Brazil’s Green Party presidential candidate and former Minister of Environment, Marina Silva, spoke Monday at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars of a “common responsibility” to climate change.
Ms. Silva was born into a rubber tapping community in the western state of Acra, Brazil. As she completed university, Silva became politically active, helped create the first worker’s union in Acre, and started working with environmentalist Chico Mendes against deforestation. She was elected to the Brazilian Senate in 1994 as a member of the Worker’s Party, and served as Environment Minister under the current President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from 2003 to 2008 – when she resigned due to other government agencies’ resistance to upholding environmental policies. In August 2009 Silva switched to the Green Party, mostly in protest over the Worker Party’s environmental policies. Among many other honors, Silva has received a Goldman Environmental Prize and was declared a “Champion of the Earth” by the United Nations Environment Program.
Marina Silva, presidential candidate for Brazil's Green Party
Ms. Silva’s Wilson Center address on climate change was dominated by the word “urgency.” Silva supports a comprehensive approach to global emissions reductions, believing that all countries should partake in climate change mitigation, as “our planet does not take into account where the emissions are coming from.” In accordance with the well-established principles of “the polluter pays,” and the “common but differentiated responsibilities” of all countries in line with their capabilities to reduce emissions and their historic emission responsibilities, Silva acknowledged that industrialized countries should pay for the transfer of technology to less developed countries and provide financial aid for mitigation and adaptation. Silva also noted that there were segments of society in less developed countries with per capita levels similar to the United States, and noted that “new equations” in GHG emissions called for “new and innovative solutions.”
Her argument was optimistic and progressive. Ms. Silva believes that “Brazil has a contribution to make” and envisions it as an active leader in global GHG emissions reductions, providing a “proactive stance” and working alongside other countries. Brazil is already a global leader in biofuels and hydropower production and is in the process of further diversifying its energy power matrix. Brazil is also home to the world’s largest rainforest (the largest carbon sink found in any one country) and Silva believes that Brazil can serve as an example for other countries to manage their rainforests in a sustainable way.
Energy is needed for development. Although developing countries for many decades have prioritized economic development in order to alleviate poverty often at the expense of environmental sustainability, the World Bank estimates that there are still over three billion people living on less than $2.50 a day. Ms. Silva advocates a “new definition of civilization,” where she suggests shifting cultural practices to separate present day notions of well-being from contemporary patterns of consumption. She also envisions incentives to establish change – ncluding laws, monitoring systems, and fines – to ensure local compliance to government policies.
Ms. Silva encourages countries, including those in the developing world, to take their own initiatives to mitigate climate change, claiming that other countries would feel “ethically obliged” to follow the example. This is a far cry from the 1997 “Brazilian Proposal” [PDF] during Kyoto Protocol negotiations, where the Brazilian delegation proposed that the burden of emissions reductions among Annex I parties should be proportional to their historic responsibility for emissions. Unfortunately, political realities and special interests often prevent countries from acting purely on an ethical basis. All too often a one-dimensional interpretation of national interests and short-sighted economic reasoning prevent international and domestic environmental agreements.
Marina Silva’s comprehensive approach demonstrates a deep understanding of the complexity, urgency, and broad scope of climate change. Although climate change was historically caused by industrialized nations, developing countries are increasing their portion of GHG emissions as they industrialize. As Ms. Silva stated, “We must come to terms with the fact that we are late in the game.” Climate change is truly a global issue that requires an international solution. Ms. Silva’s post-nationalistic and progressive views demonstrate leaps and bounds in the international climate negotiations currently underway. They would greatly benefit the global community if embraced at Copenhagen.