FAPESP and the Sustainable Development Goals

Researchers highlight inconsistencies of Brazilian policy to deal with climate crisis

Researchers highlight inconsistencies of Brazilian policy to deal with climate crisis

In the run-up to the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), experts participating in a webinar hosted by FAPESP showed that the 2020 revision of Brazil’s nationally determined contribution failed to improve targets and allows in practice for a higher level of greenhouse gas emissions.

Published on 06/21/2021

By José Tadeu Arantes  |  Agência FAPESP – Postponed last year because of the pandemic, the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) will be held in Glasgow, Scotland, on November 1-12, 2021, with the United Kingdom presiding. Great expectations herald the event, which in the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres “is a critical milestone in our efforts to avert climate catastrophe”.

In a recent address to the UN General Assembly, Guterres said the world “remains way off-target” in limiting global warming to below 2 °C and preferably to 1.5 °C compared with pre-industrial levels, as per the 2015 Paris Agreement. “The global coalition for net zero emissions [of greenhouse gases] needs to grow exponentially,” he stressed.

COP26 will focus on efforts to achieve the targets agreed in Paris and the urgent action required in response to the global climate crisis. In this context, an assessment of nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and the progress made to implement these is vital. The NDCs are voluntary national targets to which each of the 196 signatories to the agreement is committed. Countries had five years to submit and revise their NDCs.

In its 2015 NDC, Brazil promised cuts in greenhouse gas emissions of 37% by 2025 and 43% by 2030 compared with the 2005 level. The 2020 revision left these percentages unchanged but raised the baseline level, thus not only failing to improve the targets, which would have been desirable, but also actually weakening them in real terms.

For mathematician Thelma Krug, a researcher at the National Space Research Institute (INPE) in Brazil and Vice-Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in contrast with the broad debate involving politicians, scientists and civil society organizations that preceded the announcement of the 2015 NDC, “there were no public consultations on the 2020 revision and no implementation plan exists”.

Krug made the remark during the second webinar in the series “COP 26: Discussing Brazil’s NDC” organized by FAPESP. The focus for this event was governance and economic and social aspects.

Besides Krug, the speakers were Joaquim Guilhoto, Professor of Economics at the University of São Paulo’s the School of Economics, Management and Accounting (FEA-USP) and an economist at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD); Ana Toni, a former Chair of the Board of Greenpeace International and currently Executive Director of Instituto Clima e Sociedade (ICS); and Ana Maria Nusdeo, a professor at the University of São Paulo’s Law School (FD-USP) and a former president of Instituto O Direito por um Planeta Verde.

The event was opened by Luiz Eugênio Mello, FAPESP’s Scientific Director, and Jean Ometto, Senior Researcher at INPE and a member of the steering committee for FAPESP’s Research Program on Global Climate Change (RPGCC). The moderator was Jacques Marcovitch, Senior Professor at FEA-USP and a former Rector of USP.

Krug said the global situation is alarming, showing in her presentation that based on data from all NDCs compiled and harmonized by the IPCC’s experts in 2018 (before the 2020 revision), the trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions will lead to a temperature rise of 3 °C by the end of this century and that the global average temperature will continue to rise thereafter. “This is totally inconsistent with the targets set by the Paris Agreement,” she noted.

Given the need for drastic action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by many countries, Brazil’s 2020 revised NDC corresponds in practice to a real rise in such emissions compared with the 2015 NDC. In millions of gigatons of CO2 equivalent, the 2025 target was raised from 1.38 to 1.72 and the 2030 target from 1.25 para 1.56 (approximate numbers).

“In addition, the Brazilian government has conditioned the 2060 net zero emissions target [which it says could be reached in 2050] to the appropriate functioning of market mechanisms in accordance with article 6 of the Paris Agreement,” Krug said. “It is also soliciting payment of 10 billion US dollars per year from 2021 for conservation of native forests, among other uses.”

Reducing greenhouse gases to net zero is imperative to avert a climate catastrophe and preserve a chance of sustainable wellbeing for the planet’s inhabitants, but it is also urgently needed for the future of the global economy, Guilhoto stressed in his presentation. “After the fall in economic activity caused by the pandemic, many countries are taking advantage of this historic moment to reopen their economies and resume development on a new basis. The US, China and European Union are reformulating the ways in which they produce and use energy, and investing in new low-emission technologies,” he said.

In contrast, Brazil’s exports are highly carbon-intensive, constituting a major weakness in the new global economic setting. “Taxing carbon at national borders is under discussion. Countries would measure the amount of carbon in imported goods and tax it in order to benefit local low-carbon production,” Guilhoto said. “At the same time, the EU and multilateral bodies like the IMF [International Monetary Fund] and OECD are developing a series of instruments that will affect investment and economic growth, conditioning the extension of credit facilities to countries and companies on the production of low- or zero-carbon goods.”

Alongside all these trends, new social, political and economic actors are emerging to influence climate crisis policies at the national and international levels, Toni noted in her presentation. “Incontestable scientific evidence of global warming was first publicized in the 1960s and followed in the next two decades by denial campaigns sponsored by the oil companies,” she said. “This quickly politicized discussion of the climate change issue, but for a long time the discussion was confined inside a bubble. In the last ten years, the bubble has burst, and science-based climate action movements have spread around the world.”

Climate justice demonstrations, merging of the global warming and human rights agendas, youth environmental activism exemplified by Greta Thunberg and many others who speak out at meetings and on social media, activist investors and shareholders forcing large corporations to back away from denialism, climate litigation against governments and companies, and inclusion of environmental criteria in economic recovery plans were among the new trends in efforts to address the climate, all science-based, mentioned by Toni as examples of broad societal movements that are no longer confined to talking shops and negotiating tables.

“The pandemic and climate change are key drivers of geopolitics in 2021,” she said. “The US and EU use tax incentives to put climate in the center of the economic agenda as an engine of development. The newest thing of all is unquestionably the departure of [Donald] Trump, a denialist, and the advent of [Joe] Biden, whose first moves included returning to the Paris Agreement and convening the Leaders Summit on Climate in April.”

In the next presentation, Nusdeo recalled that when international treaties such as the Paris Agreement are internalized into domestic law, their provisions can be enforced and non-compliance is subject to penalization. 

“Article 4 of the Agreement requires the parties to prepare, communicate and maintain successive nationally determined contributions, and to pursue measures with the aim of achieving the objectives of these contributions. The text expresses a strong expectation that the successive NDCs will represent a progression, but doesn’t establish a mechanism to penalize countries that fail to achieve their targets,” Nusdeo said.

This flexibility, Nusdeo and other participants in the panel explained, was chosen in order to ensure that as many governments as possible would sign the Paris Agreement quickly. However, the text does call for mechanisms conducive to transparency in the shape of national communications, biennial reports, and international assessment and review, with the aim of explaining the actions of governments to the international community and their own societies.

Internalized via Decree 9073 in 2017, the Paris Agreement has the status of domestic law in Brazil. “Because of this status, it’s possible to go to court to force the government to discharge its obligations. In April 2021, indeed, a group of young environmental activists sought a judicial decision annulling the 2020 NDC as harmful to the public interest and requiring the government to issue a new NDC with progressivity,” Nusdeo said.

The problem is the time taken by the law and courts to respond to the climate crisis, which is an emergency. As an alternative, Nusdeo proposed the creation of a climate change regulatory agency with functional, administrative and financial autonomy, no hierarchical subordination, and a fixed term of office for its members.

A recording of the webinar can be watched at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyUwz5JF-WA.


Source: https://agencia.fapesp.br/36172