A look at Brazil’s role at COP28 and why it matters for an election year in the UK.
At this year’s global climate summit, there were many contradictions on show, but one has been kept under the radar. Brazil has recently made a massive comeback onto the international stage, promising to be a climate leader of the Global South, but at COP28 in Dubai, the South American nation sent mixed signals.
At the opening session, Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio da Silva, known as Lula, talked about this year’s historic droughts in the Amazon, underscoring his call for more ambitious climate action. This year we’ve witnessed a record number of active fires in the Brazilian Amazon forest as a result of the potent mix between human-driven global warming and El Niño, a climate pattern which involves the unusual warming of surface waters in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean. Due to these extreme climate events, the Brazilian city of Manaus has recorded the second worst air quality in the world. Many communities were left stranded as rivers reached its lowest levels in 121 years.
However, as COP unfolded, Brazil announced it would be joining OPEC+ — the group of nations maintaining the interests of the fossil fuel industry — as an observer. On the summit’s final day, as an agreement was signed by 200 countries, Brazil’s state-oil company Petrobras was auctioning off more than 602 lots for new oil and gas exploitation, including controversial inland areas in the Amazon.
Despite Brazil’s refreshing return to the international stage, with more empathetic and socially conscious politics, its conflicting position on climate gives us insight into the challenges ahead for global efforts.
We know that emissions from fossil fuels are the dominant cause of global warming, with fossil fuels and industry responsible for the vast majority of global CO2 emissions. That means that the most important outcome of any COP now is urgent action and investment in the equitable phasing out of fossil fuels. But that’s not where we currently are.
Money and incentives to the fossil fuel industry remain too high, and not enough is going towards renewable energy. Many promising new pledges have been made or reinforced during COP28, but they will only lead to success if they are accompanied by a drastic downward curve of investment and incentives for fossil fuels.
In his speech at COP28’s opening session, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called “on major emitters to dramatically accelerate delivery on what they’ve already promised”, emphasising that “everyone can do more.” He is not wrong. Earlier this year, the Guardian reported that the UK government has given £20bn more to support fossil fuels than to renewables since 2015; a fifth of this money was given directly to the fossil fuel industry to support new extraction and mining. The reluctance of countries like the UK to phase out fossil fuel in their own economies dictates the state of global climate outcomes.
Brazil’s story is a perfect window into the challenge set for the years ahead. In the end, COP28 has created a new starting point for future talks – one that no longer debates fossil fuels being a part of the language. But, how will the international community move beyond a belated acknowledgment that we must ‘transition away from fossil fuels’, to actually deliver a post-carbon global economy?
Here there is an opportunity for the UK to be a leader. Regardless of the outcome of the next election, any new UK government must take the lead by offering a fresh narrative, focused on addressing its climate responsibility head on and delivering on global commitments to climate justice. That’s how it can be part of the solution, helping to enable countries to move away from self-conflicting climate efforts and unlocking better results for us all at future COPs.
We urgently need fossil fuel investment and subsidies to be phased out, along with greater and more equitably distributed green finance. When comparing renewables financing across countries and regions, disparities between the North and the South are not only significant, but have also increased over the last six years. “More than half of the world’s population, mostly residing in developing and emerging countries, received only 15% of global (renewables finance) investments in 2020.” This shift must be accompanied by adequate safety measures that enable all countries to protect and enhance the standards of living of those most vulnerable.
Multilateralism is at a crossroads with huge challenges, but also opportunities for climate action. In 2025, Brazil will host COP. Between now and then, we must be relentless in building power at different levels. From citizens in Ecuador stopping the development of all new oil wells in one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet; to major cities and businesses uniting forces for concrete action, now more than ever we need every country to play its part in tackling the climate crisis.
Image: Raphael Nogueira on unsplash