The big green hopes of Brazil do not seem to be coming to fruition.
“If it can be Brazil,” was the mantra of the other more oil-rich Latin American countries gathered in Poland for the climate change conference COP26. The Bolivian president was the most effusive, proclaiming “the ideas are Brazilian”. But then Brazil’s own ministers made it clear that it was going to work more on pragmatism than theory.
In reality, there was not much change expected from the conference from its predecessor in COP24 in Katowice, Poland, just before Christmas. “It’s an extremely unspectacular conference,” one observer told me as we were heading out into the Polish sunshine. And one that will again remind us why on this issue it is so useful to keep thinking in terms of political realities rather than prophesy.
Even at Cancun the last global conference, and 2014’s Paris agreement, “there was no deal on allocation of emissions credits, so Brazil is in the same boat”, says Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
There was a big ceremonial flag-raising ceremony with separate delegations celebrating their achievements in environment and climate change, and some puff on the government’s big green promises.
In practice, the progress to date has been to improve the level of preparations for next year’s climate talks in Katowice, and to make a start on trying to address key disputes that have come up previously.
Take the issue of shared financial resources, which were supposedly central to Paris. Developing countries want developed nations to guarantee that funds that are pledged will be delivered.
In October 2018, the heads of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund decided to give $100bn a year from 2020 to help developing countries tackle climate change, but this has to be included in the Paris agreement.
In Poland, the World Bank secretary-general Jim Yong Kim admitted that it could take six to eight years for the money to become a reality.
That leaves Brazil in the tricky position of having to be seen to have taken the issue seriously without seeming to be obliged to deliver.
Also contentious has been the question of how much debt the World Bank and other agencies have to pay developing countries as a result of the changed regime.
Brazil raised eyebrows last year by threatening to sue the World Bank, which it has used as a centre of international finance for more than half a century, for allegedly breaching commitments under the debt-for-equity swap agreement.
There has been no formal announcement of a lawsuit, but there is also no escaping the reality that it has to be faced.
Brazil has made some progress on renewables as part of efforts to cut its carbon emissions. It now has the world’s biggest wind farm, and also has a major wind power capacity.
The chances are that it will become the world’s biggest solar power producer, by at least a year. Next month, it plans to install four mega-turbines in Brazil’s busiest river, the Amazon, to make the country the world’s biggest solar producer on land by 2020.
In theory, it would be true that if everything goes as planned, Brazil would be the world’s largest producer of renewable energy, by 2050.
But, in actual fact, it is still below the level that is considered sufficient to meet its own emissions goals. There are still political hurdles to overcome and the Brazilian government knows that it can only push on this way at its own pace.
Brazil’s achievements on climate change, if any, will not be the stuff of soaring headlines or legislative improvements.
Yet, a nation that has already made so many important improvements on its own energy policy knows that it is an important way to demonstrate what can be done, rather than what cannot.