03 November, 2009

China and Brazil: two key players in Copenhagen

China will likely play a pivotal role at COP15, next December in Copenhagen. Brazil can also have a leading role. This decision is on president Lula’s hand today.

Sergio Abranches

At the opening press conference in Barcelona, UN top climate change official Yvo de Boer said China is now the world leader on actions to reduce greenhouse gases emissions. The representative of the European Union has also commended China for its endeavors at reducing carbon emissions. Jonathan Pershing considered China’s attitude towards curbing emissions a “terrific” example.

A recent report by the World Resources Institute says China is getting ready to meet the climate change challenge, and will likely meet its targets to reduce GHG emissions. According to WRI, China’s national program has clear targets and goes beyond mitigation.

Reducing the energy intensity of GDP by 20 percent over the five years 2006 through the end of 2010.

Increasing alternative energy in the fuel mix to 15 percent by 2020.

Increasing forest cover to 20 percent of China’s land mass by the end of 2010.

The national program is more than a mitigation program. It also contains support for climate science and for preparedness and adaptation. China’s scientists have been active in the global effort to understand climate change and are increasingly involved in developing technical approaches to both mitigation and adaptation.

Professor Wei Liang, of the Monterey Institute of International Studies has told me that when president Hu Jintao spoke about the new Chinese National Program in New York, although he did not announce any operational detail, he was talking about real change. China will set the details on the negotiation table, and ask for a commensurate response from industrialized countries, especially the US.

The Brazilian proposal to reduce 80% of deforestation in the Amazon by 2020 has also been praised worldwide by commentators and government officials. But the Brazilian proposal lacks substance on operational grounds, and still has very fragile political foundations. Differently from the Chinese program, it is the result of neither considered government planning, nor a government policy consensus. The government is deeply divided.

Carlos Minc, minister for the Environment, has drawn a more careful proposal to deviate Brazil’s carbon emissions between 30% and 40% from the business as usual trajectory by 2020 – but it yet lacks effective operationalization. This proposal, adequately operationalized and implemented, could amount to a reduction of about 20% of total carbon emissions by 2020. That would require stopping deforestation not only in the Amazon, but also in the rich savannah (Cerrado), the Wetlands (Pantanal), and the Atlantic Rainforest; abandoning all fossil fuel fired thermal power plants the government has approved for the coming years; adopting new regulation for automotive emissions, fuel efficiency, and quality of fuel; among other measures.

President Lula is holding a cabinet meeting, with the ministers that will be in Copenhagen, to decide whether to adopt Minc’s proposal. On a prior meeting, Chief of Staff – and presidential candidate appointee – Dilma Roussef has been very critical, saying the plan would jeopardize Brazil’s growth prospects. Minister of Science and Technology, Sérgio Resende, was also unyielding. Celso Amorim, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, opposed the plan, because it would be offering far more than what is expected from Brazil in Copenhagen.

Carlos Minc has called on the Climate Network, a coalition of several Brazilian reputed scientific institutions, to help him draw different growth scenarios for his proposal and to better detail the actions required to meet the target. (See an interview of the president of the Brazilian Agency for Space Research explaining the network – in Portuguese). This new version will be discussed today with president Lula, in the cabinet meeting. There the Brazilian president will choose whether or not Brazil will join China as a pivotal player in Copenhagen, returning to the leading role it had at the Rio ’92 meeting.

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