Brazil’s emissions of greenhouse gases rose by 9.6% in 2019, the first year of the Bolsonaro administration. This data comes from SEEG (Greenhouse Gas Emissions Estimates System) and was released on Friday (6) by Observatório do Clima. Last year, the country released 2.17 billion gross tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e) into the atmosphere, up from 1.98 billion in 2018.
These data consolidate the reversal of the trend of reducing emissions in Brazil, verified between 2004 and 2010, and suggests that the country is not expected to meet the 2020 PNMC (National Policy on Climate Change) goal. “We are on a dangerous path. Since 2010, the year when the national climate law was regulated, the country has increased by 28 % the amount of greenhouse gases it releases into the air every year, instead of reducing it”, said Tasso Azevedo, a SEEG coordinator. “At the rate at which is now and based on the figures that we have, the country cannot meet the 2020 goal and moves further apart from the 2025 goal.”
The growth of emissions in the last year was driven by deforestation in the Amazon, which skyrocketed in 2019. The amount of greenhouse gases originating from the land use change sector rose 23% in 2019, reaching 968 million tCO2e — up from 788 million in 2018. Deforestation accounted for 44% of the country’s emissions in the past year. Since the PNMC, emissions from land use change have grown 64% in Brazil, despite the law’s goal of reducing deforestation in the Amazon by 80% in 2020, when compared to the average figures between 1996 and 2005.
Increasing contribution of agriculture and livestock
“The significant increase in Brazilian emissions was powered by the high rates of devastation in the Amazon and the disregard for environmental policies in the first year of the Bolsonaro administration”, said Ane Alencar, director of Science at Ipam (Institute for Environmental Research in the Amazon). “The increase in emissions not only impacts our international commitments but also threatens the reputation of our agribusiness.”
Agriculture comes in second place, with 598.7 million tons of CO2e, in 2019, an increase of 1% in relation to the 592.3 million tons emitted in 2018. Combining the emissions caused by land use and agriculture, SEEG concludes that rural activity — whether directly or indirectly, through deforestation, in which case the land is almost always used for agriculture — accounted for 72% of Brazil’s emissions last year.
This means that, after ten years of climate policy, Brazil still has the same type of emission curve as before the policy was adopted, and that emissions in the country remain detached from its GDP: emission rates grew almost ten times more than the low GDP of 1.1% recorded last year. This is due to the fact that deforestation is an activity that does not generate wealth.
“The SEEG agro results show the growing contribution of agriculture to national emissions. This scenario needs to be reversed and, to that end, production systems must adopt good management practices and care for the soil, which is where most of the carbon inventories is concentrated. Conserved soil produces more and still stores carbon and, therefore, this is one of the most important natural resources in Brazil”, says Renata Potenza, the Coordinator of Climate and Agricultural Chains at Imaflora.
The energy sector accounted for 19% of total emissions in Brazil. This represented a slight increase of 1% from last year, from 409.3 million to 413.6 million tCO2e. This was due to an increase in electricity consumption, which led to the use of gas-fired power plants even though the annual rainfall was within the average for hydroelectric plants, and an increase in the use of diesel due to the recovery of cargo transport, which is the main consumer of fossil fuels in the country. The recovery of ethanol, whose consumption returned to levels before the sector’s crisis in 2012, and the gradual increase in the use of biodiesel prevented a greater increase in energy emissions last year.
“In electricity generation there was also an increase in demand, which caused an increase in generation by fossil thermoelectric plants, but hydroelectric, wind and solar generation increased even more significantly”, said Felipe Barcellos, project analyst at the Instituto de Energia e Meio Ambiente. “This actually reduced the increase in emissions from the sector, which could have been greater.”
Industry emissions, which more closely reflect the GDP and the sector’s difficulties, fell 2% — from 101 million tCO2e in 2018 to 99 million in 2019, and last year it accounted for 5% of Brazil’s emissions.
Finally, the waste sector also faced a slight growth of 1.3%, going from 94.8 million tons of CO2 equivalent in 2018 to 96.1 million in 2019. Despite accounting for only 4% of national emissions, the sector has received enormous attention from the Ministry of the Environment, whose minister considers it “the main Brazilian environmental problem”. It was the only sector that benefited in 2020 from the resumption of the operation of the National Climate Change Fund, having received the R$ 580 million deposited in the fund in 2020, after its complete paralysis for a year and a half.
“Historically, this sector has shown significant growth. However, in the last few years a certain stability of emissions was possible. This indicates a scenario for maintaining the current situation, without major advances in waste management and in meeting sectoral climate goals”, said Iris Coluna, Project advisor at ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability.
Emissions in 2019 place Brazil in sixth place among the largest climate polluters in the world — rising to fifth place when the European Union is excluded. Per capita emissions in Brazil are also higher than the global average. In 2019, each Brazilian citizen emitted 10.4 gross tons of CO2e, when the global average is only 7.1.
In addition to the cut in deforestation, in 2020, the national climate law required Brazil to reduce its emissions by 36.8% to 38.9% at the end of this year in relation to the trajectory that was expected to take place when the policy was approved. The calculation of the target showed a number of peculiarities, but back in 2019 the country lost its most ambitious threshold and had emissions exactly coinciding with the less ambitious threshold. SEEG estimates indicate that if the average change in emissions of the last ten years is maintained in 2020, the country will exceed by about 9% the less ambitious threshold of its target.
“The country will get to 2021 with a debt balance. 2021 is the year in which compliance with the NDC, our national goal under the Paris Agreement should begin”, said Marcio Astrini, executive secretary of the OC. “With a government that denies climate change and has not even delivered an implementation plan for the NDC so far, our participation in the Paris Agreement comes down to a signature on a piece of paper. This will have serious consequences for how Brazil is perceived internationally and for our foreign trade in the coming years.”
About Observatório do Clima: a network formed in 2002, composed of 56 non-governmental organizations and social movements. It fosters progress of dialogue, public policies and decision-making processes on climate change in the country and globally. Website: www.observatoriodoclima.eco.br.
About SEEG: The Greenhouse Gas Emissions Estimation System was created in 2012 to comply with a PNMC (National Policy on Climate Change) determination. The decree that regulates the PNMC established that the country should produce annual emission estimates, in order to monitor the implementation of the policy. The government, however, did not produce them. National inventories, which are fundamental instruments for getting to know the country’s emissions profile in detail, are published only every five years.
SEEG (www.seeg.eco.br) was the first national initiative to produce annual estimates for the entire economy. It was launched in 2012 and incorporated into Observatório do Clima in 2013. Today, in its eighth edition, it is one of the largest national databases on greenhouse gas emissions in the world, comprising Brazilian emissions from five sectors (Agriculture, Energy, Change in Land Use, Industrial Processes and Waste Management).
The estimates are generated according to guidelines provided by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), based on the Brazilian Inventories of Anthropogenic Emissions and Removal of Greenhouse Gases, from the MCTIC (Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovations and Communications).
8 researchers from the following NGOs contributed to SEEG: Ipam (Change in Land Use), Imaflora (Agriculture and Livestock), Iema (Energy and Industrial Processes) and ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability (Waste Management).
Solange A. Barreira Claudio Angelo
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