Brazil’s foreign policy is in the dark

February 20, 2015

Robert Muggah – Open Democracy, 2/20/2015

If ever there was a good time for Brazil to assume more global responsibility in foreign affairs now would be it. Dangerous armed conflicts, health pandemics and climate change warrant assertive engagement from the world´s major players, including South America´s powerhouse. Brazil could play a critical role in promoting stability in an uncertain world. Worryingly, the country is nowhere to be seen.

Brazilian foreign policy is in the dark. Part of the problem is that its leaders are distracted. This is maybe not altogether surprising: the country’s economy is in the doldrums. Brazil’ new finance minister, Joaquim Levy, described Brazil´s economic prospects in 2015 as “almost flat”. Brazil is now one of the Fragile Five, alongside Indonesia, Russia, South Africa and Turkey. Unprecedented bribery scandals involving the national oil company, Petrobras, and a host of construction firms, will likely tip the already damaged economy into a recession.

Some Brazilian commentators resist a more activist foreign policy. They are understandably preoccupied with making critical reforms at home to increase productivity and competitiveness rather than promoting Brazilian interests abroad. But this is a false choice: domestic reform should not come at the expense of foreign policy. On the contrary. Brazil urgently needs to bolster its strategic interests in its own neighborhood and beyond.

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Brazil climate change plan backfires, doubling steel emissions

February 10, 2015

Chris Arsenault – Reuters, 2/10/2015

A plan to reduce climate-changing emissions from Brazil’s steel industry has failed, causing the amount of carbon pollution produced by the sector to double in less than a decade, researchers said.

Brazilian steel producers switched their energy source from coal to charcoal from forests, causing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to rise to 182 million tonnes in 2007 from 91 million tonnes in 2000, according to a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“Increased global demand for steel, and a lack of available plantation forest in Brazil, increased the industry’s use of charcoal sourced from native forests, which is not carbon neutral and emits up to nine times more CO2 per tonne of steel than coal,” Laura Sonter, a University of Vermont scientist and the study’s lead author, said in a statement.

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Brazil Scientists Fear Golden Mussel Threat to Amazon River

February 5, 2015

Jenny Barchfield – ABC News, 2/5/2015

The world’s mightiest waterway, the Amazon River, is threatened by the most diminutive of foes — a tiny mussel invading from China.

Since hitching its way to South America in the early 1990s, the golden mussel has claimed new territory at alarming speeds, plowing through indigenous flora and fauna as it has spread to waters in five countries. Now, scientists fear the invasive species could make a jump into the Amazon, threatening one of the world’s unique ecological systems.

“There’s no doubt the environmental effect would be dramatic,” said Marcia Divina de Olivieira, a scientist with the Brazilian government’s Embrapa research agency.

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Brazil official: Rio won’t meet Olympic water cleanup pledge

January 23, 2015

AP – USA Today, 1/23/2015

Rio de Janeiro will not make good on its Olympic pledge of slashing the flow of raw sewage and garbage into the Guanabara Bay, where the 2016 games’ sailing and wind surfing competitions are to be held, the state’s top environmental official acknowledged Friday.

Brazilian official’s promise to cut the flow of pollutants into the bay by 80 percent was a key part of the city’s Olympic bid document and widely held up as among the most enduring legacies of the games. But with just 1 1/2 years to go before the showcase event, it has become increasingly clear that the target wouldn’t be met.

Rio’s new state Environment Secretary, Andre Correa, told reporters he couldn’t provide an estimate of how much officials would actually succeed in cutting the flow of pollutants into the bay.

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Climatologists Balk as Brazil Picks Skeptic for Key Post

January 13, 2015

Simon Romero – The New York Times, 1/6/2015

Calling Aldo Rebelo a climate-change skeptic would be putting it mildly. In his days as a fiery legislator in the Communist Party of Brazil, he railed against those who say human activity is warming the globe and called the international environmental movement “nothing less, in its geopolitical essence, than the bridgehead of imperialism.”

Though many Brazilians have grown used to such pronouncements from Mr. Rebelo, 58, his appointment this month as minister of science by President Dilma Rousseff is causing alarm among climate scientists and environmentalists here, a country that has been seeking to assert leadership in global climate talks.

“At first I thought this was some sort of mistake, that he was playing musical chairs and landed in the wrong chair,” said Márcio Santilli, a founder of Instituto Socioambiental, one of Brazil’s leading environmental groups. “Unfortunately, there he is, overseeing Brazilian science at a very delicate juncture when Brazil’s carbon emissions are on the rise again.”

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Can Brazil get its ethanol mojo back?

December 22, 2014

Mac Margolis  – Bloomberg View, 12/21/2014

Brazilian airline Gol set out earlier this year to launch the world’s first commercial flight powered partly by renewable fuel made from sugar cane.

Fermenting ordinary sugar into jet fuel ended up being the easy bit. Surviving Brazilian policy makers was another story.

By June, the international regulator, ASTM, had signed off on commercial use of farnesane, a new Brazilian-made jet fuel ginned up by biotech firm Amyris and French energy major Total. But the Brazilian wonks are a nationalistic lot and demanded tests of their own. Barred at home, Gol had its homemade fuel jetted from Sao Paulo to Orlando and triumphantly flew back, the other way.

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Water War Amid Brazil Drought Leads to Fight Over Puddles

November 25, 2014

David Biller and Vanessa Dezem – Bloomberg, 11/25/2014

Brazil’s Jaguari reservoir has fallen to its lowest level ever, laying bare measurement posts that jut from exposed earth like a line of dominoes. The nation’s two biggest cities are fighting for what little water is left.

Sao Paulo state leaders want to tap Jaguari, which feeds Rio de Janeiro’s main source. Rio state officials say they shouldn’t suffer for others’ mismanagement. Supreme Court judges have summoned the parties to Brasilia for a mediation session this week.

The standoff in a nation with more water resources than any other country in the world portends further conflicts as the planet grows increasingly urban. One in three of the world’s 100 biggest cities is under water stress, according to The Nature Conservancy, a U.S.-based nonprofit.

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