"As major economies, the United States and Brazil will continue to lead in the fight against climate change. Since 2005, our two nations have reduced carbon emissions more than any other countries in the world." - President Obama
"Climate change is one of the central challenges of the 21st century... The environmental agenda in my view is absolutely key and essential for our two countries." - President Rousseff
President Obama and Rousseff made major headlines today when they announced a series of bilateral climate actions that the U.S. and Brazil will take together to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. These commitments address a range of complex issues including forestry, land use, energy and agriculture, and firmly position both countries as hemispheric leaders in the global efforts to combat climate change. Importantly, this announcement also leaves the road wide open for Brazil to make a strong post-2020 climate commitment ahead of the international negotiations in Paris.
Here are some of the highlights of today's bilateral announcement:
- Both countries committed to generate 20% of electricity with renewable energy (excluding hydropower) by 2030. For Brazil, this means more than doubling its current renewable contribution to the electricity matrix, which, according to data from the Inter-American Development Bank, was around 7.3% in 2012.
- More broadly, Brazil plans 28% to 33% of its energy matrix to come from renewable sources (electricity and biofuels) by 2030.
- Brazil pledged to restore 12 million hectares (almost 30 million acres) of the Amazon rainforest by 2030, and aims to end illegal deforestation. As President Obama pointed out, Brazil has pursued "very impressive efforts over the past decade to combat deforestation," which have resulted in major emissions reductions. Yet recent numbers show that deforestation rates in the country are rising again, and so these actions are crucial to the country's climate efforts.
- The U.S. and Brazil also agreed to collaborate on a number of forestry and land use initiatives that can improve the sustainable management and climate resilience of forests and agricultural systems.
- Both countries will work together to strengthen adaptation measures for ecosystems, infrastructure, agricultural security, food production and water resources.
This announcement puts Obama and Rousseff at the forefront of worldwide climate efforts today (an impressive feat, since both China and South Korea also made major climate announcements today). Yet these commitments are important not only to leaders on the international stage, but also to Brazilians who are feeling the realities of a changing climate on a daily basis - from the severe drought in São Paolo to the energy crisis. A recent poll found that 95% of Brazilians believe that climate change is already impacting people there, yet 85% also feel the government is not doing enough to address the problem.
As encouraging as today's agreements with President Obama are, many feel they are not enough, and hope for an INDC with even stronger commitments. Observatório do Clima, a group of 37 civil society organizations in Brazil, responded to today's announcement today by saying the announcements "fall short of the necessary level of ambition" to halt climate change. For example, they believe the 12 million hectares that President Rousseff pledged to reforest by 2030 should actually be double that amount, and that 20% of electricity generation coming from renewables by 2030 is really a business-as-usual number. In fact, Observatório do Clima has drafted its own "civil society INDC" for Brazil (available here) with sector-specific proposals for Brazil to limit its greenhouse gas emissions to 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030, and to reach carbon neutrality (along with other countries) by 2050.
With the momentum from today's bilateral announcement, the high level of concern among Brazilians about climate impacts, and concrete ideas from a broad range of civil society at hand, President Rousseff has an excellent opportunity to be really ambitious when Brazil announces its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) for Paris before the October 1 deadline. The door is open for Brazil to be a regional--indeed global--leader on climate change.