What to Expect from Brazil at COP25

While it is expected that the South American giant will keep a low profile during the climate negotiations, Brazil’s Environment Minister, Ricardo Salles, recently highlighted that he’ll come to Madrid looking for a big win in contentious discussions over carbon markets, with the hope of returning to Brasilia with funds that he believes “had been promised [in the past] and not delivered”. 

The timing of COP25 will cap off Bolsonaro’s first year. A year which has seen deforestation in the Amazon peak to its highest rate since 2008. Through a slate of environmental de-regulations, almost 10,000 km2 of virgin rainforest has been lost. That’s an area larger than the size of Puerto Rico. And while COP25 is ongoing in Madrid, Bolsonaro will be back home pushing legalize mining in indigenous lands

However, don’t expect Brazilian negotiators to come to Madrid with their heads held in shame. As the world’s 6th largest emitter and home to 60 percent of the Amazon, it has a lot on the line, from emission reduction targets to carbon markets.

Brazil has not decreased its emissions

Brazil’s current commitment under the Paris Agreement is to decrease emissions by 37% compared to 2005 levels by 2025. However, the most recent figures show that during 2018 emissions remained stable, as compared to the previous year. 

The country’s largest carbon source is land-use change or, in other words, deforestation. With deforestation in the Amazon on the rise, the country managed to withhold emissions by reducing them in other areas, in particular in energy production.

Brazil is currently the 6th largest emitter and releases yearly around 1.9 tons of CO2 equivalent.

Brazil’s crossroads

Jair Bolsonaro’s government has repeatedly shown that environmental issues are not one high on their agenda. Its Foreign Affair minister, Ernesto Araújo, is a climate skeptic. Its Environment minister, Ricardo Salles, is openly pro-business. And president Bolsonaro himself has suggested on different occasions that Brazil could withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

At the moment, international pressure is what’s keeping the country from completely dismissing environmental concerns. Brazil’s economy heavily relies on commodity exports and the country needs to keep a ‘green image’ to avoid boycotts and jeopardize international trade agreements. In fact, France and other European countries have already threatened to pull out of the recent EU-Mercosur agreement if Brazil fails to take more action against deforestation and illegal fires in the Amazon. 

However, Bolsonaro has already signalled that he wants to strengthen commercial ties with the US, which is, of course,  in the process of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. 

China has also become a key investor over the past 12 months. It is especially interested in increasing its presence in the country if Brazil’s relationship with the EU goes sour, regardless of Bolsonaro’s environmental policies. In fact, China was one of the few large countries that remained silent during the Amazon fires crisis last August.

What to expect from Brazil at COP25

Brazil’s favorite subject during the COP negotiations is carbon markets. And this is definitely going to be a hot topic in Madrid, as the details on how those markets will be implemented in the Paris Agreement have not been sorted out yet. The issue is a bit complex, so we wrote a whole piece about it. You can read it here.

In addition to that, Brazil will also try to obtain international funds to be used in environmental protection. Brazil’s Environment Minister, Ricardo Salles, recently said that they will use the COP meeting to seek the help of rich countries towards tackling illegal deforestation in the Amazon. Salles noted that these resources “had been promised [in the past] and not delivered”. 

brazil at cop25

In the same line, Leonardo Cleaver de Athayde, one of Brazil’s leading climate negotiators, told Reuters last October that developed countries pledged to mobilize $100 billion annually to support climate initiatives in developing countries by 2020, a commitment that has not been honored.

Finally, it should also be noted that, in COP meetings, Brazil negotiates as part of a block with Uruguay and Argentina. While all three countries were allies in the past, they are currently following very different political paths. In particular, Bolsonaro’s extreme-right views are radically at odds with those of Alberto Fernández, Argentina’s newly appointed president, which leans towards the left. Brazil’s president went as far as saying that Argentinians “made the wrong choice” by electing Fernández. We’ll see if countries with such different political views and economic situations are able to effectively negotiate as a block.