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Brazil grasps the nettle of climate mitigation

Listening to Brazil’s Environment Minister, Carlos Minc, on a conference call with the international media today (see the write-up about it by blogger colleague Stuart Pimm), I started to appreciate the magnitude of Brazil’s struggle to adapt to climate change. And then I saw the opportunities.

We tend to think of this country as the home of the world’s largest equatorial rain forest, the Amazon. We know that Brazil has found it challenging to slow the aggressive deforestation of the Amazon in recent years–the major focus of today’s news conference call.

But what may not be as well appreciated is the impact of a warming world on a country so vast that it straddles many ecosystems that are packed with biodiversity.

In Brazil’s northeast, Minc said today, there is a history of suffering from drought. A two-degree rise in global average temperatures would imply that a third of that region’s economy would be lost, he said. So Brazil is already planning and preparing for this scenario by building ponds and reservoirs, to prepare for even drier conditions.

On the other hand, Minc continued, Brazil was experiencing flooding on its coasts, exposing the coastal population to “environmental and social vulnerabilities.” Brazil’s mitigation efforts for this consequence of climate change includes building drainage, relocating the most vulnerable communities, and planting trees.

It’s no wonder that Brazil is stepping so boldly forward to lead the world in setting aggressive targets to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are raising temperatures and disrupting the planet’s climate with abnormal droughts and floods.


Carlos Minc, Brazil’s Environment Minister

Photo courtesy of Brazil’s Ministry of Environment

In Brazil’s case the strategy to throttle back on the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere focuses on slowing deforestation in all biomes (not only the Amazon, Minc said). Deforestation is the source of much of the country’s carbon emissions. But the mitigation strategy also includes working on energy efficiency, biofuels (Brazil is already a world leader in the use of ethanol), and sustainable harvesting/agriculture.

Some of Brazil’s adaptation to climate change is being funded by a tax on the profits of the fossil fuel industry. It is the first country to do this, Minc said.

Brazil also sees economic opportunities in programs that enable the more developed countries to offset their carbon emissions by investing in the conservation and revitalization of Brazil’s forests. To prepare itself for this, Brazil is addressing issues such as monitoring, law enforcement, accountability, protecting biodiversity, and sustainable use of the forests by local, and especially indigenous, communities. It’s a compelling concept–Brazil’s forests and biodiversity belong to the planet as a whole and we all have a vital interest in, and share the responsibility for, their conservation.

By aiming at aggressive targets to cut its emissions through a multi-pronged approach–Brazil recently announced it would like to achieve a reduction of at least 36 percent on its carbon emissions by the year 2020–Brazil is showing the way for other nations. Already South Africa and India have followed its example by proposing targets for their emission reductions.

China and the U.S., the biggest emitters, are reluctant to suggest targets for themselves at next month’s climate talks in Copenhagen. But the example being set by Brazil and others may be having an impact, Minc suggested. “We have been observing that they have been taking a few steps back from their position,” Minc said today. “So it’s important to keep the debate going.”