Global Positioning

By Wrobel, Paulo | The World Today, May 2009 | Go to article overview

Global Positioning


Wrobel, Paulo, The World Today


Fewer burning forests, more biofuels, new oil wells, Brazil could position itself for a key role in this year's crucial climate change talks. A good move some would say - even if long delayed - for a country that played host to the Earth Summit seventeen years ago, which set off the whole environmental process.

a HUNDRED EIGHTY-SEVEN COUNTRIES WILL meet in Copenhagen in December, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, to try to reach a new international agreement, to take effect after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. If Copenhagen is successful, it will be the culmination of almost twenty years of international diplomatic negotiations on the environment. These started in Brazil, at Rio-92, at the time the largest gathering of heads of state, where the concept of sustainable development was accepted as a guiding principle. Despite playing host to these groundbreaking talks, until quite recently, Brazil has been a very reluctant player.

PUTTING OUT FIRES

Brazil has evolved its position on climate change negotiations, and started to engage more positively at an international level. The crucial issue is accepting that deforestation is one of the main culprits in carbon emissions. Until very recently, Brasília had been reluctant to shoulder its share of responsibility in international talks.

Reversing previous policies after months of public consultation, the government announced a National Climate Change Plan which aims to cut deforestation of the Amazon rain forest by more than seventy percent by 2017. Developed nations are now interested in helping to fund an ambitious project to curb the burning of this unique habitat and rich biodiversity.

By deciding to play a leading role in reducing deforestation, Brazil has strengthened its hand as a major international player in this area. Alongside China and India, it has argued that the developed countries were to blame for climate change, so they should substantially reduce their carbon emissions. Now, however, these three major developing nations, plus others such as Mexico and South Africa, are moving towards accepting that they should get more actively involved in a post-Kyoto era. Agreeing that deforestation is a major carbon emitter has turned Brazil into one of the main protagonists for an agreement in Copenhagen.

Other nations are also moving ahead. United States President Barack Obama's administration has indicted that climate change and energy independence is a main priority. The European Commission and the European Parliament have finally agreed that the 27 member states should cut carbon emissions by twenty percent and supply twenty percent of energy from renewables, including ten percent of transport fuelled by biofuels, by 2020. Ideas about a 'green new deal' as a way to dealing with the international financial crisis have also been floated on both sides of the Atlantic.

Brazil is quite unique in combining large emissions of carbon and a relatively clean energymix.With changing views and policies towards climate change, the country has become much more active in the international energy arena. As the world's most competitive and successful producer of biofuels - particularly ethanol from sugar cane, responsible for supplying seventeen percent of its energy - Brazil crusades in favour of biofuels as a crucial complement to fossil fuels.

When the price of oil reached almost $150 a barrel in the middle of last year, Brazil was involved in acrimonious debates about the potential role of biofuels in raising the price of food. …

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