Saturday

23rd Mar 2019

Analysis

Why Brazil's election matters to Brussels

  • Increased deforestation in the Amazon could undo the EU's climate action (Photo: Neil Palmer (CIAT))

The election of the far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil last month is not only of concern for the Brazilian population.

It could have profound consequences for Europeans as well.

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  • Connie Hedegaard: 'I think that all good forces should right now try to reach out and deliver the good arguments for Brazil'. (Photo: European Parliament)

Before being elected, Bolsonaro said he would take Brazil out of the climate agreement agreed in Paris in 2015, and that he would allow a sharp increase of logging in the Amazon tropical rainforest.

What's more, he suggested that the trees, which currently soak up CO2, could be replaced by industry and beef farming.

As if it would not be bad enough to see the Amazon forest's ability in neutralising man-made greenhouse gases challenged, it could thus be replaced by additional sources of these gases.

Bolsonaro has also suggested merging the agriculture and environment ministries.

Specialist news website Climate Home called Bolsonaro's election "the environmental story of 2018".

Ahead of the elections, some already signalled what his election could mean for the world.

"A potential Bolsonaro win would, without a doubt, make Brazil lose its leadership on the global climate agenda and become a huge obstacle for the global efforts to combat global warming," Carlos Rittl told the New York Times.

Rittl leads a Brazilian organisation called Climate Observatory, which had looked at presidential candidates environmental views.

US climate activist Bill McKibben sent a sobering tweet after Bolsonaro's victory.

"The new Brazilian president's pledge to wreck the Amazon is a tragic reminder that environmentalists need to win a fight forever, while the other side only needs to win it once," he said.

So what now?

How should Europe react to the potential threat to the world's climate?

Former European Commissioner for climate action, Connie Hedegaard, said that Bolsonaro could still change his mind.

"We must see how he puts his government together," Hedegaard told EUobserver in an interview in Brussels.

"I think it's early days," she said.

"I think that all good forces should right now try to reach out and deliver the good arguments for Brazil. In that sense I think the jury is still out," said the Danish former commissioner.

"I have also noticed that Bolsonaro ... is not as firm stating 'we should withdraw' as he was only some few weeks back. Let's see if the good arguments can win here," she noted.

As environment minister, Hedegaard prepared and hosted the United Nations climate change conference in 2009. From 2010 to 2014, she was the EU's climate action commissioner.

Bolsonaro will officially take office on 1 January, which means it will still be the outgoing government that will represent Brazil next month at this year's UN climate summit.

As Climate Home noted, Brazil was an important partner for the EU at the 2015 Paris conference, where the first-ever global climate treaty was signed.

This year's climate summit will be held in Poland, in Katowice.

Environmentalists are keen to point out the discrepancy between Poland hosting the summit, while simultaneously still relying on coal, the dirtiest of fossil fuels, for its energy.

But just wait until next year.

In 2019, the UN climate summit, known as the Conference of Parties (COP), will be hosted by Brazil.

Hedegaard suggested that this may actually be a good thing for climate action.

"I mean, you cannot imagine that we have the COP in a place where they have decided to leave the [Paris] agreement," she said.

"It would be extremely unfortunate if Brazil chose to leave, but I really believe it would also be unfortunate for Brazil itself," she said.

Organising the climate conference may become a matter of prestige that defuses some of the more radical plans, Hedegaard suggested.

"Until ... proven [otherwise], I think that common sense and the economic interest and the international reputation of Brazil will prevail here," said Hedegaard.

Beyond diplomacy, the EU does have some sticks available.

Campaigner for the environmental group Fern Nicole Polsterer wrote in an opinion piece "the EU's chief – and perhaps only – leverage, is trade".

According to the European Commission, the EU accounts for 18.3 percent of Brazil's total trade, making the bloc Brazil's second-biggest trading partner. The EU is the biggest foreign investor in Brazil.

In 2017, 42 percent of all beef and live animals imported into the EU came from Brazil. In the first six months of 2018, the EU imported €284m worth of beef and veal from Brazil, ahead of Argentina (€212m) and Uruguay (€153m)

EU-Mercosur

Trade with Brazil is currently the subject of negotiations as part of a possible free trade deal between the EU and a regional trading bloc consisting of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay.

However, it is unclear when this EU-Mercosur trade deal will be wrapped up.

In September, the two sides met for the 35th round of talks in Montevideo.

A two-page report from the commission said "overall, the round only resulted in limited progress".

EU-Latin America trade talks move to 'endgame'

Senior negotiators in the EU-Mercosur talks will meet in Brussels on Friday to work out the technical bits of a possible trade deal, after top political officials gave the talks a final push.

EU in push to seal Latin American trade deal

In a race against the clock, EU commissioners and Mercosur ministers meet in Brussels to make concessions on beef, cheese and cars in preparation for an "endgame" in trade talks, ahead of Brazil's elections.

Brussels proposes EU anti-deforestation fund

The European Commission wants the EU to support international work to cut deforestation around the world by 50 percent by 2020, with proposals to aside CO2 emissions trading cash to pay for forest preservation in the third world.

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