Due to Brazil’s success in slowing down deforestation in the Amazon basin, Norway has awarded the country with $1 billion. This month sees the final $100 million instalment of these payments, made between 2008 and this year.
The purpose of this transfer of wealth from a small, rich, oil-producing European nation to a large, emerging country in the southern hemisphere, is to encourage the protection of Brazil’s forests and slow global climate change.
Norway is the largest donor to projects set up to protect tropical forestland. Besides Brazil, the Scandinavian country contributes to similar funds in Peru, Indonesia, Guyana and Liberia.
Norway’s Environment Minister, Tine Sundtoft, hailed Brazil’s success:
Brazil has established what has become a model for other national climate change funds.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also praised the project. According to Norway, further cooperation between the countries is on the horizon.
Is Brazil leading the way in fighting climate change?
Indeed, in many ways Brazil is exemplary in terms of its contribution to mitigating climate change. The largest economy in Latin America has an admirable renewable energy policy and a low rate of greenhouse gas emissions. From 2006 – 2011, its aggregate GHG emissions decreased by an impressive 40%, largely due to policies designed to reduce deforestation.
Brazil’s long-established and widespread use of ethanol fuel in addition to that the country obtaining 82 percent of its electricity from renewable sources — including 77 percent from hydroelectric plants — may serve as good models of energy use.
Nonetheless, Brazil is not especially low in per capita carbon emissions, falling just behind the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (2011 numbers). However, the immense carbon sink that is the Brazilian Amazon rainforest is a powerful force for offsetting overall GHG emissions.
Cracks in Brazil’s energy policy
While the above statistics are exemplary, at least in relative terms, there are issues that mar Brazil’s “model” status in terms of energy and fighting deforestation.
- Major corporations, large landowners, land speculators and ranchers still hold too much sway over the country’s environmental and agricultural policies.
- In a pair of political moves that dismayed many environmentalists and indigenous rights activists, at the start of her present term, President Dilma Rousseff appointed a pro-agribusiness politician with a poor environmental and human rights record to the post of Agriculture Minister, and then made a climate change denier her Minister of Science.
- Discoveries of large off-shore oil deposits and scandal-ridden, semi-public energy corporation Petrobras’ low oil prices — thanks to government caps — have signaled a shift from sugar cane ethanol production towards petroleum.
- Large-scale hydroelectricity and mining projects in the Amazon have raised concerns about human rights, pollution and deforestation.
- Despite a drastic downturn in deforestation since the ruling Workers Party (PT) took presidential power in 2003, an estimated 5,000 km of Amazon rainforest is still lost each year.
Solutions from above and “below”
Certainly, law enforcement, domestic policy and multinational arrangements, such as that between Norway and Brazil, play important roles in encouraging more sustainable policies. Yet, as we have seen countless times, it is indigenous communities who live sustainably in these important areas for climate stability and biodiversity, that are leading the fight.
Honors like the recently awarded Equator Prize recognize and support front-line efforts to protect nature while fighting poverty and the onslaught of man-made climate change — often through direct action. While we are hailing governments which both contribute to and mitigate climate change, we should hold up these indigenous communities as the true models of sustainability.
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