New Brazilian government ratifies Paris Accord

After China and the US, Brazil is the next largest emitter to turn historic deal into law

Less than two weeks after officially taking over as president of Brazil, Michel Temer has announced that the Paris Accord will be enshrined in national law. The announcement follows the joint ratification by the US and China earlier in September.

Having largely overlooked climate change in his government’s new development plan called ‘A bridge to the future’, Temer’s speech announcing ratification marks one of his first forays into the discussion. According to the new president, Brazil has made big strides forward in tackling climate change: “It is extremely important in the coming years to follow the steps Brazil is taking, that will be an example for other countries.”

But Temer now has the complex task of transforming written promises into actions. By 2025, the Brazilian government has committed to cut emissions by 37% compared to 2005 levels. By 2030, this will increase to 43%.

“This task will require a lot of intelligence, dialogue, and good public policy,” said Marcelo Furtado of the Brazil Climate, Forest, and Agriculture Coalition, who added that Brazil’s policymakers should have the competency to carry this out.

For the Paris Accord to enter into force, at least 55 countries responsible for 55% of global carbon emissions must ratify the agreement. Brazil accounts for 2.48% of these emissions, according to its environment ministry.

“unambitious” targets

According to Pedro Telles of Greenpeace Brasil’s Climate Campaign, the goals announced in the country’s INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contribution), which after ratification become NDC, or firm contributions, are unambitious.

“Most of what has been proposed was already met,” Telles said, adding; “for example, we’re very close to reaching 28% to 33% of renewable energy in the energy matrix, excluding hydro.”

The Paris Agreement states that the first round of reviews of national targets will take place in 2018. “The Brazilian Government can raise the bar whenever it wants to. It is essential to increase goals before 2018 to limit temperature increase by as close to 1.5°C as possible,” Telles said.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), has said that, so far, proposals by all signatory countries are not enough to achieve the desired scenario. A study published last July in Nature showed that announced cuts in emissions would limit the planet’s average temperature rises to between 2.6°C and 3.1°C by 2100.

Recession and consumption

In times of economic recession, energy consumption and GHG emissions drop in Brazil. Updated data from the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Estimation System (SEEG) at Brazil’s Climate Observatory (OC) show that electricity consumption plummeted between 2014 and 2015.

“We don’t want emissions to fall because the economy stopped. We want a change of course, a low-carbon economy,” said Tasso Azevedo, coordinator of SEEG.

A ground-breaking study coordinated by Greenpeace in collaboration with renowned scientists showed that clean growth is feasible. According to the study, diesel, coal, and nuclear powered thermoelectric power plants can be eliminated within the next 40 years, while and the number of plants burning natural gas could be reduced.

In 2050, up to 93% of electricity could be generated from renewable sources, the study says, with 45.65% generated by hydroelectric plants, followed by wind energy (20.38%), biomass (16.6%), and solar energy (9.26%).

“We have demonstrated how we can actually get to this scenario, and that it won’t be necessary to take chances on projects that pollute and cause major environmental impacts, such as new dams in the Amazon,” Telles said.

According to Furtado, Brazil, which has been experiencing political uncertainty following the impeachment of former president Dilma Rousseff and a massive corruption scandal, will need to organise itself in order to attract investment: “The business opportunities are huge: low-carbon economy, renewable energy, and restoration of degraded areas are some examples that can bring medium-term gains for investors,” he said.

Above all, Furtado said, the implementation of the Paris Accord and the subsequent reconfiguration of Brazil into a low-carbon economy requires the will of the Brazilian people.

“Despite all the political turmoil, the agreement was ratified in record time, which suggests a favourable climate. We’re going to have to engage in public policies to leverage resources and change the country’s course of development,” he said.