Saturday November 14th is D-day, as president Luiz Inacio da Silva (Lula) brings the mallet down on Brazil´s starting position for carbon reduction targets, leading into the 3rd week prior to Copenhagen 15.
After a disappointing start on the subject early last week, there now appears to be new cause for optimism as the government issued signals that Brazil will most likely adopt a voluntary target in the order of 40%, that being 20% from the already announced deforestation (80%) targets and a further 20% from energy related emissions, such as thermoelectric power plants and transport.
The signals are positive for a process crying out for leadership. Can Lula be the leader that makes the difference in Copenhagen? It seems he wants to be, having confirmed his presence early on and challenging other world leaders to do the same, stating in a recent interview to the Financial Times, “We may not reach an agreement because of a deficiency of global leadership”.
So what drives President Lula, one of the most popular presidents of actuality, commanding the 8th largest global economy, the 4th largest carbon emitter, on a wave of positive economic data? Certainly Copenhagen puts Lula yet again on the big stage, right where he wants to be, playing another hand in a diplomatic game that offers the possibility of a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, a place he believes Brazil belongs.
Also in the game is the perpetuity of his political party (PT) as he pushes his 2010 presidential candidate Dilma Rouseff front stage, as coordinator of the Brazilian delegation in Copenhagen. Dilma, an ex guerilla during the dictator years, is known for her technical and management merits, but lacks the charisma that drives Lula´s popularity. Lula’s strategy is to convince his allies to run a two horse race between Dilma and Jose Serra (Governor of São Paulo – PSDB), preventing a pulverization of votes and giving Dilma more possibility of entering the second round of voting.
In August of this year this strategy was dealt a major blow when PTs ex-minister of the environment and senator for the state of Acre Marina Silva, entertained an invitation from the green party to join them as a potential candidate for the 2010 presidential race. Marina had resigned as Lula’s environment minister (May 2008) after a series of clashes with none other than Dilma Rouseff (and others), that demanded flexibility on environmental approvals and questioned implemented measures to combat deforestation. Her resignation highlighted the divide between economic growth and environmental prudence, and marks the stage for many battles yet to come.
In the meantime Lula is bending over backwards to use every possible opportunity to link Dilma to the environment. First the nomination as coordinator of the Brazilian delegation in Copenhagen, then at this week’s announcement on deforestation reductions the environment minister Carlos Minc was substituted by no other than....oh what a surprise... Dilma! Interestingly, the figures for deforestation were very positive, in fact the best since measurements began in 1988 (46% reduction on last year) so it seems Brazil is living up to its promises. Amongst the good news was the acknowledgement that the largest deforestation increase was on the margins of the BR163 highway, the very same project that was the subject of tensions between Dilma and Marina before her resignation. As the BR163 was part of the government’s growth acceleration plan (PAC) Dilma became impatient with “excessive delays” in the liberation of the environmental license, considering Marina to be “holding up progress”. A little ironic that Dilma is now taking the credit for deforestation! Politic maneuvering...you´ve got to love it!! As one commentator put it, “Dilma does not fit with the environment, she´s a stranger on the subject”
These days nobody can ignore the green vote and President Lula is no different, evident in the way he is avidly working to pasteurize the accomplishments and capabilities of Marina Silva, while at the same time linking Dilma´s image to Brazil’s environmental efforts, nationally and internationally. Simultaneously Jose Serra, Governor of São Paulo (PSDB) and number 1 in the 2010 election opinion polls, is also marking his territory on the subject. At the beginning of the week while the government capitulated on targets, São Paulo passed a state law establishing 20% reductions until 2020. As Brazil’s industrial power house, São Paulo represents a significant share of carbon emissions and this law perhaps facilitates the work of the government in establishing targets for Copenhagen. Regardless if that’s true or not, it seems that Jose Serra has already guaranteed his comprehension of the subject and stamped his “trademark” efficiency on climate change, so as not be left behind in the race!.
The “wild card” entry of Marina Silva into the 2010 presidential race is the most significant evolution in Brazilian politics of recent times. Suddenly the discussion of environmental sustainability will permeate into what was to be a dull repeat of economic development platforms, forcing the other candidates to clearly define their positions and scramble after concrete proof of administrative competence in the area. As a renowned authority on the subject, Marina Silva will certainly command a quality debate on the challenges of converting to a low carbon economy.
Brazil can only stand to gain from this new healthy political infusion and whilst Lula’s blatant leverage on the back of the environment is painfully obvious, the good news is that his political ambitions are fortunately converging for a positive Brazilian participation in Copenhagen. A strong leadership role in Copenhagen will reap significant political benefits for President Lula both in Brazil and abroad, and so it remains for us to observe just how firmly and positively his representation can impact the process. As the country blessed with the guardianship of the Amazon, it is the bare minimum that Brazil deserves!