Should Brazil give more priority to “green energy” than forest

The country will have unprecedented stand of Amazonian governors with a focus on the forest in front of the federal stand
The country will have unprecedented stand of Amazonian governors with a focus on the forest in front of the federal stand

At the 27th UN Climate Conference, COP27, which begins in ten days in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Brazil will be represented for the first time in three independent pavilions: the federal government’s, the civil society and the Amazon governors’ – the latter an unprecedented initiative.

While the booth of Jair Bolsonaro’s government will present Brazil as “the country of green energies” in the face of the energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine, as stated recently by the Minister of the Environment, Joaquim Leite, the “Legal Amazon Hub” will focus on the sustainable development of the Amazon forest through bio-economy initiatives and the launch of a regional plan to combat deforestation and wildfires, which drive Brazilian greenhouse gas emissions. The civil society space, the “Brazil Climate Action Hub”, which will take place for the third consecutive COP, will again host debates with scientists, activists, representatives of indigenous peoples and traditional populations, businessmen and politicians.

The pavilions of the federal government and the Amazon states should face each other in the Blue Zone, where the negotiations between the countries take place. According to sources heard by Pública, this may show the lack of centrality, in the government’s programming, of the Amazon forest, one of the main environmental assets of Brazil, which at the same time suffers from increasing rates of deforestation in recent years. The government even asked the consortium to integrate its stand, but the group declined because it already had its exhibition site planned, according to the report.

Although the war has indeed stirred up the geopolitics of gas and oil – Russia, a major exporter of both products, has recently cut off gas supplies to Europe in response to the economic sanctions it has been suffering from the bloc of neighboring countries since the invasion of Ukraine – the federal government’s option to present Brazil as a major supplier of green energy may overlook the weak point of the country’s climate agenda. “It’s going to be exactly a stand on the aspect where Brazil has no problem with emissions [of greenhouse gases],” says former Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira, one of the main negotiators of the Paris Agreement, recently invited to join a select group of advisors to the COP27 presidency.

Teixeira explains that the country’s main climate issue “is not energy”, but land use change, which includes deforestation and is responsible for 46% of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions. Soon after comes agriculture and cattle raising, with 27% of emissions, and only then the energy sector, with 18%. “Brazil should be going there, instead of hiding the forests, to reveal how in fact it is going to stop deforestation,” she reinforces.

The country should talk about how it will stop deforestation, says Izabella Teixeira.
Photo: Edilson Rodrigues/Agência Senado

She assesses that, if there is the intention to focus on energy, it would be essential for the government to signal “where it is going to decarbonize, because [about] 50% of the [Brazilian] energy matrix is still carbonized. The transportation sector is crucial to this discussion, as it used, in 2021 (the latest data available), 32.5% of all the country’s energy, followed by industry (32.3%), households (10.9%), and others. “Are you going to bet more on biofuel? Are you also going to bet more on [energy] efficiency? Will you work on the electrification of light vehicles? Are you going to substitute the diesel fleet for ethanol in trucks, are you going to make a whole technological change in trucks in Brazil?”, asks the former minister.

Pública sent questions on the subject to the Ministry of Environment (MMA), which organizes the programming of the federal government’s exhibition area, but did not receive a response by the time this report closed.

O ministro do Meio Ambiente, Joaquim Leite, e o vice-presidente da República, Hamilton Mourão durante COP26
The Minister of the Environment, Joaquim Leite, and the vice-president of the Republic, Hamilton Mourão, at the federal government booth at COP26. Photo: Marcelo Camargo/Agência Brasil

Minister says COP27 will see the “Brazil of green energies”

Although the MMA has not yet released official information about the event’s agenda, Minister Joaquim Leite has been making public statements on the subject in recent weeks.

In a meeting with businessmen promoted by the American Chambers of Commerce for Brazil (Amcham) and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC Brazil) on the 14th of this month, Leite said that “this conference will look very much at energy, which is a global challenge with the energy crisis that is occurring.” “Our energy is being looked at by other countries as an investment opportunity. What we have designed as a strategy is to take the Brazil of green energies and the opportunities of consumption of this energy”, he declared. At the end of September, during an interview to the state program A Voz do Brasil, he had affirmed that the government’s focus at COP27 would be on “Brazilian green energies, industry and sustainable agro”, and that the country’s stand would be the “largest in history”, with 300 m².

This week, the minister reinforced the expectation in relation to what the Bolsonaro management should take to Egypt: a video posted last Tuesday (25) in his Twitter profile, narrated in English, puts Brazil as “protagonist in this new green economy”, highlighting its potential in renewable energy generation, especially in solar, wind and biomass. The piece brings the data according to which 84% of the Brazilian electricity matrix is clean, which was true in 2020, but changed in 2021, when, in face of the water crisis that affected the country, the government turned on thermoelectric plants, which burn fossil fuels to produce electricity, causing an increase in tariffs. Last year’s numbers reflect this scenario and indicate a decrease in the presence of renewables in electricity generation, reaching 78.1%.

Yesterday (26), Leite posted on Twitter a Bolsonaro campaign insert that promises to create offshore wind farms in the Northeast. Last week, a little less than 20 days before the start of COP27, the ministries of Environment and Mines and Energy published two ordinances that regulate the activity.

Election result will dictate path on eve of conference

Beyond the programming of the government pavilion, there is uncertainty regarding the Brazilian political context during COP27. According to the specialists heard by Pública, depending on the result of the presidential elections next Sunday (30), Brazil may follow different paths at the conference.

If President Bolsonaro is reelected, COP27 should follow a similar script to last year’s edition. In Glasgow, Scotland, civil society countered the federal government’s narrative through the “Brazil Climate Action Hub”, which, with a diverse program, helped point out the flaws in the official discourse that sought to describe Brazil as an environmentally responsible country under Bolsonaro, although data indicated the dismantling of oversight bodies and the rise of deforestation in the Amazon. One of the criticisms targeted the fact that the government went to COP26 without the annual deforestation rate in the Legal Amazon measured by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and normally released during climate conferences – when published days after the end of the meeting, the numbers showed a 21.97% increase over the previous period.

Civil society booth will gather scientists, activists, representatives of indigenous peoples and traditional populations, businessmen and politicians. Photo: Brazil Climate Hub/Divulgação

If former president Lula is elected, the expectation is, according to our report, that one or a few representatives of a possible transition team will travel to Egypt to begin the dialogue with the international community. People who contributed to the campaign and to Lula’s government plan in the areas of environment and climate should already be there, such as Izabella Teixeira herself, the former Minister of Environment and Federal Representative-elect Marina Silva (Rede-SP), and the reelected Federal Deputy Nilto Tatto (PT-SP), a member of the House Committee on Environment and Development.

Tatto evaluates that, if Lula is elected, COP27 would be “an opportune moment” for his transition team to “get there and make the commitment that Brazil will resume its internal agenda to fulfill the commitments it assumed in the international climate agenda. The country owes in this respect: the most recent data indicate that Brazilian emissions grew by 9.5% in 2020, the year in which the pandemic strongly affected economic activity worldwide and caused an unprecedented reduction of almost 7% in global emissions.

In an eventual Lula government, Brazil’s national and international climate policy should also change. Former Chancellor Celso Amorim, Lula’s advisor for foreign relations, told Pública that climate and environment will once again be central to Brazil’s foreign policy. “This is what will make Brazil stop being a villain, and Brazil will be a hero in this area. I can assure you, it will not be easy to get there. But this must stop being seen as a foreign policy liability. This will be an asset, because it will put Brazil in the center of the discussions about global governance”, he highlighted. He suggests that, if the former president wins the second round, he will propose a summit of Amazon nations next year within the scope of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (OTCA), with a possible opening to countries from other regions with a “direct interest” in preserving the forest.

For Adriana Abdenur, member of the UN Committee on Development Policy and executive director of Plataforma CIPÓ, in addition to the resumption of ACTO, if Lula wins the electoral dispute, Brazil should again bet on multilateralism, “promoting innovations in the climate agenda that have a strong footprint of the global South, based on the experiences, demands, and concerns of developing countries, including with regard to the current shortage of climate finance that will be so essential for poorer countries to implement ecological justice and transition.

This article was originally published in Agência Pública and is part of the special #COP27Latam.