The country abandoned the agreement signed in 2015 last year but has now committed itself again to similar goals for cutting emissions and protecting forests. Experts believe that the agreement is good news, but they view Brazil’s position with skepticism.
After a lack of definition that lasted until the beginning of the debates at the Climate Summit this Monday (1st), the Bolsonaro government announced new targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and today (2nd) signed a declaration with another hundred countries for forest protection. These measures may open the path to foreign resources for conservation in Brazil. Experts viewed the gesture with skepticism.
In this Forest Deal, the country is once again committed to eliminating illegal deforestation between 2022 and 2028. Until then, Brazil has committed to reducing these crimes by 15% per year until 2024, 40% per year until 2026, 50% in 2027, and 100% in 2028. Deforestation and agriculture now account for almost 70% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
InfoAmazonia calculations based on deforestation alerts from the National Institute for Space Research’s (INPE) DETER system show that Brazil has deforested a third of the goal for forest restoration that it signed in December 2015 in the Paris Agreement. The country committed to recovering 12 million hectares of native vegetation by 2030, but it has moved in the opposite direction, increasing deforestation – about 4 million hectares of forests have been felled in the Amazon (40 thousand km²).
According to the Restoration and Reforestation Observatory, only 79,000 hectares were actively restored with native trees, or 0.65% of the Brazilian target in effect since the beginning of 2016. Eleven million hectares are regenerating naturally, almost all of it in the Amazon.
Official data shows that deforestation in the Amazon has risen since 2013. During Jair Bolsonaro's government, rates are approaching levels surpassed over a decade ago. “In the first two years of Jair Bolsonaro's government, the average deforestation rate in the Amazon was 60% higher than the average for the previous decade. Bolsonaro distances us from any commitment to reducing deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions,” summarized the executive secretary of the Climate Observatory, Márcio Astrini.
Six years ago, at the 21st United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21), in Paris (France), representatives from 195 countries and the European Union shook hands to try to keep the increase in the planet's average temperature below 2ºC and help the most vulnerable countries to face global warming. The agreement entered into force the following year, after being ratified by Brazil, and replaced the Kyoto Protocol of 1997.
In 2020, the Brazilian government announced milder climate targets compared to 2015 and did not detail how they would be achieved. The commitment to restore 12 million hectares of forests has been swept under the rug. The so-called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), which are commitments made by each country to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, also did not point out how different sectors would help achieve the goals. Specialists saw in the new parameters a permit for Brazil to emit around 400 million tons of greenhouse gases beyond the previous target.
“With the help of Parliament, the Bolsonaro government legalized socio-environmental crimes and mutilated public policies and legislation that helped to contain emissions and meet climate targets. Bill 1539/2001 was approved by the Senate and calls for an end to illegal deforestation by 2025, recovering part of the goals of the Paris Agreement. But it needs to be regulated by decree”, emphasized Maureen Santos, from the NGO FASE (Federation of Agencies for Social and Educational Assistance) and a professor at PUC-Rio.
Maintaining the health of tropical forests, such as in the South American Amazon and the Congo (Africa), is part of the urgent game of chess to contain the climate crisis which has resulted from deforestation, the advance of agriculture and urbanization, and the burning of gasoline, coal, and other fossil fuels. To try to reverse this situation, leaders of countries that are home to 85% of the world's forests signed the Declaration on Forests and Land Use at COP26 and pledged public and private resources totaling US$ 19.2 billion to maintain and restore forests.
Zero Deforestation by 2030
- More than 100 leaders representing more than 85% of the world's forests make a historic promise to end deforestation and land degradation by 2030
- $12 billion of public funds will be committed to protect and restore forests alongside $7.2 billion of private investment.
“Forests absorb a third of the global CO2 released by burning fossil fuels every year, but an area of forest the size of 27 football fields is lost every minute. Currently, 23% of global emissions come from land use changes such as logging, deforestation, and agriculture. Protecting forests and ending harmful land use is one of the most important things the world can do to limit catastrophic global warming”, states the Glasgow Leaders Declaration, of which Brazil is a signatory.
Countries like Brazil, which account for 75% of global trade in commodities such as soy and meat, produced mainly where there were forests, also signed another agreement, parallel to the Forest Agreement, aimed at the production of supposedly more sustainable items (tables on the side). But the commitment was also assessed with skepticism. “It is a declaration aiming to provide transparency to the supply chain heading to the global north rather than to create truly sustainable and inclusive production models. There is no real climate protection with this agribusiness model, based on land expansion, soil and water degradation, conflicts, and violence in the countryside", emphasizes Maureen Santos, from FASE.
New Commodity Deal
- Governments representing 75% of global trade in essential commodities that can threaten forests (such as palm oil, cocoa, and soy) will also sign a new Declaration on Forests, Agriculture and Commodities Trade, the FACT.
- The 28 governments are committing to a common set of actions to deliver sustainable trade and reduce pressure on forests, including supporting small farmers and improving transparency in supply chains.
The Brazilian Environment Minister, Joaquim Leite, presented goals at COP26 that expanded reduction goals for national emissions from 43% to 50% by 2030 and to reach net zero by 2050. Another promise was to end illegal deforestation by 2028. The measures may open the way for foreign financial contributions to public policies in Brazil.
The United States and the United Kingdom were the first countries to praise the official Brazilian announcement. But, for the Climate Observatory, the new goals only tie with the objectives proposed six years ago. “If it wanted to present a commitment compatible with the Paris Agreement, the target should be a cut of at least 80% (in emissions)”, emphasized the NGO collective.
“The announced targets were 'outsourced' for other governments to implement. And they depend a lot on fighting illegality, as the vast majority of deforestation in the Amazon is criminal. Bolsonaro is not in favor of the forest, he is not in favor of the Amazon. He is now your biggest enemy”, completed Márcio Astrini, executive secretary of the Climate Observatory.
Biologist Roberto Waack, one of the founders of the A Concert for the Amazon Initiative, sees the Glasgow Declaration of Forests as positive, since it reinforces the value of forests and other ecosystems in maintaining the climate, as a source of livelihood for countless people, and as a base for sustainable economies. It also highlights the role of indigenous and traditional communities in the climate equilibrium and opens up a series of opportunities for Brazil, for him as one of the countries with the greatest expertise in forestry, monitoring, and use of biodiversity.
Brazilian promises at COP26
- Cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 and to reach net zero by 2050. The previous target was 43% in cuts by the end of this decade.
- To reach zero illegal deforestation with reductions goals starting in 2022:
-> 15% per year until 2024
-> 40% per year in 2025 and 2026
-> 50% in 2027
-> and 100% in 2028
“We have unique possibilities to enjoy the Amazon as the world needs it and to become a great supplier of products associated with the maintenance of the forest and its peoples. But if we continue to deforest, treating native peoples poorly, we will throw away one of the greatest opportunities that the world has ever offered to Brazil. We are doing everything wrong. There is no option but to reverse all of this in the short term”, said Waack.
Due to the importance of the Amazon to maintain the global climate balance, Brazilian researchers published an article in the journal Nature reminding that it is urgent to contain not only clear-cutting, but also other powerful sources of gas emissions that help increase the Earth's average temperature, such as forest degradation, forest fires - criminal or otherwise - selective logging, and edge effect.
“Brazil destroyed one of the main sources of funds to face the climate crisis, the Amazon Fund. The Bolsonaro government maintains a more sustainable agricultural rhetoric for the world, but the reality is quite different. Its support base is made of denialists that are not interested in the climate crisis or the preservation of forests”, highlighted Maureen Santos, from FASE.
Bolsonaro and Vice President Hamilton Mourão are not at the COP26. In 2019, at the COP25 (Madrid), the country was represented by the then Minister of the Environment, Ricardo Salles, who was removed from office this year on suspicion of corruption. The meeting could have taken place in Brazil, but the newly elected Bolsonaro claimed that the country did not have resources and forced the withdrawal of the candidacy to be the venue of the meeting.
Perspectives for the fulfillment of agreements signed at COP26 are even more fragile given the Brazilian electoral calendar. The trend is to maintain a policy of setbacks until an effective change in the political scenario, evaluates Roberto Waack. “Nobody believes what the government says anymore. It is necessary to show a commitment to the climate and forest agendas in practice. Brazil is not that way, and the world is aware of our leading role. Society needs to understand the relevance of the climate agenda and put pressure on the Executive and Legislative branches”, he highlighted.
The next global climate conference, COP27, will take place next year, in Egypt, after general elections in Brazil.
This is an story by InfoAmazonia for the PlenaMata project.