Brazil and Climate change

Jos?Domingos Gonzalez Miguez

Economist and Electronic Engineer - MSc
Special Adviser on Climate Change of
Ministry of Science and Technology

Human activities change the balance of gases that form the atmosphere. This applies specially to the "greenhouse gases", such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. If severe measures to control such emissions are not adopted, we run the risk of altering the global climate. Among the possible consequences are an increase in the average temperature of the earth’s surface and changes in the world weather patterns.

If emissions continue to grow at the present rate it is almost certain that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere will double during the next century as compared to pre-industrial levels. There is scientific consensus, expressed in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, a well qualified forum that gathers experts from all over the world, that the most direct result will be an increase in the average temperature of the world surface of 2,5 0 C and an increase in the average sea level of up to 50 cm in the next one hundred years. In a world that is increasingly crowded and submitted to various tensions, these extra pressures could lead to new periods of disaster and famine.

Even though it has been intensely discussed in the last ten years by the scientific community, climate change is one of the global themes greatly lacking public information.

Nevertheless, the alarm bells sounded at the beginning of the present decade. In 1990, the General Assembly of the United Nations started negotiations for establishing a Framework Convention on Climate Change, finally adopted in May 1992. In June of the same year, at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro, the so called Rio-92, the Framework Convention was signed by 154 countries and today it has already been ratified by 164 countries.

Brazil as the host country was the first to sign the document. After ratification by the National Congress, the Convention came into force in Brazil in May 1994. In June of the same year, the Brazilian Government created the Interministerial Committee for Sustainable Development - CIDES - , aiming at formulating strategies and national policies necessary for sustainable development. Within CIDES, the responsibility for coordinating the implementation of the Brazilian commitments resulting from the Framework Convention on Climate Change was assigned to the Ministry of Science and Technology. For this purpose, a small advisory unit was established, the Coordination on Global Change Research, directly linked to the Minister’s Cabinet.

Differentiated Responsibilities

The objective of the Convention is to reach the stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the global climate system. The want of absolute scientific certainty should not be used as an excuse for postponing the adoption of preventive measures for avoiding or minimizing the causes of climate change and mitigate its negative effects.

These policies and measures should take into account different social and economic contexts. They should also be comprehensive, cover all sources, sinks and significant reservoirs of greenhouse gases and include all economic sectors.

The Convention takes into consideration the common but differentiated responsibilities of the countries and their development priorities, objectives and specific national and regional circumstances.

The text itself states clearly that the largest share of historical and current global emissions of greenhouse gases has originated in developed countries. It still notes that per capita emissions in developing countries are still relatively low and that the share of global emissions originating in these countries will grow to meet their social and development needs.

Considering the common but differentiated responsibilities, once developing countries (called Annex I countries) are the greatest emitters of greenhouse gases, they should agree to adopt national policies and corresponding measures to mitigate climate change. Nevertheless, there is a commitment common to all countries to prepare and periodically update national inventories of anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of all greenhouse gases.

Besides that, the effective fulfillment of the commitments by developing countries is linked to the commitment by developed ones to transfer resources and technology. It should also be taken into account the fact that the economic and social development and eradication of poverty are the absolute priorities of developing countries.

The theory and the practice

Even though the Convention establishes that the financial resources to meet the integral costs of elaborating the National Communication and the inventory of greenhouse gas emission of developing countries are a responsibility of the developed ones, in practice it has not been exactly so. The Convention has even created a provisional financial entity, the Global Environment Facility - GEF - to meet these costs.

But the Brazilian experience has demonstrated that there are hindrances which are difficult to be dealt with in order to get the necessary funds to cover the costs of the National Communication, estimated in US$ 7 million.

The first alternative for Brazil was to establish a bilateral agreement with the United Sates, within the US Initiative for Country Studies on Climate Change Program. But the negotiations, which started at the beginning of 1993, showed at once to be difficult, due to the divergence about the scope of the cooperation work. The American point of view is that it should be broader, including mitigation and adaptation plans, as well as studies about the country’s vulnerability in view of climate change. Brazil understood that the priority should be fulfilling its commitment, that is, the elaboration of inventories of greenhouse gas anthropogenic emissions, a view that prevailed when the agreement was signed, more than two years after negotiations began. Nevertheless, of the promised resources (which represent only 6% of the estimated resources) only a small part has been provided up to now.

These resources are far too short to cover the Brazilian needs relative to the responsibilities assumed. As a second alternative for obtaining resources, Brazil requested financing from GEF, a mechanism foreseen by the Convention itself, asking for partial support in June 1995, about 40% of the estimated resources. According to the Brazilian interpretation, the remaining cost is in some way already financed by the federal budget in the form of studies necessary for the report, which are annually and periodically produced by the country. After one year of difficult negotiations, finally the project "Enabling Brazil to Fulfill its Commitments to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change" was approved, the resources, transferred from GEF through UNDP, on grant terms, are a little more than 20% of the estimated resources necessary for elaboration of the Brazilian report.

The deadline for the delivery of the Brazilian report to the Convention, conditioned by the effective availability of GEF’s resources, expires in June 1999. This delay in the date for delivering the Brazilian report, albeit involuntary, permits the coordination to have greater flexibility in conducting the works, aiming at better results with scarce resources.

National effort

The Brazilian task has the dimension of the country. Until 1999, the deadline for delivering the Communication, a big national effort will be made to fulfill our commitments.

The preparation of a complete inventory of greenhouse gas emissions is a challenging and fascinating experience. It is a multidisciplinary effort involving institutions and experts scattered in all regions of the country and a big challenge in view of the necessity of developing national capacity in the area. Actually, there are already more than 60 institutions and about 300 experts working in the preparation of the Communication. Coming from different sectors (such as energy, industry, agriculture, waste treatment or forestry), professionals of different formations, from varied institutions such as Ministries, state-owned enterprises at the federal and state levels, private companies, non-governmental organizations, universities and research centers are already working on the Brazilian inventory of emissions.

In order to make easier the integration of those involved in the task, a home page was created ( in the Ministry of Science and Technology site. It is an interaction forum for experts of different sectors, who can follow and contribute to the work. Reducing costs and distances and permitting the permanent contact among all technicians and those interested in the subject in the country as well as abroad, the INTERNET page opens to the society the discussion of an issue which conclusively is related to its own life quality.

In spite of not having mitigation targets, it is our intention to show the Brazilian experience in terms of emission reduction, supported by actions such as the Alcohol National Program, program for energy conservation and reforestation and also by the existence of large hydroelectric power stations. These initiatives constitute an important credit for Brazil, since they prevented emissions in the past and today provide us with a comfortable position in the climate change context.

The elaboration of the National Communication is an important first step toward society’s engagement in the global warming issue. The ample discussion will permit a better dissemination of the Convention on Climate Change and a greater awareness of the population in general on the climate change issue. After all, this gigantic effort is made for the benefit of society.


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