By Jan Rocha / Climate News Network

CIFOR via Flickr

SÃO PAULO — In 2015 Brazil told the world it would make significant reductions in its emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas driving global warming. Its emissions are, however, heading in the opposite direction.

The country pledged, as a signatory to the Paris Agreement, to cut emissions by 37% by 2025, and by 43% up to 2030. Yet today they are 3.5% higher than they were a year ago.

Newly released data reveals the cause: an unexpected rise in the rate of deforestation, which accounts for more than two-thirds (69%) of Brazil´s greenhouse gas emissions.

Recession effect

Brazil’s GDP shrank by 3.8% in the last year, and carbon emissions from all other sectors of the economy fell. Transport, which accounts for 11% of emissions, industry (9%) and energy (7%) were all affected by the lower demand caused by the economic slowdown and the growing share of renewables in the energy mix. But the rise in land use change caused by the agriculture and farming sector, through deforestation, drove the total upwards.

The data comes from SEEG (System for Estimating Greenhouse Gas Emissions), which is run by the Climate Observatory, a coalition of Brazil’s principal environment NGOs set up in 2001.

The figures reveal a reversal in the trend of the previous decade, when deforestation rates fell steadily. Instead, in the year from August 2014 to July 2015, Amazon deforestation increased by 24% over the previous year. A total of 6,207 sq km was cleared according to INPE, the National Institute for Space Research, which monitors the Amazon region by satellite. With the government’s ability to carry out inspections weakened by budget cuts, once again large areas of forest were being cleared for cattle.

Between 2011 and 2014, austerity measures introduced to reduce Brazil’s budget deficit led to a cut of 72% in the money destined for forest protection and the control of deforestation.

Recent police operations have revealed the existence of sophisticated logging operations set up by organised crime networks, who are using technology to escape satellite detection.

Embarrassed by this reversal in the deforestation rate, the government has now found a solution to the funding shortfall. It will draw on the Amazonia Fund, set up in 2008 by the governments of Norway and Germany to combat deforestation and finance sustainable NGO projects. Now it will be used to fund Brazil’s cash-strapped environment agencies, enabling proper monitoring and inspection to be carried out.

“These resources will be fundamental for our effectiveness in the next few months,” says Suely Araújo, president of Ibama, the government’s environmental agency. “Helicopters and vehicles are the most important elements in the logistical support of inspection.”

New emissions warning

But the good news on funding is tempered with a word of warning from the Climate Observatory’s executive secretary, Carlos Rittl, who said: “The Paris treaty is about to take effect. In order to make it happen not just on paper we must drastically change our development path, but this is not what we are seeing.”

He says there is an enormous risk of emissions rising once Brazil emerges from recession because it is still “betting on fossil fuels — Congress approving a bill for coal — as though we were returning to the 19th century”.

In October, the Brazilian Congress approved a bill authorising government incentives to modernise thermal coal-fuelled plants. The bill still has to be sanctioned by President Michel Temer before it can take effect, and 21 NGOs have appealed to him to veto it, pointing out the contradiction with Brazil’s ratification of the Paris Agreement.

In 2014, coal made up only 2% of the energy mix, but it accounted for 30-35% of greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity sector.

Jan Rocha is a freelance journalist living in Brazil and is a former correspondent there for the BBC World Service and The Guardian.


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