- Population (2019): 211 049 527 (6th most populated country).
- GDP per capita (2019): USD$8 717 (Ranked 72nd globally).
- Emissions (2018): 1.42GT (Ranked 6th highest emitting country).
- Earth.Org Sustainability Index Ranking: 35th.
Pledges & Targets
- Paris Agreement & NDC: Brazil’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), last updated in December 2020, targets the following:
- A reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 37% below 2005 levels in 2025, and by 43% below 2005 levels in 2030.
- Road to Net-Zero: Brazil has announced a goal of reaching climate neutrality in 2060, with the possibility of adopting a more ambitious long-term objective, depending on the proper functioning of the market mechanisms provided for in the Paris Agreement.
- Conservation Goals: Brazil has pledged to:
- Stop illegal deforestation in Brazilian Amazonia by 2030.
- Restore 12 million hectares of forests by 2030.
- Enhance and support sustainable forest management informed by native practices.
State of Affairs
Brazil is in a unique circumstance when it comes to addressing climate change. The vast majority of the country’s emissions are tied to the progressive deforestation and land-use changes of the country’s vast forested areas, which act as some of the world’s most important carbon sinks that naturally sequester large quantities of atmospheric carbon. Most of this deforestation occurs illegally. Brazil’s emissions are also closely tied to the country’s agricultural and transportation sectors.
The current Bolsonaro administration has paid little attention to conservation efforts of Brazil’s forests. While overall emissions fell in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government used the pandemic to accelerate and detract attention from significant environmental rollbacks, and from cuts in funding towards environmental protection and enforcement agencies. Agriculture has been the main driver behind deforestation in Brazil, although the government has not enacted any specific policies to regulate agricultural activity or reduce emissions in this sector.
In its energy sector, Brazil has been faring relatively well, as the country has long relied on hydropower to supply the majority of its energy needs. The capacity for modern renewables in Brazil, including wind and solar, is also rapidly expanding, and the country boasts one of the fastest growing renewable job markets in the world. However, Brazil has been largely unambitious in modernising its infrastructure and more actively pursuing sectoral decarbonisation strategies, a task that would not be overwhelmingly challenging given the country’s low reliance on fossil fuels and large capacity for renewable energy generation.
Given current policies, Brazil is not expected to meet its 2030 NDC goals, a target made even more unlikely due to rising deforestation rates. In April 2021, President Bolsonaro pledged to begin actively cracking down on illegal deforestation and to strengthen existing environmental regulatory bodies, but a federal budget report released the next day revealed that funding for environmental monitoring was to be further slashed by the administration. Brazil has the capacity to be substantially more ambitious in its environmental goals, but at the moment it does not appear that there is sufficient political will in the country to pursue such targets.
Climate Readiness & Vulnerability
The ND-GAIN Country Index by the University of Notre Dame summarises a country’s vulnerability to climate change and other global challenges in combination with its readiness to improve resilience. The more vulnerable a country is, the lower their vulnerability score, while the more ready a country is to improve its resilience, the higher its readiness score will be, on a scale between 0 and 1. Brazil’s scores are:
- Vulnerability: 0.38 (ranks 64th out of 192 countries).
- Readiness: 0.34 (ranks 126th out of 192 countries).
Brazil’s climate vulnerability outlook is complicated by three factors: the presence of extremely diverse and unique ecosystems, a status as a developing economy and a lack of political will to domestically address climate change and biodiversity loss. These three realities combine to make Brazil relatively unprepared for climate change impacts, despite an average vulnerability.
Per the World Bank, climate change impacts which pose a threat to Brazil as a whole include sea level rise, extreme temperatures and resource scarcity, with water scarcity being of most concern. However, Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world by land area, with a huge amount of interregional diversity. Brazil is home to an extraordinarily rich mosaic of diverse ecosystems, and climates range from subtropical to tropical to equatorial, spanning rainforests, savannahs and prairies. Brazil also possesses a highly unequal society, and a distinctly regional urban-rural divide, with the vast majority of its population residing in the heavily urbanised south, so the most pertinent impacts of climate change differ from region to region.
Brazil’s northern states will experience the worst impacts of higher temperatures, particularly around the Amazon Basin and in northwestern regions deep in the Amazon rainforest. Average temperatures in the tropical northern reaches of the country have already increased by 0.5C since 1980, and combined with the region’s high humidity and low-lying geographic layout, higher temperatures can often give way to critical heat warnings, directly affecting public health. In the longer term, the central areas of Brazil are forecasted to experience more instances of high temperatures than the coastal regions, although sea level rise and changes in weather patterns could change this. Average temperatures across the country could rise by anywhere between 1.7C and 5.3C by 2100.
More instances of extreme rainfall due to climate change will lead to higher occurrences of flooding, which is already the most frequent natural hazard in Brazil, and accounted for 74% of all deaths related to natural disasters between 1991 and 2010. In the north, the rate of hurricanes along the North Brazil Shelf will increase, while the country’s intricate network of waterways means that riverine flooding will be widespread. Other disasters related to heavy, sudden precipitation such as land and mudslides will be similarly impactful, particularly in cities. Flooding will be especially severe among poor and working-class neighborhoods, given the poor infrastructure in Brazil’s notorious favelas. Flooding, landslides and mudslides in Rio de Janeiro caused nearly 1 000 deaths after severe rainfall in 2011, with most fatalities occurring in the shantytowns built upon the steep terrains and mountaintops behind Rio. Disasters and human impacts of this magnitude will become increasingly common as global temperatures warm.
Around 20% of Brazil’s GDP and over 30% of its domestic workforce is dependent on agriculture, a sector that will be disastrously crippled by climate change. Brazil is also one of the largest exporters of certain products, soybeans for instance, to some of the world’s major markets, such as the US and China. Warmer temperatures will irrecoverably damage soil moisture and bring greater aridity, which combined with the higher risk of flooding, will lead to a dramatic loss in agricultural output and severe economic downturns. Given the sheer volume of people reliant on agriculture, resource scarcity, particularly water, becomes an ideal breeding ground for grievances between regions and producers, with more disputes arising between rural and urban inhabitants.
Brazil’s vulnerability to climate change is only exacerbated by the human activities that continue to occur within its borders. Rampant deforestation, agricultural land-use and biodiversity loss have been hallmarks of Brazil’s domestic policy in recent years, as the country has relentlessly extracted and employed all the natural resources at its disposal in pursuit of accelerated economic growth. These processes hinder Brazil’s natural resilience to climate change, and aggravate its potential effects upon the country.
Environmental Policies by Sector
- Per IRENA, renewables made up 42% of Brazil’s total primary energy supply in 2017.
- Between 2012 and 2017, the share of renewable energy in Brazil’s energy supply increased by 15.3%.
- In 2017, fossil fuels accounted for 57% of India’s energy production. Non-renewable low-carbon options including nuclear accounted for 1%.
Brazil’s energy policies have permitted renewables to rise up and account for a remarkable share of its total energy supply and consumption. Brazil receives the vast majority of its renewable energy from less than ideal sources, mainly bioenergy and hydropower which still have notable environmental impacts, although the market prospects for expanding solar and wind power generation are very promising, and renewable energy jobs are growing tremendously, and Brazil is one of the top labour markets in the world in this sector.
However, per the Climate Action Tracker group, Brazil will have to contend with a simultaneous upsurge in fossil fuel usage in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic caused energy demand in Brazil to fall, which has forced many of the smaller renewable energy companies to fold, while larger, well-established fossil fuel companies have been more resilient. If Brazil does not aggressively boost the growth of renewables and allows fossil fuels to entrench themselves, it may position itself in a much more carbon-intensive energy mechanism for the foreseeable future, making emissions reductions targets much more difficult to achieve than they have to be.
- Per USAID, 37.4% of Brazil’s total emissions in 2018 were derived from burning fossil fuels, around a third of which occurred within the transportation sector.
- 60% of oil consumption in Brazil is in the transportation sector.
- In 2020, there were approximately 46.2 million motor vehicles in circulation around the country, up from around 30 million in 2009.
- Urban transportation mostly revolves around private vehicles, public transport and walking. However, public transportation systems in major cities remain feebly funded and pale in comparison to networks in other large cities around the world in terms of reach and ridership, meaning most people continue to move by private vehicle, as is the case in Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo.
Relatively high degrees of social inequality in Brazil, combined with sporadic and often insufficient government spending, have combined to form a lacklustre public transportation infrastructure system that is insufficient in decoupling the transportation sector from environmentally harmful fuels. Despite the country’s economic reliance on exports, domestic infrastructure such as railways have lacked substantial investment. Traffic in and between cities is mostly motorised, making it difficult for the country to reach its emissions reduction goals, a challenge that is exacerbated by a prevalence of low-quality and highly polluting fuels in widespread use, such as diesel and ethanol. Ethanol fuel, which is extracted from sugarcane and nowhere near as carbon-intense and polluting as oil, is sometimes criticised for its implications for indirect land-use changes and deforestation to make way for sugarcane plantations, which may release more CO2 than is being saved by employing biofuels.
The government plans to implement progressive fuel standards for vehicles throughout the 2020s, however, efforts to electrify Brazil’s transport sector remain somewhat lacking. While most countries have opted to pursue aggressive hybrid electric vehicle adoption strategies to phase out internal combustion engines, the current administration in Brazil remains wedded to scaling up the use of biofuels to replace oil, despite the inefficiencies of these fuels relative to modern battery technology. Electric vehicles are sold in Brazil, and while the market is experiencing some growth it remains very small, in no small part due to the aggressive response from competing biofuel producers who have pushed back against electric vehicle adoption policies.
- 30.3% of Brazil’s territorial spaces are protected, as are 26.82% of marine areas, per the NGO Protected Planet.
- Per the Yale Environmental Performance Index, 87.07% of Brazil’s population is urbanised.
- Yale EPI ranked Brazil 53rd in the world in terms of ecosystem vitality, which measures how well countries preserve, protect, and enhance their ecosystems and the services they provide.
- Per Global Forest Watch, Brazil possessed 492 million hectares of natural forest in 2010, extending over 59% of its land area. By 2020, it had lost 3.2 million hectares of natural forest.
Brazil’s biodiversity is vast, unique and seriously under threat. Brazil is home to some of the world’s most vital and irreplaceable ecosystems, which are home to countless species of flora and fauna that can be found nowhere else on Earth. The Amazon rainforest is one of the planet’s most efficient and crucial natural carbon sinks, being able to absorb substantially more carbon than it emits. However, Brazil’s status as a developing country with an economy largely reliant on agrarian activities and agricultural exports means that growth policies have often come at the expense of environmental preservation, particularly under the oversight of the Bolsonaro administration.
Per Global Forest Watch, deforestation was the primary driver behind 64% of tree cover loss in Brazil between 2000 and 2019. While some legislation has been implemented to reduce deforestation rates, the Brazilian government has recently made clear that converting forest land for agricultural or livestock use is its priority. In 2004, the government launched its Action Plan for Prevention and Control of the Legal Amazon Deforestation, which prompted sweeping reforms in environmental governance and monitoring and a reduction in deforestation rates of 80% by 2012. However, the Plan was rolled back by the government in 2019, which saw deforestation rates climb to 120% their historical 2012 low, and entrenched land use change and deforestation become the largest source of Brazil’s emissions. Brazil’s current biodiversity conservation policies, or lack thereof, are what hold the country back the most from achieving targets outlined in its NDC and the Paris Agreement. These include making land grabbing legally permissible, raising concessions and subsidies for the farm lobby instead of indigenous groups and cutting funding for environmental protection institutions.
- Per the IUCN, 1 172 species in Brazil have been classified as endangered.
- Per the research group Animal Protection Index, Brazil has enshrined into federal law any legislation that recognises the sentience of animal species.
Brazil has adopted legislation that recognises the sentience and rights of animal species since 1932, and in 1998 passed the Environmental Crimes Law which prohibits engaging in any acts of abuse for domesticated or wild animals. This legislation has been expanded over time to outlaw painful or cruel experiments on living animals, even for educational or scientific purposes, if more humane alternatives exist.
Areas to improve upon mainly revolve around treatment of farm animals. There are little legal protections for animals being raised as livestock, and no legislation currently exists that prohibits factory farm practices such as farrowing cages or sow stalls. However, there do not appear to be any substantive changes to factory farm regulations nor to legislation addressing livestock at the moment, a shift that is difficult to envision given Brazil’s economic reliance on exports of animal products.
- Per IQAir, in 2020 Brazil averaged 14.20µg/m³ (micrograms of air pollutants per cubic metre of air), ranking 68th out of the 106 countries and territories where data was collected.
- Brazilian cities as a whole are deemed to have moderate or average levels of air quality, although discrepancies exist between the densely populated and heavily urbanised cities in the south and the less-developed regions in northern Brazil.
Given Brazil’s large population, status as a developing economy and the high rates of rural-to-urban migration occurring, rates of pollution have unsurprisingly been increasing. Brazil’s southern states, in particular, are a highly urbanised metropolitan network of cities and crowds; the metropolitan area of São Paulo, for instance, is the fourth most populous in the world. Pollution in Brazil is mainly caused by a lack of adequate infrastructure such as public transport and a prevalence of cheap but low-quality fuels that release significant amounts of airborne pollutants. Many vehicles in Brazil are powered by diesel or biofuels such as ethanol, both of which contribute heavily to ambient air pollution.
The government has recently passed legislation that would incorporate clean vehicle standards to reduce emissions and pollution from the transportation sector. These standards are designed to begin taking effect in 2022 and continuously regulate vehicle emissions, with new standards planned on being introduced beginning in 2025. However, the government has been advised extensively to invest more in infrastructure projects that could expand waste management processes and improve overall air quality, especially by developing more accessible urban and inter-city public transport systems.