Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and U.S. President Barack Obama made headlines last month in announcing jointly that their countries, which rank among the world’s top 10 carbon emitters, had set bilateral targets to promote non-hydroelectric renewable power sources. In the aftermath, however, environmental and renewable-energy experts are asserting that in Brazil’s case the pledges, made during a state visit by Rousseff to Washington, were far less ambitious than advertised. In a joint news conference June 30, the second day of a state visit Rousseff made to Washington, Obama called the goals “very ambitious,” and Brian Deese, one of his senior advisors, told reporters: “This is a big deal.” But critics contend the central pledge—to generate 20% of power from non-hydroelectric renewable sources by 2030, was—in Brazil’s case, at least—didn’t exceed existing expectations.
To be sure, meeting the goal would mean Brazil by 2030 would have to double production of such power by ramping up output from biomass thermoelectric plants as well as wind and solar installations. Last year, these sources accounted for 10% of Brazil’s electricity, up from 8% in 2013. Individually, biomass accounted for 8% of output, while wind generated 2% and solar plants contributed well under 0.1%.
Target called modest
Carlos Rittl, executive secretary of the Climate Observatory, a network of 37 nongovernmental groups that tracks Brazilian carbon emissions, says that doubling non-hydro renewable-power generation by 2030 is consistent with current, market-driven trends for those sources. He says the target “neither signifies a shift in government strategy nor requires increased government efforts to achieve.”
Ricardo Baitelo, coordinator of the climate and energy campaign for Greenpeace Brasil, agrees. Says Baitelo: “Our own projections show that if the government provided more
ambitious support, such as greater financing, Brazil could generate 40% its electricity in 2030 from non-hydro renewable sources.” Since the 20% target will be reached at the currentrate, he says the pledge does “nothing to help grow those sources beyond the status quo.” André Nahur, climate and energy affairs coordinator for the WWF in Brazil, says that with ambitious government support, nonhydro renewables could account for a third of Brazilian power generation by 2030. But he disagrees that Brazil’s pledge amounts to sticking to the status quo. “Brazil’s pledge to generate 20% of its electricity from non-hydro renewable sources by 2030 is a small, but not insignificant commitment. It will still require increased government financing for wind, solar-farm and biomass-fueled thermo plants developers, as well as tax breaks to micro generatorsof wind and solar power, among them households with rooftop solar panels,” Nahur says. “That said, the government’s support of these sectors could be far more ambitious.”
Wind and solar industry officials also found Brazil’s pledge wanting. Elbia Gannoum, president of the National Association of WindPower Producers, an umbrella group representing Brazilian wind developers, says wind power alone will likely generate 20% of Brazil’s electricity by 2030. Gannoum speculates that the government might not have set a higher target because it wants its 2030 electricity matrix to include a sizeable percentage of power from fossil-fuel thermoelectric plants to ensure energy- supply stability.
For his part, Rodrigo Lopes Sauaia, executive director of the Brazilian Association of Solar Photovoltaic Energy calls it “most likely” that by 2030 non-hydro renewables will be contributing over 20% of Brazil’s power, with solar energy accounting for over 5% of that amount.
During the state visit, Brazil also committed to restoring forests—over an area roughly the size of Pennsylvania—by 2030. But Baitelo of Greenpeace says scientists using computer simulations have projected that if landowners comply with a reforestation provision of Brazil’s recently revised forest-protection law, twice that amount of forest would be replanted.
Brazil also pledged to end illegal deforestation, though without giving a deadline for doing so. Says Rittl of the Climate Observatory: “Brazil promised nothing more than to fulfill its legal enforcement obligations. To make this a serious commitment to end illegal deforestation, Brazil needed to put a deadline on it.”
To gauge how serious Brazil is about addressing climate change, environmentalists are waiting for its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) specifying how it plans to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Brazil is expected to submit its plan to the United Nations before a closely watched UN climate summit is scheduled to take place in Paris. “Our network recommends that Brazil set the quantifiable target of a maximum of 1 billion tons of CO2 equivalent by 2030,” says Rittl.
“By then it will have lots of room to cut emissionsby curbing deforestation, mainly in theAmazon, and by encouraging low-carbon farming
through the use of more efficient fertilizers and by increasing cattle-raising productivity.”