Brazil’s Consideration of Ethics and Justice Issues in Formulating Climate Change Policies

Carlos Germano Ferreira Costa, BSc, MSc, PhD

This paper responds to the research questions of the Project on Deepening National Responses to Climate Change On The Basis of Ethics and Justice, a joint project of the University of Auckland, School of Architecture and Planning and Widener University, School of Law, Environmental Law Center. The research questions and responses are as follows:

1. Identify the most recent national commitment on reducing ghg emissions (INDCs) made by the country and the date on which it was made.

Brazil is a country of continental dimensions, it has a very complex and dynamic economy as well as being a resource-rich country and a large agricultural producer, but it is still a developing country. Notwithstanding it is among the top ten greenhouse gas emitting countries, with a share of approximately 4% of global ghg emissions. The 2005 emissions were estimated to 2.193 MtCO2-eq while the projections for Brazil’s BAU emissions in 2020 are estimated to reach 3.126 MtCO2-eq (Halonen et al, 2013, p24-p25; MF, 2014, p13). Based on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), as a Non-Annex I country, Brazil does not have any quantified emission limitation or reduction obligations to achieve the goals of the UNFCC. However, differently from other emerging markets and developed countries, the Brazilian Government (GoB) claims that the country is playing a critical role and making tangible contributions to tackling climate change. On September 27, 2015, Brazil presented to the United Nations its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to the agreement on climate change that will be adopted at the Paris Conference (COP-21) in December 2015. The Brazilian INDC was built on positive results – Brazil reduced its greenhouse gases emissions by more than 41% (GWP-100) between 2005 and 2012 (Presidency of Brazil, 2015). This is the largest reduction achieved by any country so far – and establishes even stronger commitments. Brazil is adopting an emissions reduction target of 37% (GWP-100) in 2025, compared to 2005 levels, and is indicating that emissions can be reduced by 43% (GWP-100) in 2030. For this reason, Brazil provides an interesting contrast to other nations. It has apparently acknowledged its status as the highest ghg emitter in Latin America and Caribbean region and announced voluntary emissions reduction targets raging from 1.500 MtCO2-eq to 2.000 MtCO2-eq by 2020 – according to Brazil’s Second National Communication to the UNFCCC and the PNMC (National Policy on Climate Change). The GoB claims that Brazil, as a developing nation, has been doing its fair share to combat climate change, and is prepared to sustain this leading role in the context of the overall efforts needed to address the problem, pursuant to the Climate Convention’s objective and principles (MCT, 2010, p6-p23). According to the GoB, some of the most effective initiatives led by Brazil in this arena began with the establishment of the National Policy on Climate Change – PNMC -, by means of Law no 12,187/2009. The voluntary mitigation actions at national level included in it had been announced by the former President of the Republic, Mr. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, in Copenhagen, in December 2009, during the COP-15 and the CMP-5. In accordance with this law, Brazil openly acknowledged and agreed to pursue voluntary actions for the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions with a view to reducing its projected emissions between 36.1% to 38.9% by 2020. Notwithstanding, according to Halonen et al, (2013, p24) the projections for Brazil’s BAU emissions in 2020 will vary widely from approximately 1.4 to 3.2 MtCO2-eq, depending on the assumptions. The Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Marco Antonio Raupp presenting the report “Annual Estimates of Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Brazil from 1990 to 2010” – based on Decree 7,390/2010 – claimed the reductions of Brazilian emissions, in all sectors, at 38,7% (from 2.03 to 1.25 billion tonnes of CO2eq) between 2005-2010, driven by emissions reduction of 40,1% (1995-2005) and 76.1% (2005-2010) from Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) that have traditionally contributed with the highest share of total emissions in Brazil (60%) (MF, 2014, p5; FBMC, 2015).

2. Given that any national ghg emissions reduction target is implicitly a position on an atmospheric ghg concentration that will avoid dangerous climate change, to what extent has the nation expressly identified an atmospheric ghg level target goal or a warming limit that its INDC is designed to achieve and is it possible to quantitatively examine how the ghg emission target links quantitatively to an atmospheric ghg concentration or carbon budget?

Brazil´s INDC has significant implications on the global long-term transition to a low-carbon economy once Brazil is one of the few developing countries to take on an absolute emissions reduction target. Brazil’s goal is equally or more ambitious than the targets of many developed countries. In addition, its INDC incorporates the most up-to-date references from the IPCC consistent with the overall goal of limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius (Presidency of Brazil, 2015). The country committed to eliminate illegal deforestation, restore and reforest 12 million hectares of forests, restore an additional 15 million hectares of degraded pastures and enhance 5 million hectares of integrated cropland-livestock- forestry system by 2030, increase the share of renewable sources (beyond hydropower) in the energy matrix by 28% to 33%, among other measures, which include transformative actions in the energy sector. This means accelerating the shift to renewables and surpassing its existing commitments to minimize emissions from agriculture. However, Brazil´s intentions are not a huge shift of direction in which Brazil is already moving. Brazil advocates a middle ground by delivering a proposal based on differentiation with Annex I countries adopting economy-wide absolute emission targets and other countries, depending on their respective responsibilities and national capabilities, adopting intensity-based targets; targets defined as a deviation from business as usual (Ott et al, 2014, p5). In this sense, Brazil proposed a concentric cycle – focused on mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology development and transfer – during the Ad Hoc Working Group meeting on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Actions (ADP, 2014, p8) held on 20-25 October 2014 in Bonn, Germany. In addition, Brazil agreed with most Parties about the necessity for the 2015 agreement being durable and flexible, based on a 10-year cycle with a 5-year contribution term, with purpose to allow for adjustment to enhance ambition while at the same time provide a long-term perspective for Parties based on science, equity and adequacy to close the gap between Annex-I and Non-Annex I countries (TWN, 2014, p1).

3. Given that any national ghg emissions reduction target is implicitly a position on what ethics, justice and equity requires of it, to what extent has the nation expressly identified the justice or equity basis that it has considered in determining a ghg emissions reduction target percentage level?

Brazil says that given the characteristics of climate change as a collective action problem at the global scale, the 2015 agreement must ensure that all Parties move towards the same direction over time, with developed countries taking the lead and by taking fully into account the economic and social development and poverty eradication priorities of developing countries. The Brazilian INDC includes actions to increase resilience and reduce risks associated with the negative effects of climate change, especially for the poorest parts of the population, with attention to gender issues, the rights of workers and of indigenous and traditional communities (Presidency of Brazil, 2015). In addition, Brazil’s Initial and Second National Communication to the Climate Convention (the publication of the 3rd National Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory has recently ended the public consultation period at the beginning of 2015) reaffirms the country’s commitment to strengthening the role of multilateral institutions that, according to the GoB, are the adequate framework for solving problems of a global nature that will affect the international community (MCT, 2010, p7). The National Food Security and Nutrition (CONSEA) clearly states the understanding that the climate crisis is not a result of chance. It supports that the principles of social justice and climate justice should guide the internal and external Brazilian Climate Policy, because climate change should be understood both in the ethical and social dimensions located in the field of human rights and the burden of the adjustment to the climate crisis must be supported for those who have historically been responsible for its development, those that misappropriate the wealth, both in developed and in developing countries as well (CONSEA, 2009, p2). The GoB’s definition of “fair share”, according to Eduardo Campos, State Minister of Science and Technology in 2004, has always been related to the fact that climate change is a matter of concern for humankind which can be decisive for the survival of the human race in the long term. In addition, Brazil´s intentions to play a leading role in the arena of global environmental issues confirms the importance that the GoB attaches to its commitments under the UNFCCC treaty and how it internalizes the recognition of ambition, equity, equality and fairness in front of other nations and to convince the populace that the nation should show international leadership on environmental issues.

4. To what extent, if any, has the national debate about the nation’s INDC considered or acknowledged that the nation not only has economic interests in setting its ghg target but also ethical obligations to those who are most vulnerable to climate change?

According to the former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, on the National Plan on Climate Change, Brazil has done a lot to face the problem of climate change; it has been working internally and in the international negotiations on the issue searching for viable, fair and equitable responses. Brazil points out that its main concern are the poor people, who have done nothing to generate this problem but will suffer the consequences of unsustainable patterns of development (PNMC, 2008, p5). Brazil officially says that not only economic interests drive its ghg reduction targets but also ethical obligations to those who are most vulnerable (PNMC, 2008, p7-p8;p13;p84; NPCC, 2008, p19-p21). Perspectives of justice and equity are reported in training and cooperation initiatives in relation to national and regional capacity building with other developing countries (South-South Cooperation) and triangular cooperation initiatives, involving both developed and developing countries (North-South-South Cooperation) (MCT, 2010, p464; p473-474; p478-479 ). Brazil also points out that collaboration with other developing countries related to Clean Development Mechanism initiatives – such as the fight against deforestation, technological advances achieved in the agriculture sector, as well as the case for biofuels and energy efficiency -, help these nations to achieve development goals (MCT, 2004, p22; MCT, 2010, p6). Although, in reality, Brazil´s intentions are not merely based on ethics, justice, or equity. Brazil seeks to identify its technologies that developing countries need to receive, diffuse and/or transfer through South-South (especially with Portuguese-speaking and/or African countries) or triangular cooperation and, thus, expand commercial trade.

5. To what extent have NGOs or other major participants engaged in climate change policy formation at the national level examined the national INDC from an ethics, justice, or equity perspective?

In Brazil, the participation of NGOs is mostly represented by the Climate Observatory (Observatório do Clima), which is a network that brings together civil society organizations in order to discuss the issue of climate change (Observatório do Clima, 2014, p1). It has engaged in climate change policy formation at the national level proposing to the GoB that emissions should not exceed the ceiling of 1 CO2 gigatons in 2030, which must be the Brazilian contribution to maintain the 2 degrees warming limit (Scala, 2014, p1). According to Brazilian NGOs, the GoB is weak in public policies development aimed to reduce missions, especially regarding deforestation, agriculture and energy. In this regard, a recent survey, conducted by Datafolha Institute, commissioned by the Climate Observatory (Observatório do Clima) and Greenpeace Brazil, proved that the Brazilian population is very concerned about Climate Change (85%), 88% identify issues related to global warming with deep concern for the country, a rate that reaches 91% when evaluating the perception about the future of the planet. It has also stated that the population believes that the GoB has done very little to address this problem (84%). This may be an indication that the efforts – reduction of ghg emissions by more than 41% (GWP-100) between 2005 and 2012 – made by GoB to date, have not been perceived as sufficient by the populace in order to face the problem. Moreover, two-thirds (66%) of respondents said that they expect from Brazil a leading position in international negotiations addressing climate change issues (Datafolha, 2015).

6. To what extent has the national media covered issues concerning the national INDC with respect to ethical, justice, and equity issues?

The National media has contributed towards an increase in public awareness on climate change as it offers publications in Portuguese from international and national researches, in order to generate awareness of an issue that was previously relatively unknown in the country. However, little has been done with respect to ethical, justice, and equity issues.

7. Before any nation may adopt an INDC or climate policy it often has to satisfy national economic interests. Yet many nations fail to disclose the national economic interests that have actually affected the lack of aggressiveness of the national INDC when commitments are made under the UNFCCC. Given this, what is known about the actual basis for the aggressiveness of the national INDC?

The Brazilian INDC establishes even stronger commitments In Brazil, the current emissions reduction targets are identified by sectorial plans; it aims to reduce social inequality and to increase income by seeking an economic dynamic with a low emissions trajectory (PNMC, 2008, p7). Brazil in the Joint Statement on Climate Change Between the GoB and the Government of the People´s Republic of China (China), after the official visit of the Prime Minister of China, Li Keqiang to Brazil, in May 19, 2015, recognized that climate change needs to be addressed through international cooperation in the context of sustainable development, reaffirming the Brazilian commitment to reaching a balanced, comprehensive, equitable and ambitious agreement in full accordance with the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, with developed countries taking the lead by undertaking ambitious, economy-wide, absolute emission reduction targets and providing finance and technology support to developing countries, including incentive mechanisms to progressively move towards economy-wide mitigation contributions. Brazil says its INDC were driven towards the objective of the Convention, indicating that its national initiatives – Brazil’s clean energy matrix, use of biofuels and significant decline in deforestation, which have put the country on track towards a low-carbon economy – and results achieved – Brazil reduced its greenhouse gases emissions by more than 41% (GWP-100) between 2005 and 2012 – were fully reflected in its INDC. Brazil affirms that its cooperation on climate change, with other countries, will achieve co-benefits in combating climate change and promoting energy security, environment protection and sustainable development (Brazil-China Joint Statement, 2015-2021, Presidency of Brazil, 2015).

8. What formal mechanisms are available in the nation for citizens, NGOs and other interested organizations to question/contest the nation’s ethical position on climate change?

According to Cole at al., (2015, p1) in Brazil, development-related priorities are handled through substantive measures, while social and environmental concerns are addressed through procedural mechanisms, including participation. This represents the way Brazilian climate governance works, both domestically and in the context of multilateral climate governance regimes. Since activities related to climate change began in Brazil, institutions have been created to address the domestic implementation of the Climate Convention. In June of 1994, the GoB established an Interministerial Commission for Sustainable Development – CIDES by presidential decree (Decree no 1,160 of June 21, 1994). The objective of CIDES was to provide assistance to the president of the Republic in decision-making about national strategies and policies for sustainable development, in a manner compatible with Agenda 21, in recognition of the complexity of this task and the need for involvement of a large number of institutions (MCT, 2004, p59). In addition, the concern for greater institutionalization of climate change related issues led to the creation, by Presidential Decree in July 7, 1999, of the Interministerial Commission on Global Climate Change, with the purpose of coordinating government actions in this area. This decree empowered the Commission to request the collaboration of other public or private bodies and representative civil society organizations in carrying out its responsibilities (MCT, 2004, p60). In 2014, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MRE) coordinated public consultations with the Brazilian civil society to support the preparations for the Brazilian proposal (INDC) that the country presented to the new agreement under the Climate Convention (MRE, 2014; 2015; Portal Brasil, 2014). These consultations were divided in two phases. The first phase of consultation was held from May 26 to July 22, 2014, based on an online questionnaire (available at The second phase of consultation began on 25th August 2014, with the publication of the preliminary report on Public Diplomacy, which was subjected to a new round of electronically and in-person meetings; The Government of Brazil considers essential that contributions to the new agreement contains the backing of various sectors and segments of civil society. The meetings were open to all interested parties upon prior registration by e-mail ( (MRE, 2014, p2).

9. Are you aware of any regional, state, provincial, or local governments in your country that have acknowledged some ethical responsibility for climate change? If so, what have they said?

According to the former president, Mr. Luís Inácio Lula da Silva, yes; he said that Brazil is working both internally and in the international negotiations on the issue to find viable, fair and equitable responses and Brazil is committed to do more, as part of a global effort to deal with climate change (NPCC, 2008, p3). Notwithstanding, domestically, for the most part, adaptation to climate change has been left up to central government. The Federal government says it has extensively advocated ethical and justice considerations in allocating a percentage of global ghg emissions to the nation through the identification of a ghg emissions reduction commitment. It may suggest that the government is aware of its UNFCCC obligations and therefore what climate justice entails. There have been attempts to expand education, public awareness, and training regarding issues related to climate change. Several educational programs implemented in Brazil are in accordance with the objectives of the Convention. Of special note are the National Environmental Education Program – PRONEA and the National Environmental Education Policy – PNEA, which aim at promoting a broad program of environmental education in Brazil. Also of great importance are the programs “PROCEL in Schools” and “CONPET in Schools”, directed especially at children and teenagers through partnerships with teaching institutions. In addition the Brazilian Climate Change Forum – FBMC, created in 2000 and chaired by the president of the Republic, seeks to promote the awareness and mobilization of society about global climate change (MCT, 2004, p215). The President Dilma Rousseff in a recent speech at the United Nations Climate Summit, said that in an environmental injustice frame, the poor are the most vulnerable, especially in large urban centers and that the concept of climate justice has been understood in Brazil based on a sustainable growth model that has shown it is possible to combine environment issues, inequality reduction, productivity and innovation increasing (FBMC, 2015, p1).

10. Has your national government taken any position on or otherwise encouraged individuals, businesses, organizations, subnational governments, or other entities that they have some ethical duty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

The Brazilian INDC addresses mitigation and adaptation actions, as well as financial, technological and capacity-building needs, to respond to the challenges of climate change. It strongly recognizes the important role of local governments (Presidency of Brazil, 2015). The GoB established by Decree no 3,515 of June 20, 2000, the Brazilian Forum on Climate Change (Fórum Brasileiro de Mudanças Climáticas – FBMC), which aims to raise awareness and mobilize society for discussion and position on the problems arising from climate change by greenhouse gases as well as on the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) defined in Article 12 of the Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC ratified by the National Congress through Legislative Decree no 1, February 3, 1994. The FBMC was created to assists the GoB in the incorporation of questions on climate change at different stages of public policy (FBMC, 2015). The Federative Republic of Brazil is divided into 26 states, 5,565 municipalities and the Federal District, where the capital of the Republic, Brasília, seat of the government and the Executive, Legislative and Judicial Branches, is located (IBGE, 2015). At the sub-national level, 12 out of the 27 Brazilian federative units have already sanctioned laws that establish state-level climate change policies and four state legislatures are considering bills that are under discussion with civil society (Climate Forum, 2012, p10-p11). According to the Climate Forum, most of the state-level policies now in effect do not establish ghg emission reduction targets – exceptions are the states of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Paraíba. The state of São Paulo established an absolute target of reducing ghg emissions by 20% by 2020, compared to 2005, while the state of Paraíba set the same target as the federal government: reducing ghg emissions projected by 36.1% – 38.9% by 2020 (Climate Forum, 2012, p10-p14). The state of Rio de Janeiro established an emission intensity (tCO2e/GDP) target in 2030 equivalent to the intensity observed in 2005, and has also established reduction targets, for specific sectors, ranging from 30 to 65% (see State Decree 43,216/2011), while eight Brazilian federative units have its goals under discussion, and another 3 federative units have shown intentions to reduce or at least stabilize its ghg emissions (Climate Forum, 2012, p15).

11. What recommendations would you make to get the nation or civil society to take ethics and justice issues seriously in climate change policy formulation?

The GoB believes its actions demonstrates how the national commitment on reducing ghg emissions (INDCs) are quantitatively linked to an atmospheric 2 degrees warming limit, somehow representing what Brazil considers to be its fair share of safe global emissions. However, it seems Brazil has been promoting ethical arguments to forge moral leadership on climate change, since the actions provided for its INDC are not dependent on external support. However, recognizing the success of initiatives such as the Amazon Fund, Brazil also foresees international support for the implementation of its INDC while it recognizes the importance of South-South cooperation in the global effort of combating climate change and expansion of commercial trade. A relevant aspect of this position is that Brazil as a transitional economy could provide insights into governance systems in the developing world, once Brazil´s actions could influence the policy-making in other emerging nations (Kesselman et al., 2015, p399). As affirms Kelman (2015, p7) the blame game is further relevant in terms of determining the issues for which blame should be apportioned and it is specially relevant to Brazil. After all, the Climate Convention reflects the recognition that the relative contribution of emerging countries to global ghg emissions will grow to meet their social and development needs. In other words, Brazil´s ambitions, moving from a defensive position to an aggressive strategy, delivered by actions and based on achieved results, apparently, has demonstrated international leadership on environmental issues, notwithstanding time is still needed to observe if speeches and promises, as it has marked Brazil´s presence in international negotiations, will reflect in tangible results. Brazil´s International recognition may still have to be earned rather than being taken for granted.


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