Brasilia is too preoccupied with economic crisis and attempts to impeach the president to push the low carbon agenda
By Alex Pashley
Brazil was a key broker of 2015’s landmark global warming accord in Paris.
Meanwhile at home, political convulsions and the worst economic slump in 25 years are stopping the major carbon polluter from getting to work on its pledges.
In September, the South American heavyweight swore to get tough on tree-cutting and deploy renewable energies in its offer to a UN climate deal. The plan aims to cut carbon emissions by 37% within ten years from 2005 levels.
But the economy is forecast to contract 3% in 2016, while political opponents are trying to impeach President Dilma Rousseff. Major forest protection ventures await the go-ahead from a gridlocked Congress.
“After the frisson related to the COP21, the national debate on how and when the government will put in place the climate plan is frozen,” said Paulo Moutinho, head of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute, referring to December’s UN summit in Paris.
An economic slowdown may bring some respite in meeting carbon-cutting targets. Shrinking industrial activity and exploitation of its carbon-rich rainforest makes it easier to reach a 2020 goal to cut CO2 15-18%.
At the same time, it chokes off funds for low carbon investment and raises pressure to scale back environmental regulations seen as cumbersome for business like soy and beef producers.
Even before Brazil’s worst ever corruption scandal – centred on state energy company Petrobras – engulfed Rousseff and senior figures in her government, the country had much to resolve.
The proceedings may take several months with analysts writing off 2016 as a lost year amid annual inflation increases to 10% and credit ratings agency downgrades of its debt.
Deforestation rates rose in 2013 and 2015 after plummeting 80% between 2004 and 2012. Environmentalists blame the agribusiness lobby for watering down a forest code.
Brazil’s target to eliminate illegal tree-cutting in the Amazon and restore forests the size of Pennsylvania by 2030 is under threat.
“Right now the political survival of President Dilma puts a bigger challenge on those who want to make the Paris agreement implemented at home,” said Carlos Rittl of the Climate Observatory, a coalition of NGOs.
“This is not only because of the economic, institutional and political crisis preventing [the government] to think of a low carbon development pathway. They have doubts of climate change as an opportunity.”
Scaling up renewable power is also central to Brazil’s commitments. A major roll-out of wind and solar power are planned to meet a target for non-hydro renewable sources to provide 23% of power supply by 2030.
Falling investor confidence and a weakened currency (the real was the worst performing in 2015 among major currencies, losing a third of its value against the dollar) could disrupt the plans.
The federal government in Brasilia may be distracted, but states are developing their own plans to slow deforestation, said Juliano Assuncao, an economics professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro.
Soy-producing Mato Grosso state, the country’s breadbasket, committed to zero illegal deforestation at the COP21 summit. Other Amazonian regions like Para and Acre are drawing up their own strategies.
“Things are moving forward in that direction. They are less affected by the political turmoil,” Assuncao said.
But Climate Observatory’s Rittl said faraway states couldn’t act alone: “It’s absolutely important that federal and state governments not only in the Amazon but in all regions work together for harmony in policy on tackling deforestation.
“We must walk the talk.”