Brazil is emerging as a key player in climate change talks, thanks to its growing economic heft and good global reputation
By the end of October, navigating the river Negro in the Amazon was quite risky. Hudson Andre, a boat driver, had to be double careful to avoid being stuck in one of the sand banks that could be seen everywhere.
Seasonal rains fell a month later than usual, and the region went through the worst drought in the last century. The river Negro was 15m lower than it should be. "I had never seen it this low," he says.
Boats were unable to reach many riverside villages. Thousands of riverside communities were isolated. They suffered with lack of supplies. Manoel Cunha, a rubber-tapper leader, said people also suffered because they could not reach hospitals in nearby cities. Some had to face long hours being carried across the land in hammocks if they needed emergency care.
"In my community a guy died after being bitten by a snake. I am sure he would have been saved if he'd been transported by boat," said Cunha.
Families had to walk for 40 minutes to get water because the wells dried out - a scene that resembles the arid regions of sub-Saharan Africa, not the water-rich Amazon.
In recent years Brazil has been severely affected by changes in climate – and not only in the Amazon. Extreme events such as floods are becoming more frequent in the South and in the north-east. In 2008, the worst flood in 30 years, in the state of Santa Catarina, caused over 100 deaths and led to losses of over $350m.
According to a study by Embrapa, the Brazilian Institute for Agricultural Research, global warming could cost Brazilian agriculture $8.2bn in losses in the long term.
At the same time, Brazil is emerging as a key player in climate change talks and intends to take a leading role at the COP 16 in December.
Every time president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, who is about to leave the post, met with US president Barack Obama, he brought up the issue.
And even though Brazil is far from being a small island, a representative was sent this week to Kiribati to watch closely the outcomes of the Tarawa climate change conference.
European leaders believe Brazil could be the bridge between poor nations, emerging economies and the developed world in the next round of negotiations. But expectations for COP 16 are low.
Both the Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim and the president have said they see no chance of an agreement. "The level of aspirations lowered a bit. But there can be progress in specific areas regarding financing, for instance," said Amorim. Brazil hopes that in Cancún, parties will agree on the design of a robust climate fund to help developing countries finance the initial moves towards greenhouse gas reductions for the period 2010-2012.
The country's biggest ambition is to reach a final agreement on REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), something that would greatly benefit Brazil. According to the Brazilian Forest Service, the 17 projects already mapped could generate $1.5bn per year in revenue. Such money could be used to help people in the Amazon cope with the dry season.
"Brazil will get to COP 16 with elevated moral status. We proposed advanced targets and were a source of inspiration," says Amorim. The emissions inventory to be presented in Cancún will surely add to the country's good reputation. It shows Brazil has reached a 36% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions between 2004 -2009 – from 2,675 gigatons to 1,775 gigatons. Deforestation has also been reduced. According to Lula, Brazil could reach its 80% reduction target by 2016 instead of 2020.
The good reputation also means that Brazil will also insist on the historical responsibility of the industrialised countries. Negotiators will say that rich countries should pay their debt by giving money to mitigation and adaptation in poor countries and adopting more ambitious reduction targets.
In a time of slow recovery from the global economic crisis, the demand is not viewed positively by European and US negotiators. After all, their countries are still fighting against the ghost of recession while emerging economies like Brazil are witnessing rapid growth.
With a GDP growth estimated at 6.5% in 2010, Brazil strongly opposes the idea of shared responsibility. Brazil refuses, for instance, to allow a foreign audit on its self-imposed emissions targets. Lula has said on many occasions that he dreams of a time when all Brazilians will have cars. His development-focussed successor Dilma Rousseff is set to follow the same path.
Copyright Speakers Corner 2016