President Barack Obama with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
The U.N. Conference on Climate Change opens today in Copenhagen, an international spectacle that holds out the promise for some sort of progress on climate change, despite the myriad difficulties involved in reaching an agreement on carbon emissions reduction.
One major issue to be addressed in the conference will be how so-called "developing nations"--namely Brazil, India, and China--try to balance promised emissions cuts with the need to develop their own economies. Brazil in particular envisions cuts of between 36% and 39% from projected 2020 levels, through prevention of deforestation in the Amazon as well as increased use of biofuels and fuel-efficient cars and trucks. But to make these cuts a reality, Brazil and others have asked for international assistance from industrialized nations, arguing that they are responsible for centuries of pollution and should help defray the cost of carbon reductions in poorer countries.
Yet it seems that Brazil wants it both ways when talking about climate change; while claiming status as a "developing nation," Brazil has the eighth-largest economy in the world, according to the World Bank. Furthermore, today's Washington Post details the stunning growth in Brazil's oil industry, which owing to recent discoveries of deep-sea oil deposits will soon be one of the world's largest oil producers. Brazil’s proven oil reserves could rise from 14.4 billion barrels to 30 billion, putting it on roughly the same level as Qatar, Nigeria, Canada and Uzbekistan.
Additionally, Brazil’s promises of progress on climate change seem a bit circumspect. While the targets for carbon reduction Brazil has set are admirable, carbon reductions in the Amazon could potentially be offset by the complex process of recovering the oil, which will require the construction of enormous offshore drilling rigs and transport of the oil 200 miles to shore, not to mention the difficulty of drilling several miles into the sea through thick layers of salt crust. And Brazil’s emissions goals are just goals, unenforceable by international agreement and subject to change.
To be fair to Brazil, most experts see the Copenhagen conference as a mere starting point for discussions that will eventually lead to an international treaty on climate change with enforceable goals for carbon reduction. But rising economic powers like Brazil will be crucial to any final agreement, and their concerns as well as their capabilities will shape the debate on climate change at Copenhagen and beyond.