed and developing countries stands in the way of a significant reduction of carbons emissions, but the world will eventually have to put differences aside in order to reach an agreement on climate change, according to a panel with experts on Brazil, China, and India who convened in anticipation of the upcoming UN Convention in Copenhagen.

"Historically, the developed countries are those most responsible for the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere," said Stephan Schwartzman, director for the Tropical Forest Policy at the Environmental Defense Fund "but at the same time the major developing countries are those whose emissions are already the majority and tend to increase most rapidly."

Hungry for energy to fuel its expanding economy, China, the largest carbon emitting country, has recently emerged as a leader in technologies for a lower carbon economy.

India, whose per capita emissions are among the lowest in the world -- yet not for long given its fast expanding economy -- works to position itself as a "deal maker, not a deal breaker" in Copenhagen.

And Brazil, home of the world's largest forest, resists internationally-established mandatory emissions cut but has taken the lead to drastically reducing deforestation, its principal source of carbon emissions

China advocates for developing countries

As a developing country, China pushes the traditional set of issues of developing countries in climate change negotiations with emphasis on four issues—cumulative historic emissions of developed countries, equity, stage of development, and solidarity among developing countries or G77, explained China scholar Kenneth G. Lieberthal.

The Chinese stress that "their per capita emissions are probably a quarter of those of the United States, so there is an issue of equity here," Lieberthal said. "You need room to develop," he added, reminding that China will maintain its fast-paced economic growth in the foreseeable future, by integrating 2,5 million people per month from impoverished rural area into cities.

To mitigate the increase in emissions that will inevitably happen as the Chinese people improve their quality of life, the Chinese government argues that there needs to be clean technology transfer from the advanced industrial countries to developing countries and funding to support implementation of the technology.

According to Lieberthal, China sees itself as one of the most vulnerable countries to the ravages of climate change "that translates primarily into impact on water," he said.

To reduce energy use per dollar of GDP by 20 percent, China has a five-year plan that ends at the end of next year. The problem, Lieberthal said, is that China has been unwilling to talk seriously about internationalizing these obligations and there are still those in the country who doubt the U.S.'s commitment to mitigating climate change and motives for insisting on reduction on carbon emissions for developing countries.

Without China and the United States, the two largest carbon emitters, there cannot be an international climate change regime, Lieberthal said. But if these two countries can cooperate on clean energy and climate change goals, it will bring momentum to Copenhagen.

India's first concern is economic development

Like China, India adopts a traditional developing country stance on the issue of reduction in carbon emissions, but, unlike China, change in policy is faced with bureaucratic and party politics obstacles, said Raymond Vickery Jr., a former Wilson Center policy scholar and assistant secretary of Commerce for Trade Development.

India's bottom-line is that "there can be no undertaking which in any way affects the economic development [of India]," Vickery Jr. said. "We have 400 million of some of the poorest people on the face of the earth, and our first obligation has to be that there's economic development, which is going to benefit those folks."

Indians, similarly to the Chinese, stress the responsibility of developed nations for historic cumulative emissions; equity in carbon emission reduction goal when looking at per capita emissions now and in the future; and free and subsidized clean technology transfers.

On the positive side, Indians also have a national action plan on climate change with eight missions to be accomplished.

However, according to Vickery Jr., India faces three main obstacles: party politics between the United Progressive Alliance (UPA-INC) in power, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its main opposition; divergences between the ministries of environment and external affairs; and the fact that Indians are very sensitive to national sovereignty, a sentiment that grows out of 200 years of colonial rule.

Brazil offers hope in carbon emission reduction

Brazil's position, although as equally as complex as China's and India's, is quite different, according to Brazilian Senator Marina Silva, a former minister of environment recognized worldwide as a leading figure voice in the field.

A major emitter of the developing world, Brazil adopted voluntary 80 percent goal in reductions of deforestation until 2020 in Copenhagen. "This shows developed nations that if a country with less monetary and technological resources than them can do it, so should they," Sen. Silva said.

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, according to Sen. Silva, who remains in the forefront of an intense domestic debated that has kept the pressure on the business community and well as on local, state and federal authorities to embrace the more-proactive Brazil environmental policies the country spouses today.

"Developing countries must also commit to targets", Sen. Silva said. She advocates for global targets in which developing countries must not be shielded from responsibilities for their current emissions and developed countries cannot abstain from meeting their emission cutting goals because developing countries have yet to be given goals.

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-- fell from 27,000 square kilometers/year in 2004 to 12,000 in 2007 and continues to fall thanks to a quasi-real time deforestation monitoring system and measures that denied credit to illegal activities.

To be successful in creating a low carbon economy, Sen. Silva argued, "a new developmental path is needed"—that of the clean technology revolution coupled with an awareness of our relationship with nature.

Drafted by Jana Nelson and edited by Renata Johnson and Paulo Sotero.


  • Marina Silva

    Former Minister of Environment, Brazil; Governor of the Brazilian Amazon State of Acre
  • Kenneth G. Lieberthal

    Director, John L. Thornton China Center, Brookings Institution
  • Raymond E. Vickery

    Global Fellow
    Senior Advisor, Albright Stonebridge Group; Of Counsel at Hogan Lovells LLP; former Assistant Secretary of Commerce, Trade Development
  • Stephan Schwartzman

    Director for Tropical Forest Policy, Environmental Defense Fund