COP26 begins

Brazil has the opportunity to play a central role at COP26 but do they want to?

The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (“COP26”) which is taking place in Glasgow, UK, from 31 October to 12 November 2021 will involve dozens of world leaders in discussions concerning environmental technical matters to prevent global warming. The summit is considered a make-or-break event for states to take measures that can dial down the risks of climate change through ambitious carbon-cutting measures.

Brazil, home to the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest, will be at the centre of the summit’s attention due to the poor environmental record of President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration. Since taking office in 2019, Bolsonaro has increased mining and agriculture activities in the Amazon, further undermining the conservation of the rainforest. Deforestation records in the Brazilian Amazon show that the environmental destruction levels in 2019 reached those of 2008 after years of positive progress. Furthermore, Bolsonaro has cut the environment budget and rolled back environmental legislation. In this context, Ricardo Salles, former Brazilian Minister of the Environment resigned last June after being targeted by a Supreme Court investigation into illegal logging in the Amazon.

A former advisor to the Brazilian Ministry of Environment gave his view of Brazilian priorities at COP26, “The Ministry of Environment wants to show progress at any cost, while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is focused on negotiation. The central issue for Brazil is the common responsibility of nations but differentiated according to the situation in each country. Brazil doesn’t want to be left in an unfair position so will seek alliances.”

“The central issue for Brazil is the common responsibility of nations but differentiated according to the situation in each country.”

Former advisor to the Brazilian Ministry of Environment

Despite being subject to international pressure, mainly from the US and the EU, Bolsonaro will not intend to attend the COP26 summit. The Ministry of Environment wants to present a compromise to combat illegal deforestation activities in the Amazon and will announce new investments in environmental enforcement. However, the government has not specified the guidelines to achieve this goal.

“The government’s top priority will be the payment for environmental services,” stated a member of Brazil’s COP26 delegation, “I think Brazil is prepared to take a position of responsibility but will want something in return. I think they will be looking to make a deal to position Brazil as a green development power. The challenge is, if Bolsonaro doesn’t approve it, it will not go anywhere, although the Minister of Environment is well-respected by Bolsonaro.”

“The government’s top priority will be the payment for environmental services, I think Brazil is prepared to take a position of responsibility but will want something in return.”

Member of Brazil’s COP26 delegation

A few days prior to the start of the summit, on 26 October, the Brazilian Congress held a plenary session devoted to COP26. Opposition parties criticised the government for its lack of transparency over environmental matters, the inefficiency in the distribution of environmental assistance and the reduced scope of its public policies. These criticisms were made amid revelations that, since the Paris 2020 Climate Agreement the country increased its carbon emissions by 5% while the emissions at global level were reduced by 6.7%.

The international community will continue to pressure Bolsonaro’s administration through political means. In the US, President Joe Biden has included environmental policies at the centre of the bilateral agenda. At the same time, the EU has requested Brazil to meet its environmental commitments in order to ratify the draft trade agreement between the EU and Mercosur, of which Brazil is part.

The international nature of the summit and the need to take coordinated measures at global level are crucial to revise the targets for tackling the climate crisis. Governments will negotiate and agree to make funds available to bring forward national plans to reduce their emissions.

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