Copenhagen Climate Change Conference and Commitment to the Future

The 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference, which ends this week in Copenhagen, is one of those moments in which history challenges us the most. The global warming crisis requires robust, concerted and conscientious responses from all governments. In order to solve it, we need to secure an urgent commitment from industrialized countries, with no exceptions, to reduce their own emissions and guarantee the financing of necessary actions in developing countries.

Stopping global warming is a common responsibility, but each group of countries plays a different role. We cannot demand equal sacrifices from those who have participated unevenly in the process of industrial development throughout the centuries. Copenhagen will represent a step forward if rich countries, which historically became rich at the expense of environmental degradation, present robust emission cut targets up to the common challenge and the debt they have accumulated with the planet.

In line with this, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has established that industrialized countries should adopt economy-wide emissions reduction targets, while developing countries should define measurable voluntary actions.

Thanks to domestic initiatives and the persistence with which we urge other countries toward a shared effort in controlling climate change, Brazil is no longer part of the problem and has assumed a respected position as the galvanizer of negotiated solutions. We have the cleanest energy mix among the biggest economies of the world. Hydropower plants, biofuels and other renewable sources make up 45.9% of Brazilian energy consumption, compared to the world average of 12.9%.

Our clean energy mix did not come out of nowhere. It is the result of an effort of generations in the construction of hydropower plants and production of renewable fuels. Hydro sources guarantee 86% of electricity generation in Brazil. In the last 30 years, the use of ethanol has avoided more than 850 million tons of CO2 emissions.

The government of President Lula has expanded this national commitment. With new plants entering into operation, we added 22,000 megawatts to the hydropower energy supply between 2005 and 2008. We have also created a program to promote the use of biodiesel and mandated the addition of vegetable oil to diesel consumed in Brazil. And we have stimulated the production of flex-fuel cars - which already represent 94% of car sales throughout the country.

Furthermore, Brazil has just given its most vigorous response to the challenge of reducing deforestation in the Amazon - the largest source of CO2 emissions in our territory. Deforested area dropped from around 28,000 square kilometers in 2004 to 7,000 square kilometers in 2009 - the largest reduction since 1988.

Brazil is in the group of countries from which voluntary mitigation actions are expected, but are not obliged to set reduction targets. As a country, we have decided to go beyond, and last November announced our goal of reducing emissions by 36.1 to 38.9% by 2020. We will avoid the emissions of around 1 billion tons of CO2 equivalent, carrying out a program of voluntary actions defined as follows:

  • Reducing deforestation by 80% in the Amazon region, and by 40% in the Cerrado biome (a reduction of 669 million tons of CO2 equivalent).
  • Adopting intensive recovery of pastures, integration between agriculture and cattle raising, and direct planting in straw and biological nitrogen fixation (a reduction of 133 to 166 million tons of CO2 equivalent).
  • Enhancing energy efficiency, the use of biofuels, and the supply of hydropower and other alternative energy sources (a reduction of 174 to 217 million tons of CO2 equivalent).

It is important to have numbers on the table, but they should be closely examined if they are to be effectively achieved. Taking as a reference the levels verified in 1990, the United States proposal is equivalent to only a 4% cut in their emissions, which is disappointing for a country that is responsible for 29% of global emissions. It will be just as disappointing if the European Union sets targets below the expectations built through the years. And it will be even more frustrating if the Copenhagen conference gives limited financial and institutional responses to the call for support of mitigation actions in developing countries.

Brazil attends to Copenhagen boasting the largest committed reduction to CO2 emissions. We have gone beyond our obligations and were pioneer in presenting ambitious voluntary targets for 2020. We have done our share and we expect the same from other countries. The future will not forgive us if we neglect this opportunity of making a better and environmentally safe world, for us and for the coming generations.

Dilma Rousseff is Chief of Staff to the Brazilian Presidency and Head of the Brazilian Delegation to the 15th United Nations Climate Conference.

This piece was originally published in Portuguese in O Estado de Sao Paulo on December 13, 2009.