Brazil this week set out of hosting next year’s United Nations global summit meeting on climate change, the latest signal that Latin America’s widest nation no longer aspires to be an influential player in efforts to mitigate the effects of a warming planet.
The decision leaves the UN scrambling to find a new place for the conference, which was scheduled to take place next November. It comes about a month before the inauguration of President-elect Jair Bolsonaro, who has vowed to empower commercial ventures in the Amazon and other Brazilian biomes while losing enforcement of environmental laws.
Bolsonaro’s incoming foreign minister, Ernesto Araújo, a career diplomat, has called the movement to reduce global warming a plot by “Marxists” to stifle the economic growth of capitalist democracies while lifting China.
Brazil in 2009 set ambitious goals to minimize the emission of greenhouse gases and took drastic steps to rein in deforestation in the Amazon. Those initiatives were taken with international acclaim and positioned Brazil as one of the most consequential and engaged nations in the effort to decrease in climate change.
In a statement, Brazil’s Foreign Ministry stated about the decision was made to save money. It also said the “transition process” as Bolsonaro prepares to take office.
Diplomats, environmentalists and others who follow the UN climate negotiations said the move threatens to mar Brazil’s’ reputation as a leading actor on environmental matters and sustainable development.
Brazil hosted the Earth Summit in 1992 that gave increment to the UN climate convention, and the country has been actively engaged in brokering compromises between rich and poor nations grappling over how to take responsibility for lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
“The image of Brazil is at risk,” commented Carlos Rittl, executive secretary of the Brazilian Climate Observatory, an environmental group. “Climate and the environment are the only matter where Brazil is a leader in global terms. We are not leaders in world trade, we are not leaders in a geopolitical sense of security measures. But on climate and environment, we are leaders, and we are pushing that up.”
In current years, Brazil’s standing as an environmental exemplar has eroded as farmers, miners and cattle ranchers have razed large areas of forest cover in the Amazon with only occasional pushback from the agencies tasked with enforcing environmental laws and regulations.
As an outcome, deforestation in the Amazon is now once again on the rise. Between August 2017 and July of this year, deforestation in the Amazon increased by nearly 14 percent, according to figures the Brazilian government released last week. That represented the biggest loss of forest cover in the Amazon, the world’s largest tropical rainforest, in a decade.
Guy Edwards, a Latin America expert and co-director of the Climate and Development Lab at Brown University, stated Brazil’s decision to back out of hosting the summit is unwise in economic terms, since it would mean the country would forgo any investment, business deals and cooperation agreements to advance less carbon growth at the time when Brazil needs an economic boost.
Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, the former environment minister of Peru, called Brazil’s decision “a bit sad,” and added that it also makes a logistical hurdle for next year’s climate change discussions.
Under the U.N. system, a country from Latin America is mentioned to host the summit in 2019. Brazil was the only country in the region to volunteer for the task, which can cost a country as much as $100 million.
Other countries in the area still have time to step in, but it is unclear which might do so. Argentina has held climate summits in the back year, but it is hosting this week’s Group of 20 talks and may not want to incur another big expense. Pulgar-Vidal said it is unlikely Peru, which spent $72 million to host a climate summit in 2014, would do it again.
“This now puts Latin America in a critical situation,” Pulgar-Vidal said.
Alexander Saier, the spokesman for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, stated in a statement that if no countries from Latin America offer to host in 2019, then the conference will be held at the seat of the climate secretariat in Bonn, Germany.
That decision, he said, will be created by the end of next month.
Brazil’s decision not to host comes days after the release of a United States government report published by 13 agencies that warned that failing to take significant measures to slow down climate change would do tremendous damage to the U.S. economy.
The matter will be on the agenda of the G-20 gathering in Buenos Aires this week, where the World Bank, the United Nations and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development will be calling on the leaders of the world’s biggest economies to lower carbon emissions and overhaul infrastructure development to mitigate the impact of climate change.
Brazil is the latest main influencer on climate change policy to take a radical shift on the issue. President Donald Trump has said he does not accept the setting up the scientific consensus that climate change is occurring and is primarily the result of human activity. Last year he vowed to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, a 2016 compromise agreed to by around 200 nations to voluntarily cut planet-warming emissions and keep rising temperatures to below a 2 degree Celsius rise over pre-industrial levels.