Mauro Vieira, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Brazil
BRASILIA – As we approach the conference on climate change to be held in Paris in December (COP-21), perhaps the most intriguing question we might ask is this: Which country has made the largest reductions in its greenhouse gases emissions? Several scientific papers point to a clear answer: Brazil.
With an impressive 41 percent reduction in emissions since 2005, the country has kept more than 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Should the entire U.S. transport sector — including cars, trucks, trains, ships, airplanes and other vehicles — switch to renewables, it would take almost two years to achieve a similar reduction.
More than 20 years after the establishment of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), scientific evidence of climate change has increased substantially, the issue has become a political priority in most countries, several economic solutions have been proposed and public awareness has never been higher. And yet, reducing emissions remains a daunting challenge.
In most of the world, energy and transportation are the main sources of emissions. In spite of marginal gains — for instance, by means of improved energy efficiency — no country has put forth such a “game changer” in terms of the main sources of emissions as Brazil, which has managed to address what was until recently its primary source of emissions: deforestation.
On a global scale, deforestation accounts for less than 10 percent of emissions. With an emissions profile so different from the rest of the world, Brazil had to find its own way to fight it. Thus, in Copenhagen (2009), when Brazil pledged to reduce deforestation by 80 percent between 2005 and 2020, almost nobody believed it was possible, despite the fact that progress was already under way. After all, how could a developing country, facing so many other challenges, achieve such an unprecedented feat?
The critics and naysayers were rapidly proved wrong. As early as 2009, the Nature Conservancy, one of the world’s leading environmental nonprofit organizations, called Brazil a “responsible agricultural superpower,” highlighting the effectiveness of its certification system for agriculture crops in reducing deforestation. The involvement of local communities was a key element in this effort, which has been supported by one of the world’s most engaged civil societies. Indeed, three out of four Brazilians are “very concerned” with climate change, the second-highest proportion among 40 countries recently surveyed by the Pew Research Center.
Other bold policies — such as the increase in protected areas and regulations on which crops can be cultivated where — have helped curb deforestation. The success of these efforts quickly made its way to the headlines. In 2013, the Financial Times suggested that after decades of deforestation, Brazil’s policies might be turning the Amazon into a “paradise regained.” Also in 2013, the Economist described how Brazil was “using education, technology and politics to save its rain forest,” and the following year, it concluded that the country had become “the world leader in reducing environmental degradation.”
In due course, the scientific community decided to scrutinize Brazil’s policies in order to assess their results. The conclusions have been unequivocal: In 2014, Science published an article in which 17 scientists analyzed how Brazil was successfully “slowing Amazon deforestation through public policy and interventions in beef and soy supply chains.” In 2015 it was Nature that put forth an in-depth study leading to the conclusion, published in an editorial, that “the world must follow Brazil’s lead and do more to protect and restore forests.” Also this year, a study by researchers from Brazil and Germany, supported by the European Commission, found that “Brazil is considered to possess the most advanced deforestation monitoring and enforcement infrastructure.”
The recognition of Brazil’s success in tackling its main source of emissions by the international scientific community is very good news — but challenges persist. To remain vigilant, Brazil has established the Amazon Fund, a pioneering, results-based initiative that seeks funding for projects that have already demonstrated their effectiveness in reducing emissions. The fund is fully consistent with REDD+, which was established by the Climate Change Convention to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation as well as to enhance forest carbon stocks in developing countries.
Norway has been the first country to join the Amazon Fund, pledging $1 billion, and is very positive about it: In a report assessing the country’s initiatives on international climate, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation stated that “Brazil’s deforestation rate and corresponding greenhouse gas emissions have strongly decreased” and that the performance-based activities established under the Amazon Fund “are paving the way for future emissions reductions.” Germany has also contributed to the fund and in her latest visit to Brazil, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that “Germany will further contribute to the Amazon Fund, enhancing the results based payments under the REDD+.” Meanwhile, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), the United Kingdom’s leading independent think tank on international development, has carried out its own independent review of the fund, with quite positive assessments.
As the world’s second-largest developed and developing economies, respectively, Japan and Brazil are expected to actively engage in promoting sustainable development. Japan has been very clear about the immense challenges in reducing its own emissions, but it is clearly committed to supporting the global fight against climate change, as illustrated by its contribution to the Green Climate Fund (which is a powerful tool for promoting REDD+). Brazil, on its side, is conscious of the challenges it will continue to face in protecting its forests and the livelihoods of those living there and it expects that the examples of Norway and Germany will be followed by other developed countries. Our two countries share a long history of friendship, including cooperation in third countries. The preservation of forests can be a promising new frontier for bilateral and trilateral cooperation.