Brazil is heading to the UN climate summit in Glasgow with ambitious environmental promises, including cutting emissions 50% and ending illegal deforestation entirely by 2030, as well as becoming carbon neutral by 2050.
But can the administration of current President Jair Bolsonaro be believed? It has won little credibility with local environmental advocates, after previously dismantling federal legislation and environmental agencies intended to combat deforestation, and promoting increased mining and oil extraction in indigenous territories and publicly protected lands.
The government has also favored investments and credit to grow the country’s agricultural industry – a sector often at odds with the protection of Brazil’s vast wild lands.
Bolsonaro himself has also decided not to attend COP 26 personally – raising questions about his personal commitment to tackling climate change. Although Brazil is taking the second largest delegation to COP26, it is led by Environment Minister Joaquim Leite.
“I reinforce our commitment to generating a neutral greenhouse gas economy at the same time creating jobs and creating income contributions to Brazil,” Leite said at the Brazil pavilion in Glasgow on Monday.
“Brazil is part of the solution,” he promised, echoing Bolsonaro’s pre-recorded video message to the summit.
How Brazil will do it
Brazil’s environment ministry last week unveiled a “Green Growth” program to achieve its climate goals.
In a press release, it said the program would attract investments from the world market and generate sustainable jobs. Bolsonaro signed two decrees establishing the program and an oversight commission, but so far the government has not articulated any specific targets or accountability mechanisms to measure the success of the program.
Most crucially, perhaps, the program outline does not address preventing deforestation on the federal level. Deforestation is the biggest cause of greenhouse gas emissions in Brazil, which is the world’s sixth largest carbon emitter according to environmental watchdog the Climate Observatory.
Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions shot up by 9.5% in 2020 – the opposite of pandemic-induced trends in other parts of the world – according to data collected by the Greenhouse Gas Emission Estimation System, a platform that monitors greenhouse emissions in Brazil.
The cause? Deforestation.
“If the Brazilian forest were a country, it would be the ninth largest emitter in the world, ahead of Germany,” says the study.
Bolsonaro, who is up for election next year, has long positioned himself as a pro-business president focused first and foremost on bolstering the country’s economy. Fittingly, most anticipated “green growth” projects are designed to compensate farmers and ranchers for protecting the environment, improving their technologies so they can become low-emission producers, helping them to access the carbon market, and investing in the biofuel industry.
“The biggest challenge of ‘green businesses’ is to undo the idea that government actions are only punitive,” Leite told the audience during the ceremony on Oct 25.
One of the programs named Green Rural Producer Certificate “represents a payment instrument for environmental services to farmers in order to promote environmental conservation, as well as the adoption of technologies and good practices that reconcile agricultural and forestry productivity, with a reduction in environmental impacts,” according to the statement.
Another project called ‘Forest + Agro’ aims to offer financial incentives to rural producers to protect reserves and areas of permanent protection. But the main project is the Plano ABC+, which offers a line of credit to producers to