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CLIMATE CHANGE: Brazil Has No National Policy

Carlos Tautz

RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 13 2007 (IPS) - Brazil has no national strategy to fight pollution that contributes to global climate change, in spite of being part of the trio of developing countries, with China and India, that emit most greenhouse gases, experts and environmentalists complain.

Nor is it developing policies to help it face its vulnerability to climate change.

According to figures provided by Brazil to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the country emitted nearly 1.47 billion tons of gases which contribute to keeping the heat of the sun&#39s rays in the atmosphere, known as the greenhouse effect, in 1994, the last year for which figures were available.

Also in 1994, India emitted 1.23 billion tons of gases and China 3.65 billion tons, making it the top polluter among developing countries, which are not yet obliged to reduce their emissions.

The United States, which according to the Convention ought to reduce its emissions, produced 6.3 billion tons of greenhouse gases in 2004.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, which entered into force in 2005 as an instrument of the Convention, only rich countries that have ratified it are obliged to cut their gas emissions by 2012 to volumes 5.2 percent lower than their 1990 levels.

Brazil acknowledges it shares responsibility for the pollution. But it prefers to point out that climate change is a result of long term emissions from rich countries, especially the United States and the United Kingdom, since the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century.

"That argument could lead to immobility," said biologist Paulo Moutinho of the non-governmental Amazon Institute for Environmental Research (IPAM). "Hardly anything in Brazil qualifies as a national policy on climate change," he added.

IPAM specialises in the Amazon region where Brazil&#39s largest forest fires occur, "representing 75 percent of the country&#39s total emissions of greenhouse gases," said Moutinho in an interview with IPS.

"Brazil isn&#39t prepared for climate change," said scientist José Antonio Marengo of the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), whose team has carried out a study assessing national climate trends and sketching possible scenarios for 2100, which will be presented to the Environment Ministry on Feb. 26.

"We adapted global models to conditions in Brazil," Marengo explained to IPS. "Our study was carried out with models designed by the University of Sao Paulo and by INPE, where they were run on a supercomputer, so it&#39s equivalent to a mini-IPCC report (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the main international assessment body)."

The IPCC reported on Feb. 2 that there is a 90 percent probability that climate change is due to human activities, and that temperatures on earth may increase by up to four degrees by the end of this century, leading to changes in rainfall patterns, the extent of habitable coastal land in a number of countries, and food production.

Marengo had already presented a similar study based on general models to the government in 2005.

"The poor will suffer the most," he said, and the hardest-hit region will be an area in the semi-arid northeast, "from the west of Piauí state to the south of Ceará, the north of Bahía and the west of Pernambuco," where some of the cities with the lowest levels of human development are found.

The projections indicate a risk of droughts lasting 10 years or more. "The government is very unprepared to respond to emergencies in that area. The most it can probably do is distribute food baskets," Marengo said.

Meanwhile, in the Amazon rainforest to the north, the greatest impact will be the loss of biodiversity.

Moutinho and Marengo both said the issue has not received enough attention from the authorities, who have not taken the environment into account as a variable in the investment programme for 2007-2010, announced on Jan. 22 by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The Growth Acceleration Programme (PAC) provides for investments of nearly 250 billion dollars in hydroelectric stations, roads, nuclear energy plants, oil production, enlarging ports and airports, shipbuilding and the planting of millions of hectares of oil-bearing crops to produce biofuels.

An environmental component in this package could have been suggested by the Brazilian Forum on Climate Change, which Lula created by decree in 2000, to increase awareness and mobilise society about the debate and position to be taken on problems related to climate change caused by greenhouse gases.

The forum, presided over by Lula and made up of 12 ministers, as well as representatives from scientific and non-governmental organisations, was supposed to assist the government to incorporate climate change issues into the different stages of public policies. So far, it has only held a few meetings at universities.

"Environmentalists are always criticising the country&#39s vulnerability. But Hurricane Katrina (in 2005) proved that not even the United States is ready to face this kind of problem," said José Domingos Gonzalez Miguez, coordinator of a government commission on global climate change at the Science and Technology Ministry since 1994.

Gonzalez Miguez is the best-qualified official in the field, and helped draw up Brazilian proposals that were incorporated into the Kyoto Protocol. He emphasised Brazil&#39s contribution towards a solution for climate problems.

"We proposed two key premises which oriented the entire debate, like the historic contribution of greenhouse gases from developed countries," said Miguez. The Brazilian proposal was praised by environmentalists.

"We are doing more than the Protocol requires from us. We are not obliged to reduce our emissions, yet we already have over 106 projects for the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), equivalent to 10 percent of the global total," he said.

The CDM is an arrangement under the Kyoto Protocol which allows rich countries to fulfil part of their obligations by investing in clean development projects in countries of the developing South.

Furthermore, Gonzalez Miguez argues, the role of developing countries in climate change is "exaggerated. If a hurricane occurred now, our contribution would have been minimal. Brazil produces only two percent of total emissions, and it started to emit them when it industrialised, 50 years ago, two centuries after the rich countries started to pollute the atmosphere," he said.

It is not easy for a country with the social problems that Brazil has to devote itself to overcoming climate vulnerability. "The government must choose between investing in health, education and sanitation, or preparing itself for climate change. However, about 50 million dollars a year are being spent on preventing forest fires, the main source of greenhouse gases in Brazil," Gonzalez Miguez said.

But these figures do not accurately describe the availability of public funds. In 2007, this country will pay out nearly 50 billion dollars to domestic and foreign creditors.

Nevertheless, in 2006 the area of forest cut down or subjected to "queimadas" (the slash and burn technique) was less than half that in 2004.

Gonzalez Miguez acknowledged that the reduction of deforestation was partly due to the fall in the international prices of agricultural products, especially soya, the cultivation of which had fuelled deforestation.

Lula&#39s government has also prevented deforestation, IPAM recognised, by establishing some 240,000 square kilometres of new protected areas in the Amazon region in 2004 and 2005, especially where forest clearing was most intensive.

"These new protected areas will have an important effect on future emissions of carbon to the atmosphere," said the report "The Amazon in a Changing Climate" by IPAM, the U.S. Woods Hole Research Centre and the Federal University of Minas Gerais.

However, it is common for deforested zones used for crops or cattle-raising to extend right up to the borders of the protected areas, and the government lacks staff and equipment to prevent potential trespassing.

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