Photo Jonathan Blair

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Why Brazil is displacing Canada on the world stage

As you probably know, not much is expected of developing countries at the forthcoming Copenhagen conference on global warming. For that matter, not much is expected from developed countries either, and especially not from Canada. The rich have to pay is the South's standard line, and they certainly have a point as the West and Japan are responsible for much of the CO2 hanging in the sky. Why should they pay for our sins when they still have hundreds of millions of poor people who aspire to little more than the life expectancy and standard of living of Canadians in 1960? To which the wealthy reply: big Southern economies are now major producer of greenhouse gas, the consequences are bad for everybody, and especially the poor, so pick up your share of the burden, or suffer, because our societies are not ready to make alone the kind of sacrifice that is required.

Nice background for reaching an agreement, no?

Well, Brazil is about to break that mould. According to Nature the Brazilian government is about to announce a plan to "drastically" reduce emissions. In other words, they will do what both the rich and the poor want the other to do.

Brazil's energy situation is unique: essentially self-sufficient in oil and gaz -and about to become a significant exporter-, it currently relies mostly on hydro-electricity and bio-fuels for its transportation and industrial sector's needs (Ricardo Sennes and Thais Narciso have a great chapter on this in a recent book by the Brookings Institution). This does not make their task easier, however, because it means that they already produce less emissions per unit of GDP than most large industrial economies. Still, they apparently have found ways to cut significantly what is left.

Meanwhile, in Canada, we silently hope that oil sands royalties will get our public finances back in the black...