Ahead of COP26, Brazil announces green plans that leave experts unconvinced

With its international reputation shaken, Brazil’s government launches programmes to be presented in Glasgow that cut emissions and create green jobs


COP26 Brazil plans

President Jair Bolsonaro sits with vice-president Hamilton Mourão and minister Ciro Nogueira at the launch of the National Green Growth Program on 25 October. Government announcements in the run-up to COP26 have left experts and observers unsatisfied. (Image: Fotoarena / Alamy)

On the eve of COP26, the UN climate change conference beginning this Sunday in Glasgow, the Brazilian government has announced plans to combat climate change in an attempt to reverse its negative reputation in the area.

“Our performance in the meetings that will take place at COP26 will be extremely important for recovering the country’s image on environmental issues,” vice-president Hamilton Mourão said at a press conference on 18 October.


The percentage increase in Brazil's greenhouse gas emissions in 2020

Last week, the government launched two initiatives that forecast CO2 emission cuts and green investments, and guarantee that Brazil has something to show at the climate conference: the National Green Growth Programme and the revision of its ABC Plan for low-carbon agriculture.

But Brazil’s reduced ambition towards the Paris Agreement, and the latest setbacks in its environmental policy speak louder, experts say.

“All examples of announcements in the environmental area were empty words and with absolutely no real effect. On the contrary, there were several steps backwards,” said Marcio Astrini, executive secretary of the Brazilian civil society network Observatório do Clima.

Astrini sets a low bar for Brazil’s participation at COP26. “If the government does not repeat its negative performance at the Madrid COP, then that will be good,” he says.

Brazil at COP25

Jair Bolsonaro had been in office less than a year when COP25 was held in Madrid in December 2019. At the time, the president, who in the run-up to his inauguration had given up on hosting the event in Brazil citing a lack of funds, was already facing criticism of his environmental policy.

One of the main problems was the sharp increase in deforestation in the Amazon, which led Bolsonaro to react with accusations against international organisations – and even the actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

Faced with pressure, the president did not attend the event in Spain, but sent the then environment minister, Ricardo Salles (who resigned in June amid a criminal probe into his links with illegal logging), and even secret agents of the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (ABIN) to monitor criticism of him. In the end, Brazil was the protagonist of a deadlock in the climate negotiations.

What plans will Brazil present at COP26?

Brazilian delegates will arrive at COP26 amid reports that the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions rose by 9.5% in 2020, an increase largely linked to deforestation of the Amazon. Off the back of such news, and a poor performance at COP25, the government will head to Glasgow seeking to recover international credibility and will present programmes that show its commitment with the Paris Agreement to stop global warming.

The main one, the National Green Growth Programme, intends to offer funding and subsidies for sustainable economic activities and the generation of green jobs.

The new plan foresees cuts of 1.1 billion tons of carbon from Brazilian agriculture and livestock farming by 2030 – seven times more than originally planned

“The launch makes clear how Brazil has put 400 billion reais (US$ 72.2 billion) in the green direction,” environment minister Joaquim Leite said at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia. “We have the challenge of presenting the green growth programme at the COP.”

The revision of the ABC Plan, meanwhile, foresees cuts of 1.1 billion tons of carbon from Brazilian agriculture and livestock farming by 2030 – seven times more than originally planned.

The agriculture minister, Tereza Cristina, explained that the reformulation of the “known and successful ABC Plan”, which has been in operation for a decade, aims at keeping Brazilian agribusiness “at the forefront of efforts to tackle climate change”. The plan will also be presented at the conference, according to the minister.

Like Astrini, Natalie Unterstell, director of Talanoa, a think tank focused on accelerating climate policies in Brazil, criticised both initiatives on Twitter. For the specialist, the growth programme “has no ballast” – that is, it is not well grounded – and the new numbers of the new “ABC+ Plan” are “minuscule” in face of how much Brazil subsidises agribusiness with high carbon emissions.

What are Brazil’s nationally determined contributions?

In 2020, Brazil updated its nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to reduce its CO2 emissions. It was expected that the country would present more ambitious goals than those originally agreed upon, but that was not the case.

In absolute numbers, Brazil’s ambition has decreased. The country kept its pledge to reduce emissions by 37% by 2025 and 43% by 2030, compared to 2005 levels, and announced a marginal improvement to the 2030 goal of 50%. With the original commitment, carbon neutrality would be reached in 2060, a pledge it will bring forward to 2050 in the next week. But climate experts have warned that the new NDCs represent an increase of CO2 in the atmosphere, as the targets have remained the same while the baseline has changed over time.

During the Leaders Summit on Climate in April, Bolsonaro said he aimed to end illegal deforestation by 2030. But the target was not made official.

On Tuesday, the UN’s new Emissions Gap report declared the 2020 revision of the Brazilian targets to be a setback, and one that represents a violation of the Paris Agreement to which Brazil is a signatory. It is not yet clear what this revision may lead to in practice.

Will Bolsonaro attend COP26?

With the Amazon at the centre of discussions around emissions reductions, the presidents of Colombia and Brazil recently advocated for countries to mobilise at the COP to address the threat of deforestation to the biome.

“We will certainly arrive united in Glasgow, to deal with a very important and dear issue for all of us – our dear, rich and desired Amazon,” Bolsonaro said after a bilateral meeting with his Colombian counterpart, Iván Duque.

That does not mean Jair Bolsonaro will be in Glasgow next week. Although Brazil has plans to take one of the largest delegations to COP26, including the governors of the Amazon states, the president has not confirmed his attendance. Vice-president Mourão has also been left out of the Brazilian delegation to COP26, which will be headed by environment minister Leite.

Brazil’s history at COP

Brazil has had an active participation in climate negotiations since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, which served as an embryonic meeting for the COPs, especially those in Copenhagen in 2009, and Durban in 2011, recalls Izabella Teixeira, who was Brazil’s environment minister between 2010 and 2016.

As part of the BASIC group, along with South Africa, India and China, Brazil “opened an important space of interlocution when there was the collapse [of the agreement] of Copenhagen and the failure of developed countries [in the negotiations],” says Teixeira.

What we try to show is that there is a country beyond Bolsonaro

At the time, the country came out of the meeting strengthened by presenting voluntary emission reduction targets and with its negotiators praised for breaking deadlocks.

“And then, we arrived in 2011, and I remember giving a speech in Durban, in which Brazil agreed to a new global agreement, offering another path, obviously with a dialogue with India, China and South Africa,” adds Teixeira.

In 2015, this global agreement would be formalised at COP21 in Paris.

For the upcoming COP, Teixeira hopes that Brazil does not go back on its CO2 emission reduction targets. Meanwhile, for Astrini and climate organisations, the agenda will be to “neutralise the setbacks, with a vision of the future”.

“What you try to show is that there is a country beyond Bolsonaro,” says the environmentalist.