Why recent climate pledges show we're in a new paradigm of climate action

More than 150 countries, in blue, have submitted their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). The pledges account for approximately 90% of greenhouse gas emissions. Source: WRI CAIT Climate Data Explorer as of Nov. 3, 2015.

With urgent action needed to limit the carbon pollution that is already affecting the lives of millions around the world, the global community has been watching closely the post-2020 emissions targets (known as “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” or INDCs) that countries are announcing over the course of this year.

The informal deadline for submission of these INDCs was October 1, and as of now, more than 150 countries have stepped forward to publish their INDCs and allow public review. These include the world’s biggest carbon polluters by absolute quantity: China, the United States, the EU, and India.

All told, we now know the post-2020 emissions pledges of countries accounting for approximately 90% of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

These INDCs will form an important part of a new, global climate agreement that 195 countries aim to complete in Paris this December. INDCs provide an opportunity to take a sneak peek not only into our post-2020 emissions future, but also at the tools and policies countries believe can help drive the deep reductions in carbon pollution needed to avert the worst effects of climate change. Read More »

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Why and how Brazil should do more to stop deforestation and climate change

Forest fire in Brazil

This post was co-authored by Paulo Moutinho of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) and Steve Schwartzman of EDF. See the first part of this reaction to Brazil’s climate target: Brazil's climate pledge is significant, but falls short on curbing deforestation.

Brazil’s climate pledges in advance of the Paris negotiations were significant because it is one of the world’s most important emerging economies, and it’s taking on an absolute, economy-wide emissions reduction target. But, its related goal of achieving zero illegal deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon by 2030 is widely regarded in Brazil as lacking in ambition.

Stopping deforestation, which formerly accounted for about 70% of Brazil’s emissions, would be good for Brazil, good for Brazilian agriculture, and supported by a large majority of Brazilians. It is also doable. Here are three reasons why, and a look at how Brazil could make such policies work.

1) More forest, less poverty: Brazil’s economy can grow without deforestation

Brazil succeeded in reducing Amazon deforestation by more than 80% since 2005 while maintaining robust growth in beef and soy production. There are at least about 56,000 km² of degraded cattle pasture in the Amazon that can be reclaimed for agriculture, as well as ample scope for intensifying cattle raising and improving yields, freeing up even more land.

Agriculture and land-use scientist Bernardo Strassburg argues that by increasing average productivity of pasture in Brazil from the current 30% of its potential to about 50%, Brazil could meet all new demand for commodities until 2040 with no new deforestation. The benefits to smallholders would be also important, considering the already deforested area (12.7 million hectares) available for agriculture expansion in rural settlements. With appropriate technical assistance and credit smallholders could produce more food (smallholders account for 80% of food production in the Amazon) with less deforestation.

Read More »

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Brazil's climate pledge is significant, but falls short on curbing deforestation

Amazon rainforest. Credit: Adrian Cowell, used by EDF with permission.

This post was co-authored by Paulo Moutinho of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) and Steve Schwartzman of EDF.

Brazil did the UN climate change negotiations – and hopefully, the planet – some good Sunday when President Dilma Rousseff announced emissions reductions targets in the UN General Assembly. However, it missed an opportunity do itself and the planet much more good.

President Rousseff deserves credit above all for announcing an absolute, economy-wide, emissions reductions target, rather than reductions below a business-as-usual projection, or a “carbon intensity” target. The goal is a 37% reduction by 2025 and 43% by 2030, both in relation to 2005. She also spoke promisingly of “decarbonizing” Brazil’s economy.

Brazil’s announcement is an important contribution to a successful agreement in the UN climate talks in Paris

Brazil has thus aligned itself with other major emitters, such as the U.S., China and the European Union, which have committed to becoming part of the solution to climate change. And the decision by one of the world’s most important emerging economies to take on an absolute emissions reduction target provides yet another signal that the world has moved on from the Kyoto Protocol approach of dividing the world sharply into “developed” and “developing” countries — a division that has helped lead to deadlock in the negotiations. For both reasons, Brazil’s announcement represents an important contribution to a successful agreement in the UN climate talks in Paris this December.

While the announcement did not go into detail, it is clear that these targets can only be met if Brazil sustains the 80% reduction in Amazon deforestation by 2020 in its National Climate Change Policy, passed by Congress in 2009.

Beyond this, the devil-in-the-details starts to show his face. Read More »

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A novel approach to reducing deforestation: linking supply chains and REDD+ in “Zero Deforestation Zones”

By Chris MeyerSenior Manager, Amazon Forest Policy and Dana Miller, Research Analyst

Two tropical forest conservation efforts have gained momentum in recent years: zero deforestation commitments from the private sector and the policy framework Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+). Both efforts are necessary, but not sufficient in themselves to eliminate global deforestation.

In a recently published paper in the Journal of Sustainable Forestry, we find that linking REDD+ and zero deforestation commitments offers a more efficient and effective solution to stop deforestation, which we call Zero Deforestation Zones (ZDZ).

The current state of private initiatives and REDD+

Deforestation, which is responsible for 15% of global greenhouse gases, is primarily caused by conversion for the production of four commodities in Brazil and Indonesia: beef, soy, palm, and timber products. To address this urgent problem, companies that control more than 90% of soy purchases in the Amazon, around half of cattle slaughter in the Brazilian Amazon, and 96% of palm oil trade globally have committed to stop deforestation.

While these company commitments are promising, many producers that clear forests can still sell commodities to companies that don’t have deforestation commitments, or they can even sell indirectly to the companies that have committed to zero deforestation. In other words, under the current policies even if companies clean up their own supply chains, they could be just creating islands of green in a sea of deforestation. Read More »

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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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Ensuring ambition in the land-use sector through the Paris climate agreement

Representatives from countries around the globe met in Bonn, Germany this month to work on what could be the world’s most grueling but important group project: consolidating 90 pages of text into a global climate agreement to be finalized in Paris this December.

Governments and civil society organizations have more work to do before Paris, including ensuring land use is treated in a simple, flexible and ambitious way in the global agreement.

One sector that could play a fundamental role in the agreement is the land-use sector, which includes agriculture, forestry, wetland management, and other land management practices.

The land-use sector contributes about a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. But it also has great potential to reduce emissions, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, improve rural livelihoods, and promote countries’ ability to adapt to a changing climate. The land use sector could also be an important part of countries’ emission reduction targets after 2020, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). Read More »

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