Leading environmental groups have poured scorn on Brazil's commitment to become carbon neutral by 2060 — or sooner if it receives $10bn in annual funding from developed nations.
Ahead of a key climate summit this weekend hosted by the UN, UK and France, Ricardo Salles, Brazil’s environment minister, announced the new 2060 target for the Latin American nation in reducing its carbon emissions.
The goal could be accelerated, he added, if developed nations pitched in $10bn a year to a federal government programme to protect the country’s forests, or through carbon trading mechanisms.
“As of 2021, Brazil will require at least US$10bn per year to address the numerous challenges it faces, including the conservation of native vegetation in its various biomes,” the letter from the Brazilian government to the UN stated.
“Further decisions regarding Brazil’s indicative long-term [carbon emissions] strategy, especially the definition of the final date to be considered to this end, will take into account financial transfers to be received by the country,” it added.
Mr Salles is a controversial figure who has spoken openly about a desire to open the Amazon rainforest and other protected lands to commercial activity. “Brazil is once again showing its commitment to climate issues, to the planet,” he said, on unveiling the latest proposal.
He has also long been an advocate of attaching monetary values to environmental resources. In August the rightwing minister, who is close to President Jair Bolsonaro, told the Financial Times the government was crafting a programme to let private companies pay to preserve chunks of the Amazon by “adopting a park”.
His latest comments about Brazil’s carbon neutrality goals were greeted by disbelief from environmentalists.
“What good is the government announcing a new commitment from Brazil to neutralise emissions by 2060 if it does nothing to stop the environmental dismantling in the country?” asked Marina Silva, a former environment minister, pointing to spreading deforestation and the gutting of Brazil’s environmental enforcement agencies.
Figures released last week by Brazilian space agency INPE showed deforestation in the Amazon this year reached a 12-year high of 11,000km2 — much of which is fuelled by illegal loggers, cattle ranchers and wildcat gold miners deep inside the forest.
Under a previous pledge as part of the 2015 Paris climate accord, made by the former leftwing Dilma Rousseff government, Brazil made a commitment to eliminate illegal deforestation by 2030, an objective that now appears impossible.
“The Brazilian government’s intention to zero emissions by 2060 is 10 years later than that announced by most countries worldwide, with the exception of China,” said Fabiana Alves, a climate co-ordinator at Greenpeace.
“In addition to insufficient goals, the government makes it clear that it will only think of more ambitious goals if foreigners pay for it, putting the onus of the crisis on the market.”
The move, ahead of the UN summit where countries including China, India and the US are expected to display commitments to limiting climate change, was another example of an attitude that further isolated Brazil in the international arena, said Marcio Astrini, executive secretary of the Climate Observatory, a coalition of Brazilian civil society groups.
The minister’s focus on attaching price tags to environmental objectives is viewed as the government’s main strategy for dealing with pressure from international financial institutions.
A group of investors responsible for $4tn in assets this year called on the Brazilian government to do more to protect the Amazon, with some threatening to divest if nothing was done.
Announcing the “Adopt a park” programme, Mr Salles said: “The Brazilian government’s response is: we have structured instruments for you, the funds, to come and help us take care of the Amazon. Participate, supervise, act together with us.”
At the time, investors said “positive change” was needed on the ground in terms of tackling illegal deforestation before such schemes could be considered.
Despite the overtures for funding this week, however, the Brazilian government reacted sharply to a proposal from US president-elect Joe Biden to create a multibillion-dollar fund to protect the Amazon. Mr Biden threatened financial sanctions if Brazil did not comply.
Mr Salles responded sarcastically on Twitter: “20bn. That is per year, right?”
Additional reporting by Carolina Pulice