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Brazil’s Bolsonaro pledges 2050 climate neutrality; wants Western cash to do so

22 April 2021 Keiron Greenhalgh

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on 22 April announced the country would achieve climate neutrality by 2050, a decade ahead of the country's previous commitment, but he said such efforts would need substantial international funding to succeed.

Speaking at the Leaders Summit on Climate convened by US President Joe Biden for Earth Day, Bolsonaro said the neutrality pledge would be achieved by measures including eliminating illegal deforestation by 2030, "with full and prompt enforcement of the Brazilian forest code."

Leaders of other Latin American and South American nations also spoke at the event about their climate pledges and the need for greater financial support from wealthier nations.

Halving emissions by 2030

Brazil's GHG emissions would be reduced by nearly 50% by 2030, which Bolsonaro said would be a complex and difficult task, especially given budgetary constraints. Nonetheless, Bolsonaro said he plans to double the allocation of funds for environmental inspectors to help meet that goal.

The pledge comes as data from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research showed 11,088 square km of the country's rainforest was denuded between August 2019 and July 2020, an increase of 9.5% year on year, and the largest amount of deforestation since 2008.

Brazil is home to 60% of the Amazon, the world's largest tropical rainforest, which is seen as vital to the global fight against climate change.

Bolsonaro, who took power 1 January 2019, has been the subject of pointed criticism from environmentalists for encouraging deforestation. He's accused of favoring business interests, including cattle farmers and soy producers, instead of protecting rainforests.

Brazil has an estimated 214 million cattle, more than any other country. Its beef industry, worth $124 billion, accounts for 8% of the country's GDP, according to nonprofit Amnesty International.

Amnesty International Head of Crisis and Environment Richard Pearshouse said in December 2020: "Jair Bolsonaro has prioritized profits of large companies over the wellbeing of vulnerable people. Protected areas continue to burn so that commercial cattle ranching can expand."

Some US lawmakers are also skeptical about Bolsonaro's intentions too, with 15 senators sending a letter to the White House earlier in April urging Biden to impose conditions on his Brazilian counterpart in any deals.

Bolsonaro sees things somewhat differently. "In the countryside, we have promoted a green revolution, based on science and innovation. We produce more using less resources, which makes Brazilian agriculture one of the most sustainable practices on the planet," he said.

Those practices as well as efforts to protect the inhabitants of the Amazon meant the world could be sure Brazil would do more than its fair share to thwart global warming, he said.

As a result, Bolsonaro, who was famously pally with President Donald Trump, told Biden: "We could not agree more with your call of establishing ambitious commitments." Arguing the "science is undeniable" when it comes to the threat climate change poses, Biden announced a new goal 22 April of halving the US economy's GHG emissions compared with 2005 by 2030.

Brazil has a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) that would see its GHG emissions reduced by 37% by 2025 and up to 40% by 2030, said Bolsonaro, which he noted were absolute targets and made Brazil one of the few developing nations to adopt an NDC and to re-affirm it.

The country has one of the world's cleanest power generation mixes, he said, noting its reliance as well as continued investment in hydro-electric, biomass, wind, and solar facilities.

Bolsonaro said Brazil accounts for less than 3% of global annual emissions, noting the developed world's past two centuries of burning of fossil fuels were to blame for global warming and climate change.

As a result, Brazil and its fellow members of the developing world should be incentivized to preserve rainforests like the Amazon and avoid increasing their burning of fossil fuels, he said.

"Fair payment" for environmental services and in particular Brazil's contribution to conservation activities is required, he said. These must recognize the value of standing forest and improve the lives of over 23 million Amazon residents, he added.

"The right to development must be materialized in such a way as to equitably and sustainably respond to the environmental needs of both current and future generations," he said, citing the results of the 1992 Earth Summit in Brazil, which led to the Rio Declaration.

Bolsonaro had previously reached out to Biden in person, asking for help to end illegal deforestation of the Amazon in an early April letter, according to US media.

AMLO puts hand out too

Biden's summit attracted many of Central America and South America's leaders, including Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who also used the occasion to demand funding from Biden and the US taxpayer.

López Obrador sought funding to thread the needle and solve two of the trickiest and highest profile issues in Biden's inbox -- climate change and migrants heading for Mexico's land border with the US -- in one swoop.

A sustainable solution to the migration issue is needed, Obrador said. Directly addressing Biden, Obrador said he had such a solution. The plan would involve the US financing efforts in Mexican and other Central American nations to manage the flows of migrants heading north, he said.

Obrador said the US could fund employment in sustainable agriculture and reforestation for the individuals heading across Central America, and at the end of a period of three to four years those workers would be rewarded for their efforts with temporary work permits in the US.

Should those individuals then spend a similar period in the US working legally and paying taxes, then the American government would dangle the carrot of residency in front of them, he said. He called upon the region's leaders, including Biden, to organize migration flows much better.

The US Department of State, which organized the climate summit and is responsible for international relations, including the flood of migrants heading north from Central America, was not available for comment immediately 22 April. The high-profile immigration issue, the domain of Biden under President Barack Obama, is currently on the plate of his own vice president, Kamala Harris. Biden wants Congress to authorize $4 billion to tackle the issue.

Climate-debt swaps

Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez was more subtle than his counterparts in Brazil and Mexico. He did not single out Biden and the US, instead calling on developed nations collectively to aid their developing nation brethren.

Climate for debt (CFD) swaps would be an apt reward for Colombia meeting its NDC target, he said. Márquez said he was making two commitments ahead of the COP26 meeting in Glasgow, Scotland in November: a 51% GHG emissions reduction by 2030; and carbon neutrality by 2050.

According to the International Institute for Environment and Development, CFD swaps "are where a creditor allows the debt to be reduced -- either by conversion to local currency and/or paid at a lower interest rate or some form of debt write-off -- and the money saved is used to invest in poverty-reducing climate resilience, climate emissions mitigation or biodiversity protection initiatives."

Márquez's call was echoed by that of Jamaican President Andrew Holness, who said a CFD program was an "equitable" financing solution for the path the net zero.

Gabon President Ali Bongo Ondimba is a CFD fan too. He said Africa is suffering the most from climate change and should be rewarded for its sequestration of emissions, noting the continent was not sitting on its hands on the matter, including through the Africa Adaptation Initiative, which held talks 6 April on the subject. Forests cover 88% of Gabon's land mass, Ondimba said.

Posted 22 April 2021 by Keiron Greenhalgh, Senior Editor


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