The country with no shortage of sunshine must lead on climate change in Latin America
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The country with no shortage of sunshine must lead on climate change in Latin America

As the 5th largest country in terms of area, the 5th most populous country in the world and the most populous in Latin America, Brazil has a lot of responsibility riding on its shoulders when it comes to environmental stewardship. Perhaps even more significant is the fact that 60 percent of the Amazon Rainforest — the “lungs of the Earth” and home to the highest plant biodiversity in the world — is located in Brazil.

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore recently visited Rio de Janeiro to speak at a Climate Reality Leadership Corps training session. The face of mainstream global warming activism stressed the importance of Brazil’s role in the fight against climate change, urging Brazilians to embrace solar and wind energy, and praising the government’s success at lowering the deforestation rate and reducing the country’s carbon footprint.

The bad news that deforestation has risen sharply in recent months is a blight on the progress of the past 10 years, though measures such as the demarcation of a new reserve in the Amazon are evidence that the government is paying attention. The effectiveness of declaring protected areas in shielding them from illegal deforestation remains to be seen.

The government also seems to be taking the solar energy revolution seriously, with the release of contracts at 31 solar parks last week, totaling a potential investment of US$1.66 billion.

From Clean Technica:

Brazil has set itself a goal of having 3.5 gigawatts of solar capacity in operation by 2023, producing about 1.8% of the country’s energy. The country also has big plans to start local manufacturing of solar components.

There is indeed no shortage of sunshine in Brazil — just a lack of solar energy infrastructure. As the price of the technology continually falls, taking advantage of the sun’s rays will look more and more attractive. Even without the generous solar power subsidies that exist in some European countries — especially Germany — solar could become a major player in Brazilian power generation, currently ruled by hydroelectric.

While Brazil may in fact not be as green as its numbers say — the tremendous capacity of the rainforest to absorb CO2 significantly offsets the growing emissions of the country’s industry and automobile traffic — its long-established biofuel sector and massive hydroelectric projects do lend weight to the Brazilian argument for developed nations to do their share on the emissions front. On the other hand, as much as 75 percent of Brazil’s CO2 emissions come from deforestation, so a greater focus on forest protection will be key in the future.

At the training session in Rio, Brazilian Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira called on rich countries to seriously commit to reducing their carbon output. Leading up to a major international climate summit to be held in Peru in December, Teixeira stressed the importance of workable plans from the developed world.

From the Associated Press:

We want (developed) nations to make promises for strategic reductions of emissions — that is what we’re looking for in Lima. What’s their plan?

I want to know what the OECD nations will do to duplicate our efforts. How will they come close to having nearly 50 percent of their entire energy matrix coming from renewable energy?

—Brazilian Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira

While Teixeira is right in her statements about the world’s 20 richest countries, Brazil has a lot of its own work to do. It can do this by focusing efforts on adapting to be prepared for the inevitable risks that climate change will bring to its citizens, by investing in green energy projects, confronting its water shortage problems, fighting deforestation (both legal and illegal) and protecting indigenous territories. For more details on these five points, check out this piece from Responding to Climate Change.