Brazil Announces Ambitious Plan to Slow Down Greenhouse Emissions

In a potential boost to climate negotiators meeting next month in Copenhagen, Brazil’s government today said it would aggressively cut the pace of growth of its greenhouse-gas emissions.

Brazil’s plan, announced in Brasilia by chief minister Dilma Rousseff and environmental chief Carlos Minc, would lower the country’s greenhouse emissions by 36% to 39% in 2020 compared with levels under a “do nothing” scenario. Under the plan, which Brazil's negotiators will present at the Copenhagen talks, about half of Brazil’s greenhouse gains would come by putting the brakes on clear-cutting in the Amazon forest. This week, the government said deforestation had hit a 21 year low, citing satellite surveys.

Though voluntary and not binding, Brazil’s economy-wide targets are the most aggressive proposal yet by a major emerging economy. It’s something “no other developing nation has done” or even publicly discussed, said Stephan Schwartzman, director for tropical forest policy at the Environmental Defense Fund in Washington, D.C.

Brazil’s move could turn up the heat on U.S. and Chinese negotiators at the United Nations climate summit starting December 7th in Copenhagen. China and the United States are the world’s two largest emitters, but neither has been willing to agree to binding limits. “Politically, as long as the U.S. won't put numbers on the table, either for targets or finance, the big developing countries won't commit to anything,” said Schwartzman.

That’s left Copenhagen negotiators scrambling. The Washington Post reported that diplomats are now discussing an interim pact which, much like the Brazilian proposal, would be heavy on promises but lack legal force.

Some environmentalists expressed doubts about Brazil’s emissions goals, which were hashed out by high-ranking ministers during rushed negotiations. “They came up with a low-carbon economy in a single month. There was no discussion with the civil society or the academy,” said João Talocchi, Greenpeace climate campaigner in Brazil. “We know nothing about their numbers, who will pay the bill, who will benefit, what is the plan.”

Brazil’s targets also got a boost from its most heavily industrialized state, São Paulo, where legislators this month agreed to cut emissions by 20% over current levels by 2020.

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