Forty world leaders will attend a virtual climate summit hosted by the United States on Thursday and Friday, but most of the attention could fall on just one: Jair Bolsonaro, the Brazilian president who rejects climate change.
Bolsonaro became an international outcast as he chaired it record levels of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest since taking office in 2019, and his reputation has only worsened due to his disastrous response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It may seem odd to focus on the only outlier at a conference meant to boost climate ambitions ahead of a bigger UN climate summit in November. But instead of snubbing Bolsonaro, President Joe Biden used his first months in the White House to urge Bolsonaro to resume Brazil’s former role as a global leader in the fight against climate change.
Since February, the United States and Brazil have engaged in a series of diplomatic talks over a potential deal that could possibly resemble a plan proposed by Biden during his campaign to create an international fund of 20 billion dollars to encourage the protection of the Amazon. (A similar program, the Amazon Fund, was established in 2008 to allow other countries to support projects that limit deforestation in Brazil, although its main European backers halted donations in 2019 due to environmental policies of Bolsonaro.) And while that deal will almost certainly not materialize this week, Bolsonaro’s approach to the top could determine whether or not the two leaders come to a deal that they both say they want.
Biden and former Secretary of State John Kerry, US Special Climate Envoy, “really want to find a way to keep Brazil actively engaged in these climate negotiations,” said Thomas Shannon, who has been United States Ambassador to Brazil from 2010 to 2013.. “They are therefore making great efforts to ensure that the Brazilians accompany them. But at the same time, they are trying to make it very clear that now is not the time to take half measures and that what Brazil is proposing is insufficient. ”
There is a clear logic behind Biden’s climate pleas in Brazil. Few countries are more important in the battle to reduce carbon emissions, and any attempt to stem the effects of climate change is more difficult – perhaps even impossible – without South America’s largest nation at the table .
Biden has already made progress with China. If the United States, a country that has abandoned its own environmental role under President Donald Trump, can succeed in bringing Brazil back into the fold, it will not only reignite a more aggressive global climate movement, it will increase Biden’s – and the United States. – reputation as a climate leader.
That goal, however, still faces a major hurdle: Bolsonaro.
“ An ascending battle ”
Bolsonaro ran for president in 2018 for a plan to industrialize the Amazon, reduce environmental restrictions, and remove many of Brazil’s protections on rainforest land. He vigorously pursued this agenda as president, bulldozing past objections from environmental organizations (which he says are part of an internationalist plot to undermine him) and indigenous tribes, who have accused him to promote genocide against them.
Amazon deforestation peaked 12 years in 2020, and the forest that has long been a vital carbon sink could now emit as much as it absorbs, according to a recent study. The Amazon is also close to the point, scientists have warned, beyond which large parts of it are no longer recoverable.
Amid international contempt, Bolsonaro has found refuge in the United States during the Trump years. Biden’s win forced a slight change of pace in Brazil: Bolsonaro fired his foreign minister, who called climate change a Marxist plot. But in discussions with the United States, Brazilians have continued to take a hard line on funding to help limit deforestation, and when Brazil should receive it.
Brazil knows how to curb deforestation – it already has. It is less a question of resources than of political will.
Anya Prusa, Brazilian Institute
The Bolsonaro government, through Environment Minister Ricardo Salles, has insisted that the country needs money up front change approach, and he told the United States and other countries that a $ 1 billion aid commitment this year will help it reduce deforestation by 40%. The United States, however, has repeatedly told Brazilians that any funding it may provide is contingent on significant and immediate progress in tackling deforestation, a goal State Department officials have said ‘it is possible to achieve by the end of this year. Given Bolsonaro’s lack of credibility, it seems unlikely the United States will budge.
“The Bolsonaro government is facing an uphill battle trying to convince the United States and Europe that it is ready to sit down and take this seriously,” said Anya Prusa, senior associate at the Institute. Brazilian from the Wilson Center, a Washington-based company. think tank. “There is great skepticism that if international donors first give the money, it will in fact be followed by real action.”
The other signals Bolsonaro has sent so far are far from promising, although he has for now abandoned the kind of fiery rhetoric he used to do. deny the severity of fires this engulfs the Amazon two years ago.
Last week, Bolsonaro pledged Brazil would commit to ending illegal deforestation by 2030 and suggested his government ministers consider increasing the budget for the Environment Ministry, the Environment Ministry reported. newspaper Folha de S. Paulo.
But the 2030 commitment is not as ambitious as it sounds; it’s just a commitment that Brazil already made under the Paris Agreement in 2015. And spending more money on environmental law enforcement won’t do much if the government refuses to do so. spend: In the first 10 months of 2020, a year when record fires hit the Amazon and the Pantanal wetland region again, Brazil’s leading environmental agency spent only 40% of funds it is intended for the prevention and control of fires.
“Brazil knows how to curb deforestation – it already has,” said Prusa. “It’s less a question of resources than of political will.”
‘He won’t change’
US officials continued to have a positive tone on negotiations with Brazil, but they also stressed that Biden was unwilling to ease demands just to get a deal. A senior administration official told reporters on Wednesday that the United States is not picking countries like Brazil or telling them to set more ambitious climate change and emissions reduction policies “by themselves -” same ”; he is looking for ambitious partners.
“It’s about saying, ‘How can we collaborate and cooperate to go faster? The manager said. “But at the end of the day, for many countries, if they don’t act alone and progress alone, it is very difficult for the global community to engage.”
It is unlikely that anything that happens this week or in the immediate future could completely derail the negotiations between the United States and Brazil. But officials close to Biden have previously indicated that he will not wait for Bolsonaro forever: Juan Gonzalez, who is now the White House’s senior adviser for Latin America on the National Security Council, told HuffPost last fall that any leader “who thinks he can advance an ambitious relationship with the United States while ignoring important issues such as climate change, democracy and human rights has clearly not listened.”
Biden is also under increasing pressure to avoid making a deal with Brazil just to keep up appearances. Last week, 15 Democratic senators called on Biden to avoid any deal with Bolsonaro that does not include strong commitments. And Brazil’s indigenous tribes, lawmakers and environmental organizations have all similarly warned against an agreement it’s too lenient, warning that Bolsonaro is only interested in a token political victory.
“It won’t change,” Marcio Astrini, a researcher at the Climate Observatory based in São Paulo, told HuffPost. The United States and Europe, he suggested, should instead seek to work with Brazilian governors and organizations that are already committed to limiting deforestation.
Brazilian companies and financial institutions are also calling on the government to take aggressive action to limit deforestation, fearing that a continued refusal to do so will damage their international reputation and limit the country’s ability to attract foreign investment.
European nations that had previously funded the Amazon Fund have become increaare reluctant to continue contributing. Norway, which gave $ 1.2 billion to the fund between 2008 and 2018, said last week it would not end its freeze on future contributions until Brazil started reducing deforestation again.
If he also manages to alienate the United States, Bolsonaro will likely find himself completely isolated.
“It would be a shame, but the Brazilians would also endanger their most important partner on these issues,” Shannon said. “If they can’t get along with us, they can’t get along with anyone.”
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