An environmental agenda for Brazil and China

In a multipolar world, China and Brazil can pursue a path that brings prosperity and sustainability

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Izabella Teixeira, Brazil’s former Environment Minister (image: CMCC)

A harmonious relationship between China and Brazil should extend beyond the economic, trade, technological, and cultural spheres. The two countries contain extensive territories and pluralistic, diverse societies and can be central in shaping the direction of today’s multicultural world. Overcoming the geographical barriers between Brazil and China has been critical in building strategic partnerships and new platforms for dialogue in the international arena.

Today, we are witnessing changes in international relations that suggest the emergence of a new, multipolar world order. What does this mean for the China-Brazil partnership? Will the two countries find it desirable or viable to promote topics of global interest?

There are various ways of approaching these questions and establishing how China and Brazil can cooperate in the contemporary world. One route involves a bold political reading of the environmental agenda, guided by an approach to the environment as an economic and social asset.

In order to merge the pathways of environment and development, it is essential for us to establish coalitions or partnerships.

Cooperation on environment between China and Brazil is relatively recent, and has been motivated by issues that affect the whole world such as sustainability, climate change, biodiversity, and water security. The climate change agenda has certainly been a determining issue in closer political and economic dialogue between the two countries. An important example of this is the efforts of the BASIC group of emerging economies (Brazil, South Africa, India, and China) in getting the 2015 Paris Agreement over the line.

In order to merge the pathways of environment and development, it is essential for us to establish coalitions or partnerships. We must consider the common interests between China and Brazil that can lead to real and effective connections with the environment and we must show strong leadership on sustainable development both domestically and internationally.

This requires political and economic commitments, as well as an innovative vision of bilateral cooperation which can strengthen the global multilateral agenda. It demands coordination between domestic and foreign policies and a more profound debate on global issues, their solutions, and the impacts on quality of life and lifestyles in our societies.

We must establish some common, fundamental principles in order to structure a framework for environmental cooperation. The resulting partnerships could lead to gains that could be achieved by three strategic approaches and must put environment as a key issue to be addressed by governments.  These are:

  1. adopting a long-term perspective in each country based on common interests and concrete goals;
  2. coordinating actions to achieve results and strengthen bilateral relations;
  3. facilitating the building of common positions in the multilateral context;

These approaches should be guided by an understanding that the environmental agenda is also part of economic development choices, and should not be guided by a lack of political ambition. Both countries have a long way to go in reducing negative environmental impacts, in restoring forests and improving new ways of decarbonising. This latter goal can be achieved, for example, by transitioning from energy obtained from fossil fuels to renewable sources, or by enabling products from Brazil’s low-carbon tropical agriculture industry to enter Chinese food markets.

There are many opportunities to advance common interests such as climate change mitigation and adaptation, water security and biodiversity conservation.

Food and energy security, the quality of life in cities, sanitation, sustainable infrastructure, sanitation and transport, as well as the bioeconomy, play an important role in promoting new and robust solutions for development in both countries.

There are many opportunities to advance common interests such as climate change mitigation and adaptation, water security and biodiversity conservation. Greater water efficiency in the process of producing food would be a game-changer for food security and eliminating hunger worldwide. Systems ensuring compliance with domestic environmental legislation and access to new consumer markets for foodstuffs and bioenergy would also help. We can produce animal protein with a lower environmental impact whilst simultaneously preserving and remedying biological resources, as is the case with fisheries and ocean protection. Biodiversity is also essential to the preservation of species.

Sustainable development can add value to Brazil and China, but we must make sure this idea is more widely understood. We must gather feedback from different sectors of the economy and go beyond the traditional pillars of sustainability established in the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.

In order to do this, we must overcome the obstacles that still separate Brazil and China. These include different forms of social organisation within the two countries, the ways individuals interact, and few short-term opportunities for high returns based on the current practice of trading commodities.  The actual lack of interdependence offers little substantial exchange between the two countries.

However, important technological, political and other transitions in the modern world have begun to elevate environmental issues to a higher status and priority. They must no longer be seen as accessories or obstacles to development, and instead must become part of our political choices in creating fairer and more inclusive countries. We must look for synergies in the environmental agenda and the interests of national and global societies, and follow these pathways to development.

In 2020, China will host the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. It will be the perfect chance for China and Brazil to offer the rest of the world a new political view of the links between biodiversity, climate change, and individual and collective well-being. It will offer a unique opportunity for Chinese-Brazilian cooperation.

Brazil and China can pursue new political, economic, and technological goals and common interests and could form of an “environmental G2” that promotes an innovative and harmonised environmental agenda.