In response to articles by Kathy Hochstetler and Tim Forsyth on COP26, PhD candidate Claudia Horn writes on the role of Brazil and nature-based solutions in current climate negotiations as COP26 continues. This article is part of a series on the ID blog, ‘COP26: Climate accountability‘.
COP26, under UK leadership, started with a particular emphasis on forest protection, nature-based solutions, the role of forests as carbon sinks, and net-zero. On the second day, Tuesday, November 2, more than 100 country leaders, including Brazil, Canada, Russia, Indonesia, the US, and the UK, signed a forest agreement, pledging to halt and reverse deforestation and forest degradation by 2030. Under Brazil’s President Bolsonaro, Amazon deforestation has been occupying headlines in the last years. So what does the mega-diverse country’s signing of this agreement mean? What are the chances that this reverses the trend in land conflict, violence, forest burning, and deforestation?
This blog post focuses on Brazil in this year’s negotiations, linking to the contributions of Tim Forsyth on nature-based solutions and Kathryn Hochstetler on environmental institutions. In her commentary, Kathryn Hochstetler reminds of the importance of country-level implementation through diverse, locally suited environmental institutions that make or break the success of any multilateral climate agreement. My PhD at LSE focuses on the evolution of these institutions and concurrently of forest aid from developed countries to protect the Amazon Forest. Drawing on continuous participation at the COPs and research in Brazil, this post contextualizes the country’s role in the current negotiations and critiques the hype around nature-based solutions.
What’s at stake in Glasgow
This year, climate negotiations seek to define the rulebook of the Paris Agreement, in particular, Article 6 on the mechanisms of mitigation, finance, and cooperation. Some of these flexibilise the way countries can achieve their emissions targets, including offsetting emissions by buying excess credits from other countries (Article 6.2) or implementing sustainable development projects, such as reforestation in the global South. In the case of proposed market mechanisms—linked to the controversial net-zero—the reduction of emissions or removals can be transferred from one country to another. For developed countries and companies, this implies alternatives to cutting emissions to reach “net-zero,” incentivising and compensating developed tropical countries that integrate their forests as global carbon sinks.
Unlike most countries, Brazil increased its emissions during economic contraction due to the COVID19 pandemic and high deforestation in the Amazon. The Bolsonaro government has lost credibility ever since its disputes with long-time partners such as Norway and Germany, the donors of the Amazon Fund. Still, breaking with its traditional resistance under the Workers Party governments, the country has been favourable to forest offsets in recent years. Despite the absence of Bolsonaro (some argue, strategic), Brazil wants to revive a green image at the COP, especially of its agriculture and livestock sector.
For Brazil, signing the forest agreement is attractive because it could receive significant donor funds and improve its commercial options as a principal commodities exporter. On the outside, the government delegation contrasts with the concerning disarray at COP25 in Madrid. Some argue this year’s team is more modest and reasonable, seemingly “stepping up” its climate commitments to cutting 50% of emissions by 2030. Moreover, the appointment of Joaquim Leite, replacing the “anti-environment” minister Ricardo Salles, raised hopes for a turning point in record deforestation in the Amazon and other biomes and rural violence.
In reality, the governmental agenda is consolidating a questionable “environmentalism of results” established under Salles. Only days before the COP, the government published a “Green Growth” program without any precise targets or accountability mechanisms.
At the COP, many countries have their own space and event program. This year, Brazil is represented at two competing spaces: one space is hosted by the Bolsonaro government, the Brazilian Confederation of Livestock, the Brazilian National Confederation of Industry, Brazil’s Trade Agency Apex, and the Ministries of Environment and Foreign Affairs. On Tuesday, November 2, the event “Carbon Markets and Floresta+” convened the Secretary of the Amazon and Environmental Services (MMA) and the Market Development Advisor for Natural Climate Solutions at the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) to promote Brazil’s nature-based solution for the world as a central part to its green growth strategy.
By contrast, the second space, the Brazil Climate Action Hub, is organized by civil society organizations and convenes environmentalists, forest peoples’ organizations, opposition, and former environmental minister Izabela Teixeira. Though not promoting carbon markets or nature-based solutions, the discussions mainly accept international market mechanisms without government policy. For instance, at the event “A New Vision of Climate Finance for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities,” indigenous representatives demanded direct funding. Nevertheless, civil society and social movements are divided around the issue. 101 organizations and associations officially denounce market instruments for forest protection and net-zero and demand more democratic mitigation measures that ensure the territorial rights of forest populations.
Also, many of Brazil’s state governors, especially in the Amazon, have been promoting forest offsets since the early 2000s. They are distancing themselves from the federal government even though they continue to support market mechanisms. They have created the consortium Green Brazil and 13 of Brazil’s 26 state heads are represented at COP26 to reinforce the subnational commitment to the environmental agenda and secure finance for socio-environmental projects through their funds. In any event, UNFCCC remains an intergovernmental forum and decision and veto power with countries that have signed the Paris Agreement and assume commitments linked to it through their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC).
Also, Brazil’s private sector promotes nature-based solutions at COP26, including companies such as Vale, JBS, Natura, and Havaianas, where they intend to make net-zero commitments independently from the Brazilian government. However, companies alone cannot guarantee environmental and social accountability.
Dismantling institutions and building market mechanisms in Brazil
There has been a push towards nature-based solutions and market mechanisms internationally and in Brazil. But for nature-based solutions to work, deforestation should actually and verifiably decrease. Brazil achieved this between 2004 and 2012, reducing forest loss by 80%, based on law enforcement, monitoring, and socioenvironmental civil society pressure on public and private agencies. Indeed, as Hochstetler argues, the interplay of specific domestic institutions is key to ensuring socioenvironmental accountability and mitigation results.
But the Bolsonaro government has systematically underfunded and dismantled the command and control agencies central to fighting deforestation. For example, it changed the leadership in the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio), and Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), public organs concerned with environmental inspection, issuing fines, monitoring, and licensing. Moreover, the government paralysed the demarcation of Indigenous Lands and the implementation of agrarian reform. In fact, the just-signed forest agreement conflicts with Bolsonaro’s plan to allow mining in indigenous areas.
In this connection, Free, Prior, and Informed Consent is central to nature-based solutions’ social integrity and sustainability. However, in April of 2019, Bolsonaro extinguished per decree civil society councils within federal administration, including the Amazon Fund Orientation Committee and the National Commission coordinating REDD+ in Brazil. The government has criminalized social and environmental NGOs and activists. In other words, it has eliminated the foundation of the so-called social safeguards of nature-based solutions and the protection of territorial rights and just benefit sharing.
Meanwhile, since 2019, Brazil’s government has engaged in domestic efforts to privatize conservation in Brazil. First, created in 2021, the “Adopt a Park” program sought private investments in Conservation Units and met the interest of Coca-Cola, Carrefour, and Heineken to improve their green image. In addition, the “Nature Parks Concession Structuring Program” of the development bank BNDES promotes the privatization of parks throughout Brazil. Ultimately, the Floresta+ program consolidates Brazil’s environmental services market.
Tim Forsyth, in his blog on the COP26, urges scrutiny to nature-based solutions. The fact that powerful public and private stakeholders have “stepped up” their engagement in the climate negotiations does not imply results on the ground. On the contrary, the Brazil case suggests fragmentation and conflicts over resources and civil society exclusion, especially given the lack of regulatory agencies and policies.
Lastly, in his speech at the COP, Boris Johnson said, “As consumers, we’ll all be able to enjoy guilt-free chocolate. I suppose that’s carbon-guilt-free, not calorie-guilt-free chocolate.” In this sense, net-zero mechanisms may well be incentives to offset emissions, not to reduce them. Two hundred fifty-seven organizations and movements from 61 countries reject nature-based solutions in a statement released in response on November 2, calling it a distraction from fossil carbon and industrial agriculture. People around the world and especially in developing countries need climate action urgently. But there is no shortcut to a socioecological just transition.
The views expressed in this post are those of the author and in no way reflect those of the International Development LSE blog or the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Photo: Amazon deforestation, 2019. Credit: Animal Equality International on Flickr