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FEATURE: Brazil’s local governments strengthen climate commitments

Brazil’s national government is unconcerned with climate change, but cities and subnational regions are stepping up their climate commitments, says Camila Chabar, Climate Change Coordinator at ICLEI South America.

When the historic Paris Agreement on climate change was agreed in December 2015, Brazil committed to adopting national goals to tackle climate change accordingly. Through its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), the country set a goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 37% below 2005 levels by the year 2025 and 43% by 2030.

Five sectors – forests, energy, transport, industry and agriculture were targeted for actions to meet this goal.

Historically, the country’s largest emissions come from the land use change sector, and therefore, the achievement of the NDC target is very closely linked to emissions reductions in this sector. The objective is to reduce 65.19% of the net emissions of the forestry sector in relation to the year 2010, which means to fight against illegal deforestation (mainly in the Amazon) and the restoration and reforestation of 12 million hectares of forests by 2030.

The energy sector is increasingly growing its share of Brazilian emissions, too. Brazil intends to guarantee 45% of renewable sources, including hydroelectric plants. It is a bold target since the overall world wide average is 13%. In addition, a greater share of bioenergy, around 18%, is expected to be part of the Brazilian energy matrix, taking into account biofuels, by 2030.

Backsliding on national ambition

Despite the various technical difficulties involved in achieving these goals, the greatest current challenge for the implementation of Brazil’s NDC is the political agenda at the national level. When the Paris Agreement was negotiated, Brazil had a prominent leadership role and the political will to create good climate governance.

Currently, however, climate change issues are suffering from a downturn on the national political agenda. The current government, which took office in January 2018, has stated that the issue is not a priority, even proposing Brazil’s possible withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. Furthermore, the government announced a 95% cut in the budget for actions to combat climate change. The announcement came shortly after the release of a United Nations report, by the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), which stated that one million species are at risk of extinction due to human action – threatening the very survival of humankind.

The impact of budget cuts and institutional restructuring in line with the relegation of climate issues are already felt in Brazil. In January 2019, the Ministry of Environment eradicated the Department of Forests and Combating Deforestation, which was linked to the Secretariat of Climate Change and Forests – now also shut down.

Impetus for climate action in Brazil’s cities and states

While the climate agenda has lost attention at the national level, there is a growing subnational movement of initiatives to tackle climate change – and many of these initiatives are in cities.

More than 84% of Brazil’s population lives in urban areas (2010 Census of the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics). What is more, climate change-related phenomena such as severe flooding and droughts, heat waves and sea surges already affect Brazilian cities. This being the case, it is almost impossible to dissociate environmental quality and people’s quality of life from the impacts of climate change, especially in cities.

In response to these trends, and also in solidarity with the global movement of climate activism, Brazilian states and municipalities have developed important interventions to mitigate the negative effects of climate change and begin to adapt. No wonder, for citizens already feel and suffer from the consequences. After all, it is the local governments that are most directly responsible for the quality of life of the population. Furthermore, these governments have understood that there are many opportunities for economic gains through climate actions.

City of Salvador takes a lead

A recent example of local governments’ prominence on climate matters was the debate surrounding the cancellation of the Latin American and Caribbean Week on Climate Change, which will be held in Salvador, Brazil in August 2019. The decision to host the event was announced by the Brazilian government when the event took place in Uruguay in 2018. However, in May of this year, Brazil’s new government canceled its sponsorship of the event.

Proactively, the city of Salvador took a stand against the cancellation, claiming that it would take the meeting forward regardless of the support of the national government. In view of the confirmation from Salvador, the national government stepped down and affirmed support for the event.

The meeting is organised by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and is one of the preparatory events for the Climate Conference (COP25), to be held in December of this year in Chile. While the COP25 is aimed at negotiating among heads of state, the Climate Week focuses on subnational entities.

Networks of cities reinforce each others’ ambitions

This importance in the role of local governments is supported and strengthened by local and regional networks such as ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability and global coalitions of voluntary commitments, for example the Global Compact of Mayors for Climate and Energy and the Brazilian Conference on Climate Change (CBMC). The Conference is being organised by non-governmental institutions for discussion with sub-national actors with a focus on bringing recommendations to the national government for COP25.

We might conclude that subnational action in Brazil now addresses an institutional and political vacuum at the federal level. City and subnational action is also – in its own right – an important contribution to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement and low carbon development.

Occasionally CDKN invites guest bloggers to share their opinions on www.cdkn.org The guest authors’ views do not necessarily represent those of CDKN or its alliance organisations.

Image: Biker, Sao Paulo Brazil, credit Carlos Ebert, flickr

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