The Latin American Herald Tribune reports on Lula’s ‘disappointment’ at US and Chinese reluctance to set legally binding emission reduction targets in Copenhagen:
Brazilian President Lula said on Monday that he will telephone U.S. counterpart Barack Obama and China’s Hu Jintao to discuss the fight against climate change after Washington and Beijing agreed they are not ready to set targets for emissions reduction. “I’m disappointed, but not surprised” at the agreement reached in Singapore between Obama and Hu, but “the United States and China must sooner or later propose their targets also, although it won’t be at the Copenhagen Conference,” Lula told reporters after meeting in Rome with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The United States and China, the world’s biggest polluters, on Sunday dealt a blow to the climate conference that will begin Dec. 7 in Copenhagen after informing the Danish government that it will not be possible at that summit to achieve an accord that will set targets for the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, the main factor in global warming. Lula emphasized that he will go to Copenhagen regardless to defend Brazil’s climate proposals.
Analysis: The convergence of the Copenhagen talks and the Brazilian presidential elections in 2010 has sparked a political battle between Lula’s potential successors. As Dr. Paraskevi Bessa-Rodrigues recently stated here, the pre-candidacy of former Environment Minister, Marina Silva for the Green Party, has forced the Workers’ Party pre-candidate Dilma Rousseff to busy herself with the climate change agenda. As a Brazilian international relations expert told IPS, the Brazilian decision to announce voluntary national emission targets before the Copenhagen talks is a historical turning point where the presidential pre-candidacy of Marina Silva played a decisive part. It is not surprising that Rousseff will lead the Brazilian delegation in Copenhagen, a move aimed to strengthen her candidacy for president and her international standing, while counterbalancing the influence of Marina Silva who is likely to attend the conference. These political manoeuvrings are arguably a positive development for international and national climate change policy-making where domestic rivals strive for the higher ground to show the world the virtues of their respective positions. It also further strengthens the discourse highlighting the evaporating distance between domestic and international policy agendas. What is perhaps counterintuitive is the fact that strong climate change policies pose significant risks and disruption to those clinging onto the status quo. The Brazilian climate strategy suggests they might be willing to risk the wrath of national and local industries because they believe the dividends to be gained from a global deal on climate change could prove more lucrative for Brazil’s long-term development. Brazil is after all a global leader on biofuels and has the largest share of the Amazon to bargain with when discussing technology transfer and finance for adaptation and low carbon development. The trade-off would therefore appear to be worth the risk.
The Financial Times’s Ed Crooks and Fiona Harvey report on Lula’s global push to get a good turn out in Copenhagen:

Brazil’s president has challenged other world leaders to attend next month’s climate talks in Copenhagen to break the deadlock in negotiations to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“We may not reach an agreement because of a deficiency of global leadership,” Mr Lula da Silva said. “The discussions have been outsourced to advisers but it is better that the ones who say yes or no are prime ministers and presidents.”

Mr Lula da Silva named Hu Jintao, China’s president, and Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister, as key participants and said he would attend if other leaders did.

He made no new commitments to curb Brazil’s emissions. However, the call from a president with substantial success in the world’s ninth-largest economy, which has grown impressively in recent years, raises the pressure on other leaders to attend.

Of course this is not the last opportunity to create a global deal on climate change. However, given the momentum generated over the last two years since Bali, it would be illogical for the world’s leaders especially those of the US, China and India not to make the most of it. As for Latin American leaders, it is crucial there is a good turn out as they might just prove to be the glue that makes this mess stick.

Latin America has been leading by example by having some of the world’s lowest energy emissions per unit of GDP and its emissions per capita are more than 30 percent below the world average. Mexico and Argentina lead the pack in delivering improvements in carbon productivity required to provide a reasonable chance of limiting global warming below 2°C. While Brazil has the Amazon up its sleeve and is doing a good job at curbing deforestation and developing high-tech low carbon strategies, not least biofuels. Costa Rica also bids to go carbon neutral by 2021 and is making sound progress.

As a middle income continent Latin America can act as the matchmaker to ensure the rich industrialised countries and the emerging and developing countries sit down constructively together to make an agreement feasible.
Latino Cambio’s fourth interview in the series focuses on Brazilian engagement on climate change. We spoke with Dr. Paraskevi Bessa-Rodrigues,University of UNISINOS, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, who specialises on international relations and currently represents her university on the Brazilian Forum on Global Climate Change.

1. Brazil is a significant global trade and commercial power and has until recently been riding high on inflated prices for its commodities. With the new climate change paradigm challenging the business as usual status quo, is the government’s climate rhetoric a genuine attempt to kick start the transition to a low carbon economy?

In order for a governmental rhetoric to transform itself into public policy, consultation, negotiation, consensus and resources are needed in all segments of society. In a pre-electoral period such as the one Brazil is currently undergoing, this process becomes all the more intense. As we saw today in the media, President Lula did not announce the government´s position, as expected, on carbon emission cuts, as the percentages are still being negotiated. This demonstrates that we are in the middle of a process that will culminate during the next few weeks. The need for a unified position becomes all the more important as the Copenhagen meeting approaches. The Climate Change Conference is seen as an opportunity for Brazilian diplomats to negotiate the distribution of tasks, responsibilities, as well as forms of financing for mitigating the effects of the carbon economy among the industrialised and emerging countries. To what extent this will lead to a “low carbon economy” is left to be seen.

2.With all the hype over Brazil’s extensive new oil reserves, is there a risk that the Brazilian climate change discourse might lose traction in the face of greater interest in exploiting the oil bounty?

Oil recourses have attracted large media and (more importantly) political attention. The climate challenge has not been presented as aggressively to the wider public as the prospects for social and economic development that the new oil reserves are expected to create. But it is a subject that involves all areas of human activities, ranging from agriculture to public health, and from security to education. Oil resources should be part of a wider environmental as well as social and economic strategy and not a competing element.

3. The political situation in Brazil is currently focusing on potential candidates for the 2010 presidential elections. Given that the Copenhagen negotiations will be taking placing in less than an month, what evidence have you seen so far of potential hopefuls discussing global warming?

Indeed, one of the most prominent hopefuls is former environmental Minister, Marina Silva, now leading the Green Party. Her candidacy has forced the PT pre-candidate Dilma Rousseff to occupy herself more intensively with the environmental agenda. Among the measures taken is an expansion of fiscal benefits for those buying low energy consumption electrical appliances. It is predicted that Rousseff will head the Brazilian delegation in Copenhagen, a decision which could strengthen her candidacy for president, as well as her international image and hopefully counterbalance the influence of Marina Silva who is also expected at the event. It is interesting to note that on the day of Silva’s announcement of entry into the Green Party, the government also announced a historic decline in deforestation. The environmental agenda is here to stay, Silva’s presence acts as a catalyst for more rapid reactions from her adversaries in the political spectrum.

4. How are the Brazilian industry and business sectors responding to the government’s drive to push global warming up the political agenda?

It is not yet clear whether it is a response to a governmental drive or a policy apart, but there seems to be an increasing movement of Brazilian companies positioning themselves in front of the climate challenge. Last May at the World Summit on Business and Climate Change, more than 500 business leaders from 47 countries participated and among them 4 Brazilian companies. The Caring for Climate is another forum for CEO discussions with a Brazilian presence.

More recently, 22 of the largest industries in Brazil have signed an “open letter on climate change”. The signing companies adhere to a number of voluntary actions so as to diminish the negative impacts of climate change and make a number of suggestions to the federal government for the creation of a “stable and predictable system of governance to tackle the issues of climate change”. The Federations of Industries of various Brazilian States have created discussion groups for identifying the forms of adherence for reduction of CO2 emissions.

Nevertheless, NGOs such as Greenpeace and WWF consider the participation of the private sector in the process as being restricted with limited impacts as most of these companies have a hidden agenda pressuring the National Congress to adopt a more lenient stance on environmental issues.

5. The Brazilian Federal Ministry of Science and Technology leads Brazilian climate change policy. It also heads up the Inter-ministerial Commission on Climate Change, which was created in 1999 and is composed of 11 ministries, with the mandate to co-ordinate discussions on climate change. In your opinion, how effective has the Commission been at coordinating climate change discussions between these ministries and does it represent a useful model for those Latin American countries looking to replicate it?

The Ministry of Science and Technology has a central role in the construction of the national policy for climate change. The involvement of the major actors of the federal government, business community and civil society is a step towards the right direction. However, there is still a lot to be done, not only in terms of participation of the major stakeholders of society, but also in terms of having the right instruments to subsidise strategic decision making.

According to the Ethos Institute the last inventory on CO2 emissions in Brazil was published in 1994 and has become a point of criticism among environmentalists. The new inventory to be presented during the Copenhagen talks, although more up-to-date, contains 2004 data. The argument from the governmental side is that the data necessary for the inventory is complex and difficult to be obtained in a short period of time.

6. In 2000, the Brazilian Forum on Global Climate Change was created with the purpose of raising awareness of climate change with civil society and universities. As the University of UNISINOS representative in the Forum, what type of work are you involved in?

Apart from our institutional presence in the Forum, the university is developing a number of academic instruments in all levels of knowledge, research, teaching and dissemination. The creation of our new post-graduate courses are focusing on renewable energies, already existing courses such as Law, Public Security and International Relations, give increasing emphasis on the environmental challenges; applied research is increasing on systemic thinking in the areas of mining and petroleum; the interest in environmental studies, biology, geology is rising and a number of new open courses on climate change attract student and professional attention. All this make part of a wider context of involvement which is channelled back to the Forum.

7. How useful have you found the new Brazilian communication tools such as the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology e-democracy portal on climate change? Do they have much potent ial in the run up to Copenhagen to diffuse ideas and policies recommendations on climate change to a wider audience?

It is difficult to evaluate the impact of technological instruments recently launched for such a specific purpose. The expectations-capabilities gap is somehow present as we do not know how much of civil society’s contribution allocated on this site will be used for formal negotiations in the international fora.

8. The Brazilian media is arguably ahead of its regional rivals when discussing global warming and environmental issues such as Globo Amazônia’s dedicated site to charting developments in the Amazon. Would you agree with this statement and if so, how could the production and dissemination of climate change related news be improved in Brazil and Latin America?

It is interesting to mention that the UK Embassy in Brazil has conducted research about the presence of the theme climate change in the Brazilian Media. The research has examined about 1.000 articles from 50 Brazilian journals of national and regional circulation between 2005-07. Their findings demonstrate that although there is a rise in the presence of the theme “climate change” there is only a limited understanding of the systemic impacts of the topic. Therefore, there is limited association of the theme with the need for alternative models of development, production and consumption. Most of the material in the media does not offer a strategic and long term view, but rather limits itself on short term and specific issues. The link to the study can be found here.

9. Climate change has traditionally been a lofty pastime for scientists and diplomatic specialists. With the impacts of climate change likely to hit Brazil hard, to what extent is Brazilian civil society becoming involved in the debate?

Because of its size as well as its social and economic disparities, the involvement of civil society on climate change varies and its intensity differs among regions and segments of society. I have the impression that the term “climate change” has more of a scientific flavour which may give the impression to some that it is an issue to be handled by the “experts.” It is important that the discussion on climate change becomes more democratic not only in terms of access on reliable and concrete information, but also in terms of terminology understood by the masses so as to attract greater public to the discussion.

10. Brazilian research institutes and think tanks have played a key role in advancing environmental issues. Which Brazilian organisations working on global warming and its political implications should we be paying attention to?

Coming from the academic environment it is natural that I see the role of Brazilian universities and research centres as vital to the process of advancing environmental issues. But I do not see them working alone: I understand that a successful contribution of these centres will come through a triangular relationship including the government (in all of its levels, local, regional, state and federal) and civil society. The success of these centres will depend on their capacity to transform theory into concrete actions, be that in research, university teaching or even disseminating the environmental discussion to school children and local communities.

A very interesting model could be the one adopted by the Committees of the Hydrographic Basins, which contemplate such an interaction. In particular, the Committee of the Vale do Rio dos Sinos has become a national reference. Its project using bio-indicators for monitoring the levels of pollution in the Sinos River has been a pioneer in this area. Many other local initiatives with global applications proliferate which have to be monitored and brought to the attention of the wider public and policy makers.
Published in Interviews
The UK’s Chatham House May edition of the World Today includes a piece on Brazil, climate change and energy. Written by the Brazilian Embassy’s Paulo Wrobel in London, the article asserts that Brazil is now at the centre of two of the world’s most pressing issues: climate change and energy independence...

Brazil has evolved its position on climate change negotiations, and started to engage more positively at an international level. Agreeing that deforestation is a major carbon emitter has turned Brazil into one of the main protagonists for an agreement in Copenhagen.

As the world’s most competitive and successful producer of biofuels. Brazil crusades in favour of biofuels as a crucial complement to fossil fuels.

Ironically, at the same time the country is arguing for biofuels as a real alternative to fossil fuels, it is debating the best way to explore huge oil and gas fields recently discovered offshore. The new fields could turn it into a most influential player in the geopolitics of oil. Petrobras – the Brazilian national oil company – and its partners, are well prepared to invest what it takes to exploit them.

The discoveries could propel Brazil into the league of large oil producers and exporters. The prospect of joining the oil cartel OPEC has even been mentioned. Inside and outside government, a vigorous debate is taking place about the need for a new legal framework, and exploration agreements with foreign oil companies.

The announcement of new oil and gas deposits was seen by many analysts as a potential landmark. New discoveries worldwide are not keeping pace with rising demand.

Despite the present gloomy picture for the global economy, world production of oil will have to rise from the current level of 86 million barrels a day to 106 million barrels by 2030. The medium-term trend for prices seems certain to be up.

By playing a more active role in the international negotiations for a post-Kyoto agreement, as well as combining its successful renewables energy sector with a new vigour in the production of oil and gas, Brazil seems well positioned to face the challenges of climate change and energy independence.

No doubt Brazil is a major player in the climate change debate. However, the oil and gas discoveries risk challenging this image. Curiously, an article by the Brazilian President, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, posted last month does not mention the discoveries at all. In fact, one of the only references to hydrocarbons states that our addiction to fossil fuel needs to be drastically curbed.

The two pieces seem at odds with each other. Potential investors in the new oil and gas fields may feel more relaxed about investing given the clean and green advances elsewhere in the country. But the Copenhagen climate change talks will press developing countries such as Brazil to adopt legally binding carbon reduction targets which may prove incompatible with drilling up vast quantities of new oil.

The Brazilian Energy and Mines Minister, Edison Lobao, is leading a delegation to Spain to learn about the wind power industry.

RECHARGE reports:

The delegation will be in Spain for three days, during which time it will visit renewables giant Iberdrola Renovables and network administrator Red Electrica (REE), meet with Industry Minister Miguel Sebastian and deputies from congress’ industry and environmental commissions and visit Pamplona and Toledo. The delegation will also host a conference in Madrid on opportunities in Brazil’s energy sector. Minister Lobao will be accompanied by officials from state power giant Electrobras, energy officials from six Brazilian states, banks, and officials from the Brazilian wind energy association ABEEolica.

There are certainly rich pickings to be had in Brazil and Latin America. Wind conditions are excellent in many Latin American countries and some wind projects remain competitive up against more conventional energy sources even when oil prices slump.

The Spanish experience provides an extremely useful reference point for those seeking to increase renewable energy generation. In 2007, Spain installed 3,522 MW of new capacity making it second only to the US.

Although Spain’s emerging love affair with renewable energy spins an exemplary tale, the Brazilian visitors should also be wary. As the Observer’s Giles Tremlett pointed out recently:

Powerful wind turbines churned the air above La Muela last week but the stir in this small Aragonese town was caused by the arrest of the mayor and 18 other people on charges that reveal a new phenomenon in Spain: eco-corruption.

The wind energy boom brought with it a frenzy of development, as the town's population increased threefold. With wind power pouring euros into the municipal coffers, colossal building schemes were pursued. The 5,000 residents now share three museums, a theatre, a bull-ring and a gleaming sports and swimming centre.

Those promoting Spain’s windfall with renewables may be reluctant to reflect too strongly on some of the corruption allegations, but this in the long run would be a disservice to their Brazilian guests.

Therefore this Spanish lesson in wind power generation should reflect the whole picture and not shy away from explaining some of the dangers of reaping the benefits of renewable energy and attempts at creating low carbon communities.

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Published in Renewable Energy
Wednesday, 11 March 2009 13:35

Can Amazonia be pulled back from the abyss?

Photo:Daniel Silva Yoshisato Cinematic Orchestra’s track featuring Roots Manuva, All Things to All Men, sums up the UN’s latest report on Amazonia in a Brazilian nutshell. It also blows away the misconception that Amazonia is a bunch of trees, a few tribes and some anthropologists and biologists bumping into it each other in the forest. Be it a Mecca for conservationists, a cash-cow for ranchers and soya producers, the ancestral home for indigenous peoples, a massive logistical and governance challenge for local and national governments, or a crucial battleground in the fight against climate change, the Amazonian region spanning 8 South American countries is an area of incalculable value and importance to billions of people. The report, GEO Amazonia, finds that the demand for the regions’ commodities – timber, hydrocarbons, minerals, agriculture and livestock – is the predominant driver of environmental degradation combined with associated road building and rapid urbanization. By 2005, deforestation across Amazonia reached 857, 666 km², meaning 17% of the region’s total vegetation cover had been reduced. Factor in climate change which is causing higher than average temperature rises in the area and a vicious cycle emerges. If the loss of forest reaches a certain tipping point, then rainfall will decrease rapidly turning the forest into a tinder box resulting in increased forest fires, carbon emissions and a further reduction in precipitation. By the end of the century a large chunk of Amazonia could be lost entirely (85%) or transformed into savannah effectively ending the region’s existence as an important carbon repository. Organised crime, food and water insecurity and an increase in diseases such as malaria, exacerbated by environmental degradation, are also taking a heavy toll on the region’s increasingly vulnerable population of 33.5 million people. Urbanisation is happening at breakneck speed as roughly 60 percent of Amazonia’s population now live in cities. A lack of basic services and adequate waste disposal, poor air quality and noise pollution adds to the misery. The relentless extraction of natural resources continues to place huge pressures on the remaining indigenous groups and is causing the irreversible loss of a number of endangered species. The report makes no bones that it will be impossible to maintain the integrity of the Amazonian ecosystems completely, but suggests that the trade-off between environmental degradation and socio-economic development need not be so stark. Amazonian governments have made some progress in managing environmental problems. Brazil, for example, leads the pack on monitoring Amazonian deforestation with one of the world's most advanced real-time deforestation monitors. However, the lack of financial resources and the overlapping of policy making at the various levels of government – both domestically and internationally - hinders faster and more effective action to curb the destruction. The final chapter offers recommendations for a possible future Amazonia. Emphasis is placed on extending regional integration while promoting activities which place greater economic value on Amazonian environmental services such as watershed management than on the commodities being shipped out. The region’s current development trajectory based on the unsustainable extraction of anything edible or usable may be the dominant paradigm in town. However, the future of Amazonia could be different if those in control accept that this model is representative of a world edging closer to the abyss.
Published in Biodiversity
The Brazilian development bank BNDES (Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social) has approved its largest ever loan to finance a new hydroelectric power station.

According to BNDES:
[It has] approved R$ 7.2 billion (approximately €2.44) for the construction of the Jirau Power Plant. The funding will be granted for the company, Energia Sustentável do Brasil (ESBR), responsible for the project developed in the Madeira River, which has an installed capacity of 3300 megawatts. It is worth highlighting the implementation of an associated transmission system to outflow the power produced by the plant to the city of Porto Velho.

The Jirau project is part of the Madeira River Hydroelectric Complex which will consist of four power plants along the river. Two will be within Brazilian territory, the third will straddle the Brazil-Bolivia border and the fourth will be located entirely in Bolivian territory.

Photo: Associated Press

The project is being heralded as a new landmark in the implementation of large-sized hydroelectric plants in Brazil. It was designed to generate the lowest social and environmental impact possible and the flooded area is estimated to stretch over 258 square kilometers, well below the average.

BNDES will also invest in social and environmental activities by allocating R$532 million for 29 social and environmental programs, with an estimated budget of R$610.6 million.

However, last year Reuters reported a heated exchange when GDF SUEZ, which pipped to the post construction company Odebrecht and state utility company Furnas, were successful in moving the dam site nine kilometers from the original site in order to save over R$1 billion in construction costs.

In response, Odebrecht and the federal public prosecutor's office threatened legal action suggesting GDF SUEZ should have proposed the change before the auction or conduct the five-year environmental study again.

As Odebrecht and GDF Suez are partners in other generation projects in Brazil, the government has been keen to put a plug in the dispute as it struggles to meet growing energy demands.

Although Brazil has been very successful in developing low-cost hydroelectric generation, the spate over the Jirau Project reflects broader problems with the development of new hydropower projects. Burdensome licensing processes and unclear procedures for managing environmental and social issues are a particular problem.

The environmental licensing process is usually long and expensive. The cost of dealing with environmental and social issues in hydropower development represents about 12 percent of total project cost.

As hydropower can have negative environmental and social consequences with most projects being built in fragile and inhabited Amazonian ecosystems, licensing procedures are critical.

But they need not be so arduous. The World Bank suggests a number of legislative and regulatory changes and by complementing Environmental Impact Assessment with zoning plans and Strategic Environmental Assessments.

Hydropower is expected to maintain its top position in Brazil’s energy matrix by making up 75% of its electricity by 2015. This could prove significant for reducing GHG emissions estimated to be around 18 MtCO2e per year.

However, emissions reductions are one side of the coin and should not usurp legitimate social and environmental concerns. Effective, swift and representative licensing procedures safeguarding these concerns should therefore remain paramount.
Published in Renewable Energy
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