Brazil increases emission allowance in new climate plan

Brazil's unambitious new climate plan is a dangerous backtracking on previous commitments.

Photo: RFN

In their updated national climate plan (NDC), Brazil allows itself to increase CO2 emissions from current levels until at least 2025, including continued high levels of deforestation, whilst still meeting their climate promise. 

“By using a different source for the 2005 baseline emissions, Brazil has managed to give itself a free pass to dramatically increase emissions. The new NDC allows Brazil to emit 3.4 billion tonnes more CO2 over the next decade than its previous climate commitment did. As most emmsisions stem from deforestation, this will enhance the already critical situation for the rainforest,” says Anders Haug Larsen, Head of Policy at Rainforest Foundation Norway. 

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This figure by Brazilian NGO network Observatorio do Clima shows how a different choice of source for the 2005 baseline emissions has changed the Brazilian emission allowance for the next decade.

How was the emission target changed? At first glance, many observers believed Brazil reconfirmed its 2015 commitment in the new 2020 NDC, since the same goals of 37% and 43% reductions were used. 

However, due to a change of baseline between the two NDC’s, the updated emission target is less ambitious than before. Under the former NDC, Brazil would have to reduce emissions from current 1.57 Gt CO2 in 2019 to maximum 1.3 in 2025, and 1.2 in 2030. Under the updated target, they can increase emissions up to 1.7 in 2025 and 1.6 in 2030. 

This is possible because the 2020 version of the Brazilian NDC is based on 2005 emission levels from the revised 2017 3rd national communication. In this report, emission levels were set to 2.8 GTCO2 in 2005. They were already down to 1.3 in 2010, due to reduced deforestation. The baseline used in Brazil’s 2015 NDC was the 2nd national communication, which was issued in 2010. That report had calculated the 2005 emissions at 2.1 GtCO2, which was used to calculate Brazil’s GHG commitments in the 2015 NDC. 

The Brazilian NGO Observatorio do Clima explains this well in their detailed briefing document.

The difference between using 2.1 and 2.8 billion tonnes of carbon as baseline level to calculate future emission caps from, has allowed Brazil to give itself a free pass to increase emissions rather than decrease them. In total, they have allowed themselves to emit an additional 3.4 GtCO2e over the next decade, in comparison to its previous already insufficient 2025 and 2030 promises.

“With these new “caps”, Brazil can continue to increase their carbon emissions and maintain current deforestation levels, without breaching their new and weakened “commitment”,” Anders Haug Larsen says. 

Sets international funding as a condition

In addition, Brazil describes their goals in the new NDC commitment as conditional on international funding of 10 billion USD/year. This is also a new and weakening development of Brazil’s commitment. In earlier commitments, international support has always been linked to increased results. 

In their new request for international funding, the NDC does not at all outline how and if proposed international funding can help achieve more ambitious targets. This is particularly concerning given the current experience with international forest financing to Brazil being frozen in the Amazon Fund, after unilateral Brazilian government changes to the structure of the fund.

Both these measures make Brazil's updated NDC far less ambitious than the previous NDC. Such changes are not in line with the Paris Agreement art 4.3 and 4.11, which emphasize that each new or adjusted NDC shall be done with a view to enhancing its level of ambition.

These concerning elements come in addition to the general problem that deforestation still is out of control in Brazil, and that the government has no plan to reduce it. This opens serious questions to whether Brazil can be seen as a serious partner on climate change or not, in spite of its continued Paris Agreement membership.

Missed potential

The only new “ambition” announced by Brazil in their new NDC, was an “indicative target for climate neutrality by 2060”. However, that is not ambitious. 

“The target is not binding, and given the enormous potential for forest restoration in Brazil and the urgent need to protect the remaining rainforest before it is too late, 2060 is much too far away. It is important to remember that Brazil is the world’s 6th largest emitter, mainly due to deforestation,” Anders Haug Larsen says. 

Current emission trends are moving in the opposite direction, a ground for concern that Brazil is not sufficiently committed to the Paris Agreement. In 2019, Brazilian GHG emissions increased by 9%, and 2020 has seen another dramatic increase in deforestation and GHG emissions. Brazil is not on track to reduce emissions, and the new NDC presents no additional measures that make it likely to achieve reductions. Such measures seem increasingly necessary. Replacing missing climate policy with more generous goals is not responsible. Deforestation, agriculture and cattle ranching were responsible for 72% of Brazilian emissions in 2019.

"In order for Brazil to be taken seriously regarding it’s intentions to reduce GHG, government and private sector have to present reliable plans to reduce deforestation from agriculture and cattle ranching," Anders Haug Larsen says.

On the day of its release, Brazilian civil society network Observatorio do Clima characterized the new Brazilian climate plan as an insufficient and immoral attempt to blackmail rich countries. The network has earlier this week presented their alternative Brazilian climate plan, outlining how the country can cut 81% of its emissions by 2030. Such cuts would mainly come about through an end to deforestation, a target that would be in line with the Paris Agreement. 

Rainforest Foundation Norway analyzed the first version of the Brazilian NDC and those of other rainforest nations in our 2017 report, concluding amongst other things that the Brazilian 43% target for 2030 (1,2 GtCO2e) was not ambitious. 

“We hope other countries will continue to work with Brazil and its civil society organizations to help them change this approach, reduce emissions, stop deforestation and save the planet,” says Anders Haug Larsen at Rainforest Foundation Norway.