With reformulations, Minister Salles strips naked corpse of climate policy
As reported in the press this week, Minister Ricardo Salles ordered the resignation of positions in the Environment Ministry related to his international consultancy and to what was nominally still left of the structure of that ministry dedicated to the urgent issue of climate change.
The changes, which - in the characteristic style of the minister, who generically uses jargon about "efficiency" to obfuscate what are dismantling measures - were sold as an action to give "executive profile" to the ministry's climate area.
It appears from what has been reported that the changes should not have a huge impact. One diplomat is exchanged for another, and the name of an international advisory body is changed to include climate issues. The changes, however, strip away the immense carelessness, ignorance, misunderstanding shown by Minister Salles - and the Bolsonaro government as a whole - in relation to climate change.
The almost absolute death of Brazil's climate change policy may be one of the most serious defects of this government, and one of the most damaging to the country in the long term. However, it has been very little reported and valued by the press. After all, the press has already had much to report in the face of the nonsense and provocations pronounced almost daily by the president and his ministers. This is in the midst of other serious meltdowns and demonstrations of incompetence, for example in education, culture, foreign policy, social policies, and relations with Congress, not to mention cases of corruption, conflicts of interest, involvement of politicians with militiamen, and attempts to cover up.
All this, however, should not cover up the size of the irresponsibility headed by Minister Ricardo Salles regarding current and future generations. As already discussed in this column, climate change is a global emergency, and probably the most important challenge facing humanity and civilization. To explain the context of this change and what it means, I spoke with sources in the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Environment, Science and Technology and with civil society entities.
Planet gives the change
The planet's average temperatures have already risen by almost 1°C compared to historical levels, and fossil carbon emissions remain several times higher than acceptable to reverse the upward trend. The consensus of scientists is that much of the damage has already been done, and profound changes in the climate, which are already occurring, will worsen in the near future, affecting agriculture, rivers, sea levels, causing floods, droughts, mass extinctions of insects, fish, birds, reptiles and mammals, in addition to hunger, population displacement, loss of forests.
All this will happen, at some level, if the temperature increase is contained below 2°C. However, if the carbon emission standard does not change, it could be even worse, much worse, to the point of endangering human civilisation as we know it. In a scenario of 3º C elevation, or, if we really insist on the error, of 4º, 5º, or even 6º C, the effects will be drastic and unpredictable. Agricultural production may be compromised forever, the nature of the planet will change drastically, and, in a pessimistic but possible scenario, glimpsed by scientists, the elevation of temperature may initiate vicious circles of emissions that would transform the Earth into something similar to what the planet Venus is today - a place of poisonous atmosphere, dominated by the greenhouse effect, and unviable for life, at least for human life.
The precise final impact of these effects on the planet is uncertain. What is certain and proven by science without margin for error is that carbon emissions caused by human activity, especially the use of oil, gas, coal and deforestation, are even rapidly raising the temperature of the planet.
As it is better not to pay to see, practically all the countries of the world signed, still in 1992 (in Brazil, which at the time was leading this debate), the Framework Convention on Climate Change. Within this Convention, the Paris Agreement was approved in 2015 and opened for signature in 2016, with the commitment to do everything necessary to achieve the objective of limiting global warming to less than 2°C and, if possible, to a maximum of 1.5°C.
Under the Paris Agreement, each country must do its part to reduce global emissions. What exactly this part is is determined by each one, individually, and therefore the commitment is called the "Nationally Determined Contribution", or NDCs. NDCs vary in form and level of ambition, but all promise to reduce the level of emissions of climate pollutants from the usual. The Paris Agreement records and monitors compliance with each country's NDC. And it provides for a periodic review process by which countries should "improve" their contributions by further reducing greenhouse gas emission targets.
The revision of the goals is essential because, according to the United Nations Environment Programme, the current iNDCs submitted by the countries, added together, would still not be enough to contain the increase in temperature to 2ºC, even if they are fully met.
Well, back to Brazil now. In 2016, the country formalized its iNDC in the Paris agreement promising to reduce its total emissions by 37% from 2005 levels by 2025, and by 43% by 2030. When this iNDC was planned and submitted, there was still climate policy in the country, even if imperfect. Calculations and estimates were made, bringing together several Brazilian ministries, agencies, and scientists, on how much could be achieved, in order to have an ambitious goal, but still feasible and compatible with the country's development proposals.
However, the goal is not reached in automatic. Much of it will be achieved by reducing deforestation, giving us room so that we do not need to cut our use of oil and gas, still essential to economic growth. But achieving the goal - let's remember, there are only five years left before the first stage - requires coordinated and effective public policies on forests, agricultural practices, renewable energy, transportation and others.
At the same time, government and society as a whole need to continue an intense dialogue on how to revise our iNDC in order to raise its ambition. And how to turn this obligation into a huge opportunity, generating new and quality income and jobs in the areas of environmental management, sustainable use of biodiversity, eco-tourism, clean technologies, renewable energy, biofuels, smart agriculture, and others.
But we are not managing or controlling the deforestation of the Amazon, as the data from the National Institute of Space Research showed.
Brazil is in the process of
All this, as the intelligent reader has already understood, needs to be a transversal action conducted by the whole government, when not by the whole society. It cannot be conducted by a mere international advisor, who needs to take care of much more fundamental matters for the country and humanity, such as air tickets and the hotel of Minister Salles in his trips around the world, with the right to visits to steakhouses.
Salles believes, or pretends to believe, that "climate change" is just a theme of international relations. Going to meetings, trying to wrap up foreigners with his soft talk in seminars out there, buying fights with French people, trying to reduce the damage to the Brazilian image that his own policies have caused, causing a stir in the climate convention meetings. For that, however, there is already Ernesto Araújo's Itamaraty.
The first round of iNDC elevations is scheduled to take place later this year at the international climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland. Are we going or are we not going to present our goal elevation? If so, or if not, why? What internal strategies do we have to ensure it is achieved? Would there be any internal work or debate in Brazil on this? According to sources in the government itself and climate change experts heard for this finding: zero.
You can't say Brazil hasn't prepared itself in the past. The National Policy on Climate Change, approved by law in 2009, foresees a governance scheme that, at least on paper, would be the right one to face this immense challenge in a transversal way. The law created an Interministerial Committee on Climate Change (CIM), with 16 ministries, coordinated by the Civil House of the Presidency of the Republic, to define the necessary actions. Below the Committee, an Executive Group, coordinated by the Ministry of the Environment, and composed of seven ministries, to touch on and implement the various sectoral plans determined by the committee. And a Brazilian Climate Change Forum (FBMC), with members of civil society, academia, and the private sector, to dialogue with these committees, bringing proposals, opinions, advice.
If you have read so far, I don't think you need me to tell you that this issue, since the beginning of the current government, is a dead, cold corpse, even though it was not buried, because the law is still in force and a decree at the end of 2019, coinciding with the last climate conference, formally reinstated the CIM.
However, as soon as he took office, Salles extinguished the Secretariat of Climate Change and Forests, which in practice operated the machine provided for by law, and by greatly drying up its staff, he placed it within the Secretariat of International Relations, under the command of Roberto Castelo Branco. The columnist Diogo Schelp, from UOL, informed that he will be replaced by another career diplomat and two other people who took care of the issue. One of the fired people was the memory of Brazil in the area, for being acting in this function there are several governments, adapting to the policies of each one, but being cautious.
For its part, the Brazilian Climate Change Forum, which is attended by representatives of the federal government and civil society, was working last year with a forum of governors to play a climate agenda independently of federal actions and get things moving. In May 2019, the executive coordinator of the FBMC, journalist and writer Alfredo Sirkis, was removed from office, which was unpaid. Since then, the forum has reduced its activity and relevance a lot.
"The significance of these changes is that the Ministry of the Environment will no longer get involved in the issue of climate change. It will stay with Itamaraty and the issue of greenhouse gas emissions inventory will continue with the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation and Communications," explains Sirkis, who today is executive director of the Brazil Center on Climate (CBC). The institute continues working with the governors on the issue.
According to him, the country has aligned itself with a group of governments that resist the climate agenda, such as the United States, Saudi Arabia and Australia - which has gone through a major fire, an extreme event that will be more common with climate change.
"The fact is that today there is no federal climate policy, there is no plan to implement our iNDC and increased ambition does not even remotely pass through the mind of the government," says Claudio Angelo, of the Climate Observatory coordinators.
"Brazil's participation in the Paris Agreement today boils down to a signature on a piece of paper, and our trading partners and competitors know this, no matter how soft the minister's speech may be".
In short: intoned in the international advisory services of a weak ministry, in a frank process of dilapidation, and headed by a minister condemned, in the first instance, for administrative improbity for acts he committed in the position of state secretary of the Environment of São Paulo, Brazil's climate agenda, which should be among the country's priorities, any country, is dead, its corpse naked and exposed to flies. Another victim of this government's anti-environmental, anti-Brazil, anti-humanity, anti-future policy.
If this is not reversed soon, it will be we, our children, and our grandchildren who will pay the price.
Source: Coluna Leonardo Sakimoto - UOL