Tilting the emissions scale: How Brazil’s INDC for emissions reduction may become irrelevant


Despite an 18 percent reduction in deforestation, Brazil was unable to significantly reduce its absolute greenhouse gas emissions in 2014. A forward-thinking plan for cutting emissions from the country’s rapidly growing power sector, which are poised to surpass emissions from deforestation, is essential if the pledge in Brazil’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) is to materialize.

Brazil’s INDC, prepared in advance of the Paris climate talks this week, pledges to an absolute and economy-wide target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 37 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. It also pledges to reduce emissions 43 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, although this latter contribution is provided for indicative purposes only. The INDC points to a series of measures to be implemented by 2030 to achieve the goal, including reaching a 45 percent renewable energy share in the primary energy mix, increasing the share of non-hydro renewables in the power sector to 23 percent or more, and aiming for 10 percent efficiency gains in the electricity sector.

Between 2004 and 2014, Brazil achieved an impressive 76 percent reduction in emissions from land use, which historically has been responsible for the lion’s share of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions (See figure). It did this primarily by reducing the rate at which it cut down the Amazon rainforest as well as through the introduction of more-sustainable land management practices. Despite sluggish economic growth over the last two years, however, power demand continues to surge in Brazil, and total electricity consumption is projected to double from 629 terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2014 to 1,253 TWh by 2030, according to Empresa de Pesquisa Energética (EPE), the country’s energy planning authority.

Brazil blog_GHG Brazil

To meet this growing demand and fulfill its INDC, Brazil seeks to increase the share of non-hydro renewables in its power generation capacity from 2 percent in 2005 to 24 percent by 2030, with 12 percent of this coming from biomass, 9 percent from wind, and 3 percent from solar. These targets seem less ambitious than would be expected, however, given the country’s vast renewable resource potential. Brazil also plans to increase its share of non-renewable power sources from 12 percent in 2005 to 16 percent by 2030 to meet rising power demand.

Brazil likes to boast that its economy is built on green foundations—from having the world’s greenest primary energy mix thanks to the 68 percent contribution of hydro to its 123 GW of installed power capacity and to the widespread adoption of biofuels in the transport sector. The share of renewables in Brazil’s total primary energy consumption is among the highest in the world, at three times the world average and more than four times the OECD average. (See figure.) However, Brazil needs to keep innovating and adapting to new renewable technologies, clean energy policies, and other mechanisms in order to maintain its position.

Share of Renewables in Total Primary Energy Demand in Selected Countries and Regions, 2011

Brazil blog_IEA renewables

 Source: IEA

For Brazil to maintain its claim that its economy is founded on green grounds, domestic energy policy will need to focus on wider adoption of renewables and energy efficiency. The Observatório do Clima (“Climate Observers”), a civil society group focused on discussing climate change in the Brazilian context, has launched an interactive online tool, Sistema de Estimativa de Emissão de Gases de Efeito Estufa (SEEG, or “System for Estimating for Greenhouse Gas Emissions”), to monitor the country’s economy-wide emissions. Emissions from Brazil’s energy sector are projected to likely increase the country’s share of total emissions.

The SEEG website has a tool for monitoring real-time greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector, providing granularity at a daily level. Even if you do not read Portuguese, the trend is clear: the pink and gray lines representing fossil-based generation have been increasing rapidly since 2014. The increase in fossil-based generation is due to the lack of rain over the last two years, which contributed to a shrinking of Brazil’s hydro reservoirs.

Given this change in circumstance, Climate Action Tracker (CAT), an interactive web-based tool ranking countries’ commitments to tackling the complex climate change problem, rates Brazil’s INDC as “medium.” CAT notes that: “Brazil proposed the emissions reduction target of 37% for 2025 below 2005. Brazil also proposes reaching a share of 45% renewables in the total energy mix by 2030. Based on this intention, the CAT estimates the INDC will result in [greenhouse gas emissions, excluding land use, land-use change, and forestry] increasing by about 36% above 2005 levels by 2025.”

The climate challenge that we face demands malleable solutions, and these solutions are what will make individual commitments relevant. It is hoped that the negotiations in Paris will result in subjecting INDCs to five-year review cycles. In the Brazilian case, the pledge and review cycle is particularly important because, despite the country’s reductions in emissions from deforestation, its emissions from the energy sector, particularly power generation, are tipping the scale.

In the Brazilian case, pledge and review will be absolutely necessary. Many observers have pointed to the danger of Brazil re-carbonizing rather than de-carbonizing its economy. Brazil might be on this path if it continues to focus only on reducing deforestation, while continuing to think that the economy can be built on green foundations amid a rapidly changing green technology environment.

The Brazilian government developed a highly inclusive civil society consultation system to draft its National Adaptation Plan (NAP). The NAP focuses on 11 themes, or pillars, required for tackling climate change. Ironically, energy use is not one of the pillars and is included only in sub-themes to the pillars, seemingly as an afterthought.

The 10 Year Energy Expansion Plan (PDE) published by EPE, projects that Brazil’s total electricity consumption will double from 629TWh per year in 2014 to 1,253TWh per year by 2030. Although EPE has called for an increase in power generation from renewables like wind, biomass, and solar—between October 2014 and November 2015, the country procured, through state-sponsored auctions, close to 3 gigawatts (GW) of utility-scale solar —it also has been contracting long-term power purchase agreements with new coal-and gas-fired power plants to fuel this growth, a path that could lead to the re-carbonization of Brazil’s electricity sector.

Brazil was able to build its green foundation by being forward thinking in the 1970s, when it set out to build the world’s largest hydropower dam and to develop a far-reaching ethanol program. To remain relevant and progressive, Brazil needs to innovate like it did back then. Energy should be a main pillar in the country’s NAP, and sub-topics of the energy pillar should include the use of electric vehicles, greater adoption and promotion of solar energy, and, in particular, demand-side management of electricity. Brazil would benefit from discussing these sub-topics more widely in both energy and climate policymaking circles.

To learn more about what Brazil could do to foster energy efficiency and help limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius in a cost-effective manner, see How Energy Efficiency Cuts Costs for a 2-degree Future, launched in Paris on December 4 by the Fraunhofer ISI. 

One thought on “Tilting the emissions scale: How Brazil’s INDC for emissions reduction may become irrelevant”

  1. Great post! I agree that electric vehicles need to part of the solution; additionally, I think it is very important for the EPE to include energy storage in the equation; facilitating its inclusion in the energy matrix using incentives and/or competitive fees for ancillary services and taking into account the environmental impact that could be mitigated/avoided by implementing battery banks instead of spinning reserve, for example.

    It would be interesting at some point to see what lessons learned could be transferred/applied to places such as Sub Saharan Africa where there are a lot of opportunities to start relatively fresh in many aspects when it comes to energy.

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