Rousseff Pledges to Cut Brazil's Carbon Emissions 37% by 2025

  • Brazil will increase share of renewables in its energy mix
  • Decarbonizing economy offers opportunity for growth, NGO says

Brazil will cut its contribution to climate change by reducing carbon emissions 37 percent by 2025 compared to 2005, President Dilma Rousseff announced, just days before a deadline for countries participating in December’s global climate summit in Paris.

The South American country, custodian of the world’s largest tropical rainforest and Latin America’s biggest economy, will also seek to lower emissions 43 percent by 2030, Rousseff told leaders gathered at the United Nations on Sunday. The announcement comes as Brazil is forecast to suffer its first back-to-back annual recession since the 1930s.

“Sustainable development requires everyone to promote decent work conditions, create high quality jobs and guarantee opportunities,” Rousseff said. “Even as Brazil faces difficulties, it won’t go back on advances already achieved.”

Rousseff’s moment on the global stage is a welcome respite from the political and economic crises trailing her at home, where recession, inflation and a crumbling currency threaten the achievements her Workers’ Party has undertaken since 2003. Last year’s drought and current challenges in the oil sector could help force Brazil to develop a more sustainable economy, according to Viviane Romeiro, head of Brazil climate projects for the World Resources Institute.

“A very ambitious goal can generate economic growth,” Romeiro said. “We are seeing a new movement where even President Rousseff, who used to be more skeptical with some of the renewable technologies like wind and solar, I think she’s becoming more convinced.”

Progress Reversing

Brazil is one of the last major economies to submit its climate plan to the UN. The national pledges are at the heart of the agreement that envoys hope to complete in Paris. The pact would be the first to commit all countries, developed and developing alike, to reining in greenhouse gas pollution.

Brazil reduced its carbon emissions by 41 percent from 2005 to 2012, largely through preventing deforestation and improving land use. However, that progress leveled off and began reversing in recent years due to emissions from agriculture, livestock, energy and industry, according to government data.

Rousseff used her June visit to Washington to announce Brazil’s commitment to eliminate illegal deforestation in the Amazon and increase the percentage of renewable sources besides hydroelectricity in its energy matrix to 33 percent by 2030. President Barack Obama pledged to triple the electricity currently generated by non-hydro renewables in the U.S.

Long-held Division

While Obama’s climate pledges last year alongside President Xi Jinping of China suggested an easing of the division between developing economies and wealthy nations responsible for most of the world’s historic carbon emissions, Brazil maintains the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities,” for dealing with the effects of climate change, said Raphael Azeredo, the Foreign Ministry’s environment director.

“Of course current emissions are part of the problem, but it’s well-recognized that developed countries have historic responsibility for the accumulation,” Azevedo said.

Romeiro, of the WRI, said this argument risks missing an opportunity for emerging markets to gain a competitive edge on sustainable development. She said Rousseff, even with her background in the oil industry, is beginning to recognize that the future is in an increasingly decarbonized economy.

“Emerging economies have access to new technologies that developed countries didn’t have in the past,” Romero said. “This is an opportunity to create a new climate economy.”

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