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In U.S.-Brazil statement on climate change, Rousseff misses opportunity for international leadership

Presidents Obama and Rousseff deserve credit for putting climate change at the top of their bilateral agenda today.

Roberto Stuckert Filho/PR

President Obama and President Rousseff announced June 30 that the U.S. and Brazil would increase collaboration on climate change. Above: Obama and Rousseff at a 2011 press conference. Photo: Roberto Stuckert Filho/PR via Flickr

Public commitment to a strong Paris outcome from two major emitters that are already taking significant action on climate is more than welcome. Restoring 12 million hectares of degraded forest, as President Rousseff has pledged, is a positive contribution – albeit no more than Brazil’s current law mandates.

It is highly promising that the two major economies are creating a high-level working group to move the climate change agenda forward.  Particularly interesting is the pledge to develop innovative public-private finance mechanisms both for clean energy and the forestry sector.

It is however, disappointing that President Rousseff’s goal on deforestation – to “pursue policies aimed at eliminating illegal deforestation” – goes no further than compliance with existing law.

Brazil has already reduced Amazon deforestation by 70% below the historical average since 2005 while increasing soy and beef production, and has an ambitious but entirely achievable goal of an 80% reduction by 2020.

Amazon states are taking the lead on reducing emissions from deforestation and putting in place the policy frameworks needed to consolidate these gains. Pará state has adopted a goal of zero deforestation by 2020, while Acre governor Tião Viana affirmed to UK government officials and private investors that Acre can, with adequate support, zero out deforestation within three years.

Particularly in light of Pope Francis’s inspiring encyclical on climate change, President Rousseff sells Brazil’s achievements and abilities short in stating that all Brazil will do is follow its own law. President Rousseff has an enormous opportunity for international leadership on climate change, building on Brazil's impressive success to date and leveraging the progress and commitments by Brazilian states. She should seize that opportunity – and adopt a more aggressive and ambitious national target in advance of the Paris conference at year's end.

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Lima climate talks: Narrow outcome gives more clarity on path to Paris

Sea temperature map

A map at the Lima climate negotiations shows sea surface temperatures around the world. Source: Flickr (UNclimatechange)

The annual United Nations climate talks concluded in Lima, Peru, with a narrow outcome that provides some additional clarity on the path to finalizing a new climate agreement next year in Paris.

Nations were able to make limited progress on the modest goals expected of them, including:

  1. clarifying how countries will report their “intended nationally determined contributions” in early 2015; and
  2. identifying the main elements of the agreement to be negotiated next year and wrapped up in Paris.

When the talks ended well past their Friday deadline, Nathaniel Keohane, Vice President for international climate said:

The foot-dragging in Lima is out of step with the urgent signs of climate change that are already apparent in Peru's melting glaciers and threatened fisheries, as well as around the globe. To finalize an effective climate agreement in Paris next year, negotiators will have to move past the tired tactics and old ways of thinking that were on display these last two weeks.

We will not solve climate change with a single UN agreement. What an agreement in Paris can do is build a structure that spurs countries to be more ambitious, makes them accountable for their progress, and gives them the confidence that other countries are taking action as well.

With each passing year, more and more momentum on climate change is building outside the UNFCCC. The UN talks remain a valuable forum — the one place where all countries come together to discuss climate change. But as we have seen in the past few months, there are now multiple ways forward on climate change, including direct cooperation between nations, action by states and provinces, and engagement by the private sector. To make progress at the scale and pace required to meet the challenge of climate change, we need to take advantage of every pathway we have.

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Also posted in Lima (COP-20), UN negotiations| 3 Responses

Lima climate talks: What progress can be made at COP 20?

Coming into this year’s UN climate talks in Lima, countries were riding a wave of positive momentum generated by good news.

COP20 plenary

As climate talks in Lima enter their final week, the main question is how much progress negotiators will make toward an effective international agreement for the long run. Source: Flickr (UNclimatechange)

In Beijing last month, the leaders of the world’s two largest economies — and largest emitters — stood together to underscore their joint commitment to addressing climate change.

A few weeks prior, the European Union announced its plans to reduce emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.

As a result, the three jurisdictions that account for nearly half of annual carbon pollution worldwide have all made significant commitments to reduce or limit their emissions (although more ambitious cuts are needed to put the world on a path to climate safety).

As with many important topics, however, to get a full sense of how the UN climate negotiations are going requires also looking beyond the headlines.

As the talks enter their second and final week, some of the developments outside of the spotlight are raising concerns even as the US-China bilateral agreement continues to be the basis for broader optimism.

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Also posted in Lima (COP-20), UN negotiations| 1 Response

Building on global momentum, Lima climate talks take on foundational issues

The annual UN climate conference kicked off today in Lima, Peru, and over the next two weeks delegates from more than 190 countries will be seeking to build on the momentum created by the recent US-China bilateral agreement and efforts launched at September's Climate Summit.

Christiana Figueres

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres opens the latest round of UN climate talks in Lima, Peru. Source: Flickr (UNclimatechange)

Nathaniel Keohane, vice president of EDF's International Climate Program and a former economic adviser in the Obama administration said in EDF's opening statement:

Lima signals the bell lap in the current round of talks leading to a climate agreement in Paris next year. Countries won’t finalize an agreement in Lima, but they should make progress in setting out fundamental elements of such an agreement.

No single UN agreement will solve climate change. What an agreement in Paris can do is to build a structure that spurs countries to be more ambitious, makes them accountable for their progress, and gives them the confidence that other countries are taking action as well.  The talks in Lima can lay the groundwork for such an outcome.

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Also posted in Deforestation, Lima (COP-20), REDD, UN negotiations, United States| Leave a comment

An urgent call to climate action in the IPCC Synthesis Report

Photo: IPCC

It was released two days late for Halloween, but an international report on the dangers of climate change still has plenty of information about our warming planet that will chill you to the core.

The report is the latest from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPCC releases a series of reports every six or seven years that assess the latest data and research on climate change. This latest is the Fifth Assessment Synthesis Report—a culmination of three earlier reports in this series.

The Synthesis Report summarizes the physical science of climate change; current and future impacts, vulnerabilities, and adaptation of the human and natural worlds; and mitigation opportunities and necessities.

More than anything else, the report underscores the urgent need for action. Read More »

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Who deserves credit for protecting Brazil's Amazon rainforest? It's not even close.

Who’s responsible for the 70% reduction in Amazon deforestation that’s made Brazil the world leader in reducing greenhouse gas pollution, keeping 3.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere since 2005?

Who, if anyone, is responsible for the 29% increase in deforestation from 2012 – 2103 (which looks to repeat in 2014)?

Simon Romero’s New York Times story, Clashing Visions of Conservation Shake Brazil’s Presidential Vote, asks these questions from the vantage of wild-west frontier town Novo Progresso, Pará.

Terra do Meio_Brazil_map

The shaded area shows the indigenous territories and protected areas of the Terra do Meio region, whose 7 million hectares of protected forests Marina Silva created as environment minister.

Part of the answer lies just up the BR-163 highway from Novo Progresso, in the indigenous territories and protected areas of the Terra do Meio region of the Xingu River basin. When Marina Silva took over as environment minister in 2003, the Terra do Meio was overrun with gunmen working for land grabbers busy threatening forest communities, opening roads and clearing forest.

After Marina put together the national Plan to Prevent and Control Amazon Deforestation – and after American nun Sister Dorothy Stang was murdered nearby in 2005 – the government created about 7 million hectares of protected areas in the previously lawless Terra do Meio. The land grabbers and their hired guns left, because they knew they weren’t getting land titles in officially recognized indigenous territories and protected areas – and deforestation stopped.

This illustrates why legally recognizing indigenous territories and creating protected areas have been so effective in reducing deforestation on the Amazon frontier. Public lands not designated for any specific use (e.g., park, indigenous territory, national forest), like the Terra do Meio before 2005, are historically subject to invasion by land grabbers, who clear forest in order to claim the land. Once government declares land a park or reserve, it can’t be treated like no man’s land anymore, and the incentive to drive out local communities and clear forest goes away.

The science on how and why Brazil reduced Amazon deforestation agrees across the board that while various factors are in play (consumer and government pressure through commodity supply chains, law enforcement, increasing agriculture yields on cleared lands), creating protected areas and particularly legally recognizing indigenous lands is a very important part of the answer. (For more, see Nepstad et al, 2014; Soares Filho et al, 2010; Assunção, Gandour and Rocha, 2012; and Busch and Ferretti-Gallon, 2014.)

Going back to the question of who can claim credit for stopping deforestation, it is then notable that President Rouseff protected just 5% of the forest in indigenous territories and protected areas that her predecessor Lula did – with the large majority of Lula’s gains coming under minister Marina.

At a conservative estimate, Marina, not Dilma, protected an area of forests nearly the size of France on the Amazon frontier.

Indigenous Territories and Amazon Protected Areas Officially Designated 1995 – 2014
GovernmentIndigenous Territories Officially Designated (#)Indigenous Territories Officially Designated (Million Hectares)Amazon Protected Areas Created (#)Amazon Protected Areas Created (Million Hectares)MILLION HECTARES — TOTAL
Dilma Rouseff (2010 – 2014)2135N/A3
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003 – 2010)168324926.358.3
Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995 – 2003)263773814.891.8
Source: Instituto Socioambiental (ISA) (Note: The table does not include the five Amazon protected areas Dilma created in the last leg of the election campaign, but they wouldn’t change the picture much.)

 

It’s too bad that in his otherwise very good story on Amazon deforestation today, Simon Romero didn’t point out this huge disparity.

As for why deforestation was up in 2013, and likely will be again in 2014, Beto Veríssimo of Imazon put it well in the Times:

We’re witnessing an increase in speculative deforestation and forest destruction for the government’s own infrastructure projects… There’s been a rearrangement of priorities

It doesn’t have to be this way.  If Brazil improved average pasture yields from the current 30% of sustainable potential to 50%, it could meet all the demand for agriculture commodities until 2040 with no more deforestation. Unilever, Nestle, and Cargill are only a few of long list of major consumer goods companies that have committed to zero-deforestation supply chains in recent years.

Brazil could be the go-to source for zero-deforestation commodities in emerging low-carbon, high-environmental quality markets – if it can avoid backsliding into business as usual on the Amazon frontier.

Also posted in Brazil, Deforestation| 5 Responses
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