In December, world leaders will meet in Cancun to talk about climate change (the “Conference of Parties 16/CMP 6 Kyoto Protocol” conference). Some see it as a chance to redeem the 2009 Copenhagen Summit that left several EU ministers weeping on the side of the hall; others think that it is likely to be a low-key prelude to the 2012 environment summit in Rio de Janeiro (the “Rio +20 meeting” that aims to build on the historic 1992 conference on the environment).
Baird’s CMC decided to ask leading expert journalists and bloggers in the world’s emerging democracies about the political and social context for what Brazil, India, and South Africa will do about climate change over the next few years.
We saw a marked difference between the countries:
- Green issues are becoming central to the political dialogue in Brazil and a major domestic preoccupation in the run-up to 2012 environment summit in Rio de Janeiro.
- There is growing popular concern about environmental issues in India but it is not strong enough to curb the desire for economic growth and lifting Indians out of poverty.
- South Africa’s government is strongly criticised by its own journalists and bloggers for seeing the major responsibility on Green issues as lying with donors. It has, though, taken some bold moves by linking new coal-powered fuel generation to an expansion of renewables and by introducing a controversial carbon tax.“At CoP 16, Cancun, India and other developing nations will convince the world that they hold the key to emissions reductions and that this will be done on their own terms.”
“The current perception is that the South African government is not really looking at substantially minimising our greenhouse gas emissions – and they’re not planning to start doing it any time soon.”
“CoP 16 is going to be a mess for Brazil, to be honest. We’re at the end of a government and any negotiation will be complicated.”
Overall, Green issues are moving up the agenda in each of the newly powerful democracies but especially in Brazil, the host of the 2012 summit. We were struck by the opportunity that seems to exist for those who can frame Green issues in terms of economic and social opportunities rather than in the conventional terms of threat and obligation. We asked some of the respondents about the kinds of ideas developed by Resource Media’s Kirk Brown in his Green Growth paper. Not all liked them, of course, but all thought that they could easily become part of the national dialogue.
What the journalists and bloggers thought
Baird’s CMC spoke to 23 expert journalists, working for leading dailies and weeklies, and to 11 specialist bloggers across the three countries. We worked with our partners on this project – Baird’s Renaissance in South Africa; Fundamento in Brazil; and Hyderus in India. All have common shareholders with Baird’s CMC. We asked our respondents about the following:
- Whether the issue of climate change is being prioritised
- The political realities and pressures that their governments face regarding climate change
- Their governments’ likely negotiating positions at the upcoming in Cancun, Mexico, as well as likely outcomes
- Whether their governments are seen as “deal-makers” or “deal-breakers” in international climate change agreements
The responses of these interviewees reflect the unique set of circumstances present in each country. Key findings capture a range of perspectives, enabling Baird’s CMC to pinpoint emerging trends while taking into account other opinions at the same time.
Here is a snapshot of some of our findings.
Green issues are becoming a critical part of the domestic political debate in Brazil. In the first round of the country’s 2010 Presidential elections, the Green candidate, Marina Silva, won almost 20% of the vote (the strongest third-party performance in presidential elections since Brazil was restored to democracy in 1985) and forced a run-off – something that Europe’s Greens can only dream about. Silva was born to an illiterate family in the Amazon and is a life-long champion of forest preservation. She refused to endorse either the right-wing or left-wing candidates in the run-off but left open the possibility of going into government with either. Brazil’s Greens may now be the most influential Green party in the world.
Important issues in the emerging economy of Brazil include the following: the energy grid and investment in technology for alternate sources of energy, especially for cars; deforestation, especially of the Amazon, and the impact on carbon retention; REDD goals; and clean water. Climate change is increasingly being perceived as a critical component of Brazil’s overall sustainable development and economic growth: prioritising climate change is important insofar as it will enable Brazil to keep apace with the rest of the developed world. At the same time, as one respondent pointed out, climate change
considerations formed a barrier for current businesses, as rapid growth often came at a high environmental cost.
The increasing interest in Green issues has translated into heightened media attention as well. The majority of respondents felt that the press had begun to take climate change seriously. Traditional media in the country has become engaged and involved with the issue (even though it is not yet prioritised by editors). New media tends to focus on sustainability – and climate change is considered an important component.
Dealing with climate change: Corporations, politicians, and society
Different groups within the country are responding to the climate change concern in their own ways. The Brazilian government is under pressure from the country’s business community, which has been mobilising itself and making changes in the interest of larger sustainability strategies. A number of respondents pointed out that the business sector’s climate change agenda was also driven by a desire to meet international certification standards as these directly affect business outcomes. Non-governmental organisations, social groups, and private initiatives are the other key players exerting pressure on the government in a bid to protect the environment. These efforts have met with some success: the general perception is that Brazil has been working towards sustainability in recent years (particularly in the field of clean energy, e.g., wind power and hydro-electricity projects). However, one interviewee said that government itself is primarily concerned with infrastructure in order to ensure rapid development, often oblivious to environmental and sustainability costs; s/he gave the example of President Lula’s statement that no matter what the cost, Brazil was going to host the 2014 World Cup. Many respondents felt that only the Green Party addressed the issue of climate change seriously but failed to connect it properly with other larger issues. One respondent observed that there are essentially two Green camps in the country today: “the deforestationists who need to be more flexible in managing the country’s development and the environmentalists who are losing strength due to their radical behaviour and non-conciliatory attitude.” Another point of view was that for real change to come about, citizens need to become aware and mobilise themselves to pressure the government.
CoP 16, Cancun: Brazil’s negotiating position and likely outcomes
Nearly all the respondents felt that Brazil’s stance at the conference would be determined by the results of the upcoming elections. One respondent felt that, of the two presidential candidates, Dilma Rousseff (President Lula’s former Chief of Staff and the leading candidate) was likely to be less innovative on Green issues , while Jose Serra (the right-of-centre candidate) might enforce more rules and standards. However, regardless of the elections outcome, nearly everyone felt that Brazil had the potential to be a world leader in climate change provided it played a more assertive role.
A number of issues are considered to be of importance to Brazil at the conference: carbon emission and neutralisation, clean energy, change of technology, clean water, and transportation. However, while there is much to be discussed and resolved at CoP 16, Cancun, some respondents felt that there would be no practical benefits, at least in the short term – this pessimism was driven by the uncertainty about leadership and the Copenhagen debâcle. Others felt that the ball would be in the Western nations’ court and that, at the moment, Brazil could contribute mainly through constructive discussions. A few respondents felt that Brazil should continue its climate-change-related work, especially battling deforestation, as this would help the country achieve a positive image and international credibility at the conference – this would lead to more investments, which in turn would help fund the development of clean, Green, and sustainable technologies.
Global Green – Brazil on the world stage
An overwhelming majority of the respondents felt that Brazil was cooperative, was interested in finding solutions to climate change, and had handled international negotiations skilfully in the last few years. President Lula’s position has been conducive to Brazil becoming a key climate change player on the global stage – a couple of respondents pointed out that this strategy might be in the President’s interest as well (since he would be searching for a global role after he steps down as President).
Nearly all the interviewees felt Brazil would participate in some kind of global alliance but were unsure about specifics, saying that the details would depend on the outcome of the elections. Many felt that Brazil was being held hostage by more powerful countries like the US and China. On the other hand, one respondent felt that Brazil would unite, mainly with developing countries, because they were the key decision makers. Some interviewees were of the opinion that if Brazil could successfully showcase its positive work in the climate change field, then it would be in a situation to garner support and form alliances. Additionally, one journalist felt that while the November conference may not yield such participation, Rio +20 almost certainly would.
Climate change policy: Effective or lacking?
Respondents almost unanimously felt that the government was not doing enough at a policy level – the Brazilian government’s policies are timid and not clear enough. Most interviewees were not aware of any proposal or mechanism directly related to global warming, though there is some amount of legislation in areas like the development of advanced technology of clean energy and restoring the rivers. Another mentioned stringent new requirements for sustainability in responding to government tenders. However, the general perception is that a lot of legislation is seen only on paper. One respondent brought up a particularly interesting point: even with some really advanced laws, there are reversals that put climate change on a lower level of importance; one instance of this is the proposed scaling back of Brazil’s progressive forest code, which would lead to large-scale deforestation and a massive increase in CO2 levels. All in all, the government’s climate-change-related policies need be stronger and should be rethought in light of the fact that economic development can be accompanied by sustainability if there is an understanding between the government and society.
In India, where a massive percentage of the country’s population is dependant on natural resources, climate change isn’t just a theory to debate but an important issue to tackle; it has a direct impact on the economy and, thus, can’t be ignored. This was the gist of the interviews from the various Indian informants we spoke with, who felt that being Green is no longer just a trendy cause to embrace amongst the more than one billion strong population of this rapidly booming economy. Indeed, as one respondent recalled, a few years ago, a leading Indian news channel asked people from various Indian cities what they considered the three biggest problems facing India – and the environment came out at the top of the list. However, despite the urgency of the climate change issue, all interviewees agreed that policy-makers seemed to not have taken adequate notice of the growing popular sentiment.
The media, too, is not prioritising the issue – even though it is covering far more climate-change-related stories today than ever before. A number of reasons contribute to this lack of prioritisation, including the unavailability of accurate scientific data, the increasing localisation of media, and the complex nature of the climate change issue itself (more specifically, the inability to extract pithy “one-liners” from climate change material).
Responding to climate change: Politicians and corporations
Regardless of their ideological leanings, all but one of the interviewees felt that climate change was not a critical issue for political parties. Reasons for this range from the lack of scientific advisors in the government to the fact that the issue is still perceived as an elite concern by the political establishment. An interesting perspective came from a journalist working for a prominent news channel who said that the opposition parties (especially the communist parties) were taking an interest in the issue but mainly so that they can gather evidence of the party in power pandering to, what they perceive to be, the imperialistic ambitions of the US, expressed through imposition of damaging environmental requirements. A number of interviewees said that the business sector was largely unconcerned. However, certain respondents felt that some companies had been proactive in adopting cleaner technology doe to economic factors and had also been engaging with the issue through CSR initiatives.
CoP 16, Cancun: India’s negotiating position and likely outcomes
Will India and other developing nations convince the world they hold the key to emissions reductions, and that these reductions need to be done on their own terms? Or will the country form a coalition with other countries to take advantage of schemes such
as REDD? These were some of the ideas discussed by our various respondents. One interesting thought came from a journalist working with an international news service who said that India had adopted a sensible and mature stance in negotiations and that China, Brazil, and India were seen as an important camp with substantial bargaining power. Regardless of the many opinions, however, all our respondents uniformly felt that India would not compromise on the scale and nature of its development to accommodate climate concerns through caps on emissions.
International climate agreements: Deal-maker or deal-breaker?
Many respondents agreed that India was an increasingly powerful presence in the international climate change context. While the country’s contingent view themselves as deal-makers, India is often seen as a deal-breaker by various camps. One point of view was that this perception is driven by India’s non-alignment with countries in the global north; on the other hand, blocks such as the Small Island Developing States and other developing nations feel let down by India.
Dr. R. K. Pachauri: The aftermath of “Climate-gate ”
The interviewees were almost unanimous about the fact that the impact of the scandals was very low. However, one respondent felt that Dr. Pachauri’s reputation had suffered. The respondent said that there had been a sharp increase in climate change scepticism after the scandals and the IPCC’s incorrect estimations of the speed with which Himalayan glaciers were melting were particularly harmful.
The carbon tax
Despite the popular perception amongst respondents that the South African government should definitely be doing more to combat greenhouse gas emissions, the government did introduce the contentious “carbon tax” (an environmental tax aimed at reducing emissions) only weeks ago on September 1, 2010. South Africa is one of the few developing countries in the world to implement this much-discussed tax in an effort to limit greenhouse gas emissions in the country. Respondents acknowledged this as a step in the right direction – at the very least, it would drive awareness of the climate change issues the world was facing and perhaps motivate citizens to make individual contributions. However, many felt that that the move would have a much more powerful impact if the South African government would issue a statement to illustrate how the money raised through this tax was being deployed, e.g., like developing CO2 reducing technologies.
Widespread poverty was cited as one of the main reasons by many of our respondents when discussing why their governments are not prioritising climate change concerns. So, what if there was a strategy that could combat poverty, spur development, and benefit the environment – all at the same time? This is one of the ideas fleshed out by Resource Media’s Kirk Brown in his “Green Growth” paper. While Green growth strategies have been part of environmental, development, and population policy discussions for years, a comprehensive agenda for developing countries – backed by clear evidence about the costs, benefits, and specific policy and development assistance pathways for supporting Green growth – has yet to emerge. Green Growth outlines how targeted investment can help build the case for Green growth strategies that could boost living standards for billions of people worldwide. Additionally, in the climate arena, ensuring that a new effort is led by the Global South could help counter concerns that international climate policy requires the South to slow down its development, thus paying the price for the North’s historical pollution.
Kirk Brown believes that Green technologies and practices create “leapfrog” development opportunities that save lives, enhance human rights, increase prosperity, and offer substantial environmental benefits, including reducing greenhouse gas pollution. Some of the development strategies that fit this profile include increased cell phone infrastructure, improving cook stoves, and providing voluntary family planning services to the hundreds of millions of women who want them today. These strategies provide extraordinary return on investment – in emerging economies, like India and Brazil, the market opportunities are massive. They also meet the stated development priorities of countries from the Global South who stand to benefit the most from their widespread adoption.
Take, for instance, a recent analytical work that shows how the links between climate and voluntary family planning provide potential criteria for ways that a larger initiative on Green growth could organise its work. The project illustrated how small yet significant changes could help women around the world avoid unwanted pregnancies. For developing countries, like India, Brazil, and South Africa, this would be beneficial in multiple ways: reducing poverty, improving the standard of living by breaking the cycle of large families and poverty, empowering women, reducing child mortality (which increases dramatically when women cannot access voluntary family planning services), and substantially reducing carbon emissions.
Please contact us for more information on Green Growth.
1. Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) is a methodology designed to offer financial incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.
2. As the former Minister of Energy as well as Chief of Staff in President Lula’s government, Dilma Rousseff clashed quite often with the then Minister of Environment, Marina Silva, over development policies that the latter considered extremely detrimental to the environment.
3. This refers to certain Indian businesses that have been taking advantage of the clean development mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol.
4. In 2010, there were widespread allegations of corruption against Dr. R.K. Pachauri. Audit firm KPMG subsequently cleared Dr. Pachauri. There were also demands that Dr. Pachauri resign as head of the IPCC, following the release of an incorrect projection regarding Himalayan glacier melt. He refused to step down and the IPCC later retracted the controversial claim.