This blog post was originally published on WRI's Insights.
On June 5, Brazilian President Michel Temer signed a decree giving legal force to the Paris Agreement. But deforestation is on the rise, and Brazil's government is considering controversial actions that would remove protection from forest reserves of the Amazon and accelerate threats to indigenous land rights.
These developments have raised doubts that the world's seventh-largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG) will be able to meet its national climate commitment under the Paris Agreement, which is heavily dependent on curbing deforestation.
At the same time, Brazilian cities, states and non-state actors are setting carbon reduction goals that embrace clean growth, and civil society is pitching in to raise transparency, participation and ambition in national climate policy.
Certain Commitments, Uncertain Future
Under the Paris Agreement, Brazil has made a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to reduce GHG emission by 37 percent by 2025 relative to 2005 levels.
Among the key measures Brazil expects to take to fulfill its NDC goal:
- Achieve zero illegal deforestation in the Amazon rainforest by 2030
- Restore and reforest 12 million hectares (29.6 million acres) by 2030
- Restore 15 million hectares of degraded pasturelands and enhance 5 million hectares of integrated cropland-livestock-forestry systems by 2030
Given recent rises in deforestation, the importance of land use change and the forestry sector to deliver Brazil's NDC is expected to continue to increase. Deforestation climbed by 29 percent last year in the Amazon, the world's largest rainforest. In total, 798,900 hectares (1.97 million acres) were lost. The deforestation rise—which comes after a decade of successes in the Amazon that decreased GHG emissions for the country—was due to illegal logging enabled by recent law enforcement leniency, forest code reform and land speculation, and other factors. Illegal logging remains widespread in Brazil and often leads to broader forest degradation and deforestation. Illegal, unplanned conversion of forests to farms also remains a significant problem.
This lack of progress has endangered the multilateral Amazon Fund, which finances projects to fight deforestation in the Amazon. In June, Norway reduced its funding by $60 million; if deforestation in the Amazon keeps increasing, financial assistance could drop even further, even to zero, making it even harder to combat deforestation.
Undermining land rights for indigenous people and communities will also undercut climate progress. As WRI's publication "Climate Benefits, Tenure Costs: The Economic Case for Securing Indigenous Land Rights in the Amazon explains at length, when land is squarely in the hands of indigenous people and communities, it can generate environmental, social and economic benefits while curbing climate change. If successful, the assault on indigenous land rights is likely to result in more deforestation and difficulty fulfilling climate goals.
Despite Confusion in Brasilia, Some States Accelerate Climate Action
Recent events cast the country's contribution into doubt. But alternative paths remain available for climate action.
Pantanal wetlands in Mato Grosso. Flickr/Ronald Woan
One of the largest global subnational efforts to mitigate climate change was issued by Mato Grosso, a Brazilian state which is the stage to many of the country's environmental conflicts. Launched in 2015, the Produce, Preserve and Include Program (Produzir, Conservar e Incluir) seeks to recover 2.5 million hectares of degraded land, to reduce deforestation in the Amazon by 90 percent and in the Cerrado (Brazilian savannah) by 95 percent and to extend the area under sustainable forest management from 2.8 million to 6 million hectares by 2030.
The Amazonian state of Pará has also designed its own climate-change mitigation policies. The Pará 2030 offers strategies to develop a low-carbon economy, reduce GHG emissions and promote restoration. One of the opportunities to foster sustainable development in the region comes from the large reserves of biodiversity in the territory. The area supplies raw materials that can be used in industries from agriculture to biotechnology.
Civil society is also contributing to climate action, by bringing transparency to the implementation of Brazil's NDC and supporting efforts to raise the level of ambition of the national policy over time, as in the case of the Climate Observatory and Brazilian Coalition on Climate, Forests and Agriculture.
Doubling Down on Forest Protection
If Brazil is committed to decarbonize its economy, conserve biodiversity and affirm itself as a modern and democratic South American nation - with unwavering human rights standards - it needs to double down on protections for forests and indigenous communities. These protections will also help the country fulfill its NDC.