From Environmentalism to Green Economy

Julia Fonteles – Brazil Institute, 07/28/2016


Brazil is home to more than 20% of the world’s species and encompasses 61% of Amazon’s territory. During recent decades, however, the country has suffered various criticisms from international and local communities about the amount of deforestation and the rapid destruction of the Atlantic and the Amazon forests, which has lost about 51% of its territory in only twenty years. According to the Environment Ministry, the economic activities related to agro industry corresponds to 40% of the country’s total GDP, while 31% of the country’s exports including coffee, soy and oranges are products of the rich biodiversity and favorable climate conditions.

“The issue of climate change is no longer environmental, but economic,” says Izabella Teixeira, Minister of the Environment in Brazil. Hence, a compromise between economics and environmentalists is necessary for the full development of the country, where green and environmental friendly activities can be seen as attractive investments, as opposed to enemies of economic development.

Brazil often plays a major role in environmental conferences due to its vast biodiversity. In 2012, the country hosted the Rio +20 International Conference in Rio de Janeiro, in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Earth Summit 92, where the UN Environmental Biodiversity Convention and UN Climate Convention were created.  The conference envisioned to “renew political commitment to sustainable development” and “strengthen the balance between the environmental, economic and social pillars of sustainable development”.  Given the lack of quantifiable solutions, however, the conference was not able to construct a reliable feedback system and was highly criticized by many members of the international community for being more commemorative than imperative in implementing new frameworks.

On the other hand, in 2015, Brazil participated in the COP 20 Paris Agreement on climate change, which envisions concrete technologies and international efforts to reduce the amount of pollutant gases in the atmosphere by integrating the private and public sectors. President Dilma Rousseff complimented the agreement’s efforts for its sensibility and adaptability towards developing countries. In addition, the Environment Ministry praised the international effort to reduce pollutant gases in the atmosphere as it facilitates the viability of national sustainable projects, such as the Program to Protect Areas in the Amazon (Arpa) and the “Bolsa Verde”. These two projects adopt a policy of conditional cash transfers to rural families in exchange for national forests conservation.

In efforts to build a reliable system of international commitment to reduce pollution, the United Nations’ Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon created, in 2012, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). This network encompasses a global and independent research center that encourages the advancement of technology in the area of sustainability. It specifically relies on the mobilization of civil society, private companies and international organizations to create an open platform for conservation initiatives. Brazilian environmentalist, Israel Kablin, who is president of the Brazilian Foundation of Sustainable Development and a member of the SDSN lead specialists panel said  “We need to develop and implement practical solutions based on scientific development,” .

In support of the economic approach to environmentalism, Professor of Economics at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Carlos Eduardo Frickmann Young developed an environment project that measures the opportunity cost of deforestation in monetary terms, making it possible to envision and quantify the consequences of deforestation. His method of study is measured in one unit of Reference Barusco, (URB in Portuguese) which corresponds to R$300 million and is adjusted according to the fertility, climate, and biodiversity of a given land. With this form of measurement, Young was able to develop the concept of payment through environmental services, (known as PSA), which has the main objective of attributing value to the services humans extract from nature. Young also believes that one of Brazil’s biggest mistakes is its late adherence to the market of CO2. This market was adopted by China and India and it provided a more balanced economic trade off with the purchase of the “right to pollute” from companies producing under the pollution cap established by the Kyoto Protocol. He says that the market was the first step to materialize the environment, which is what people often do. According to Young’s study, the cost to completely end deforestation in Brazil is around R$5.2 billion per year for fifteen years. With his calculation, we would save 205,000 square kilometers of forest conservation, 5.6 million tons of carbonic gas, and achieve the goals from the Paris Agreement to help curb the effects of global warming.

In light of the post-recession expected economic recovery, it is important to remember the relevance of environmental protection. “We do not have to worry about establishing a path for environment sustainability, it has already been established since the 90s,” says Kablin. Sustainability is and continues to be a priority in the agenda of the majority of nations. President Barack Obama reminded us, this past Wednesday during the Democratic National Convention about the development of technology to sustain a healthy environment as did current Brazilian Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Serra. “It is Brazil’s duty to adopt a proactive and leading role in the negotiations over climate and sustainable development as protectors of the Amazon,” said Serra during his inaugural speech in early May. The world needs to focus on innovation and technology to make sustainability a consumption norm and not the exception. “In this new green economy, we have to redirect our consumption habits”, Kablin complements, in a manner where the emerging markets who needs to participate in the liberal economy could do so sustainably.

Julia is a staff intern at the Brazil Institute.


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