Rhein on Energy and Climate

As of January 1st, the new Brazilian climate legislation (“National Policy on Climate Change Act”) has entered into force. It fixes ambitious targets. By 2020 green house gas emissions should be 39 percent lower than “business as usual”, which should bring back Brazil‘s emissions back to 1994 levels.

To reach this objective, Brazil must first and foremost stop the deforestation of the Amazonas tropical forests, which is responsible for as much as two thirds of its GHH HHHG emissions. It will secondly have to generate even more electricity from hydro-power, wind and biomass, which combined account already for 85 percent of total electricity generation. And it will have to oblige its industry to reduce emissions.

No country possesses such a wealth of renewable energy resources. Its population density is one of the lowest on earth (23 inhabitants per km2). Its hydro-power resources are comparable to those of Congo, Russia and Canada. Its 150 GW wind energy potential is equally impressive, and its biomass potential would suffice to completely run its automobile fleet.

It was therefore only logical that for the bill to envisage the gradual phasing out of the use of fossil energy as the long-term goal. Unfortunately the government has decided to drop this objective in the final text. Still, if the country proceeds with the development of its hydro-power and wind potential it should be able to supply essentially all of its electricity needs from renewable sources.

Green NGOs have criticised the law for allowing more large-scale hydro power developments and have put in doubt the government’s commitment to implement a vigorous policy on climate change.

Whatever the shortcomings of the law, it comes at a most opportune moment, one month before all countries are due to submit their emission reduction targets to the UN. It shows all major emitter countries what is possible with the right political determination.

Brazil will benefit from its new policy approach.

First of all, it will boost to its image as a country committed to the fight against climate change.

Second, by containing its demand for fossil energy it will be able to export more energy, both oil and electricity.

Third, it will help secure its own ecological and economic survival, which depends on the conservation of the Amazonas forests.

It is therefore more than appropriate for others to take a close look at Brazil’s climate change policy and, hopefully, find some inspiration.

Brussels, 04.01.10 Eberhard Rhein

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