Brazil expects to see its lowest rates of illegal deforestation since 1988 by the end of this year.
Minister of Environment Izabella Teixeira said the government will reduce the annual chopping and burning of the Amazon rainforest to between 4,000 and 5,000 square kilometers. The figures will be announced in the run-up to this year's U.N. climate change conference in Cancun, Mexico, this December.
The Amazon clearing is a far cry from the 24,000 square kilometers the so-called "lungs of the Earth" lost in the beginning of this decade. But, Teixeira said, it's also not enough.
"OK, you did this, yes, we are so great," the minister said in a self-mocking flourish at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars' Brazil Institute. But, she added with seriousness, "this challenge is not the only one."
Last year, at climate talks in Copenhagen, Denmark, Brazil promised to reduce its carbon dioxide output 36 percent over the coming decade. Meeting that goal would bring Brazil -- now the world's seventh-largest emitter -- back to its 1994 levels. This week, Teixeira said, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will sign Brazil's sectoral strategy and investment plan to show how the country will meet that target. Also this week, Brazil will launch a long-planned climate change fund, bankrolled by a levy on oil production and exploration.
Together, these moves and others are part of a larger Brazilian strategy of assuming a new role in the U.N. climate talks: that of an emerging economic superpower intent on protecting smaller, developing countries while also proving to the United States and others that it will do its part to fight rising global emissions.
But what impact that will have at the 16th U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP16, talks, where nearly all attention will be focused on getting the United States and China to come to terms over mitigating emissions, is unclear.
An emerging player throws chips on the table
In an interview with ClimateWire after speaking to the Brazil Institute about the current Convention on Biological Diversity conference in Nagoya, Japan, Teixeira was at once dismissive and upbeat about the Cancun meeting.
"COP 16? Forget it," said Teixeira when told the interview topic. Then she recovered. Cancun, she said, is key to bringing leaders together. "It's important that you have a pragmatic approach, and that you can show the global society that we are doing something. It's important to show the world that we can establish a pragmatic basis for actions."
Teixeira maintained the need for an international treaty -- though she didn't specify when that might become a reality -- and stressed the importance of developed countries like the United States making good on commitments to give poor countries $30 billion by 2020 to cope with climate change consequences.
"Let's be current with our declaration," she said. "If we're not able to do this, why are we able to spend lots of money with wars?"
The gregarious minister, who in the course of her public talk teased a questioner about her marital status ("I hope that you can have a lot of marriages. High biodiversity.") and handed her personal e-mail to a graduate student who had written recently on Brazil, offered few other specifics on COP16. Instead, she peppered much of her talk with platitudes.
On whether the Cancun meeting is a referendum on the troubled U.N. climate process: "It's important to understand that climate change is an issue with high complexity."
On whether countries, including Brazil, trust the United States when it says it will keep its Copenhagen promise to cut carbon about 17 percent below 2005 levels, despite the absence of legislation: "It's very important that you have political leadership from President Obama."
As to whether Lula will attend COP16, the minister said she wasn't sure. But, she added, "to have political leadership, you don't necessarily need to go to the COP."
Brazil's plan to grow jobs in a 'low-carbon economy'
But beyond the boilerplate on Cancun, Teixeira was clear about what she felt Brazil must do in the international arena. The sectoral agreements, which will lay out plans to both reduce the country's deforestation rates 80 percent by 2020 as well as sharp emission reductions in the agriculture and steel industry, she said, are key.
"This is part of a strategy to have a plan for a low-carbon economy," she said. Brazil, Teixeira insisted, needs to have the blueprint not just as something to show the international community, but for its own economic and social development.
"We need to change," she said. "I do believe we need to have a different approach. Not just how to preserve, how to conserve, but how to use. ... We are doing our part, but we need to think about development in the Amazon region."
Amazon deforestation accounts for more than half of Brazil's emissions. Since 2004, though, rates have steadily declined, due both to tough new enforcement provisions and to falling commodity prices. But at the same time, Teixeira noted, demand for energy has increased 13 percent per year in the Amazon regions -- and that's something policymakers can't ignore, either.
"I also have to generate jobs, and I have to increase the social inclusion," she said. "It's very important that you show how environmental issues are a precondition for social development, not a restriction."
On the international level, she called for new leadership. Not necessarily from in her own country -- which, one way or another, will get it when voters elect a president to succeed Lula on Oct. 31. Rather, the entire trajectory of the climate change discussions needs to focus more on ways to listen to the needs of developing countries and, she said, "understand the perspectives of the other side."
In Cancun, Teixeira said, "We are working hard to have some results there. We can have good news in Cancun. We cannot give up on the Cancun conference."