6 october 2009

Brazil urged to lead the way at climate summit

By Jonathan Wheatley in São Paulo, Financial Times, October 6 2009

Brazil's former environment minister has launched a broadside against the government's policies in the countdown to the UN climate change conference in December.

Marina Silva, who resigned from the ministry last year over what she saw as the failure of other ministers to take environmental issues seriously, said President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's leftwing government should lead by example at the Copenhagen summit.

She believes Brazil should commit itself to greenhouse gas reduction targets as part of global undertakings to push for slower rates of deforestation alongside cuts in industrial emissions by rich countries. "We should ensure that Brazil is committed to targets but these should be global targets - not just for reducing deforestation but covering all sectors that produce emissions," she told the Financial Times.

Brazil is expected to commit to about an 80 per cent reduction in the current rate of deforestation by 2020, but it is not clear whether it will accept targets for reducing carbon emissions.

Ms Silva, a rubber tapper's daughter who rose to become a leading figure in the global environmental movement, argues that greenhouse gas reduction targets should be part of a broader commitment to changing the model of economic development in developed and developing countries. But she believes the government lacks the vision to change its approach to development.

"Brazil and the other countries in the world need to make the environment and development part of the same equation and not persist in thinking that one is in opposition to the other," she said. "There is no example in the world to be followed. What Brazil needs to do is lead by example."

One of 11 children, Ms Silva moved to the town of Rio Branco when 16 to seek treatment for hepatitis. She went to school while working as a domestic servant and planned to become a nun, but instead entered politics, helping to found Mr Lula da Silva's leftwing Workers' party (PT).

Her dedication to environmental issues has earned her worldwide recognition. But in August she left the ruling party in protest at one of several corruption scandals and joined the Greens. She is expected to be the Green party candidate in presidential elections next year.

Developing nations have resisted making commitments to emissions reductions, arguing that rich nations should take the lead. But Brazil has begun to accept the idea of such commitments, especially since it was instrumental, while Ms Silva was environment minister, in persuading other countries that fighting deforestation should count as a contribution to emissions reduction.

Brazil is one of the biggest contributors to global warming because of the amount of its forests that are lost to ranching and other activities each year. Under Ms Silva the rate of deforestation slowed sharply.

She said Brazil's lead should encourage other countries to follow. "If Brazil makes a commitment it will help, or at least I hope it will, to allow China and India, South Africa and Mexico to move to a proposal along the same lines."

Asked if attitudes in the rest of government had changed since her resignation, she replied: "No, unfortunately not. The ministries of agriculture, energy and transport have a lot of difficulty in understanding this question.

"I think that unfortunately the [political] parties and Congress, and the executive, are trapped in the status quo and are incapable of the vision needed to make the change [to a new model of development]."

Ms Silva left the PT in protest at Mr Lula da Silva's support for José Sarney, president of the Senate, who was at the centre of a corruption scandal.

Analysts say Mr Lula da Silva needs the backing of Mr Sarney's PMDB party for Dilma Rousseff, the president's chief minister and likely candidate to succeed him in presidential elections next year. If Ms Silva were to stand, her candidacy would transform the election from the expected two-candidate contest and make a second-round run-off more likely.

Developing nations were right to expect support from rich countries for efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Ms Silva said. But this should not be used as a pre-condition.

"There should be support from developed countries not only in terms of finance but also to find a mechanism that makes it possible to change the model of development," she said. "But . . it should not be a question of getting external funding first in order to be able to start to do anything."

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