Brazil wants to host a major climate summit. Will it be successful?

Brazil is hosting a major global climate summit in November, in the wake of several high-profile failures at the 2015 Paris climate deal. The country’s President Michel Temer signed a major climate deal with the European Union on Thursday that could ultimately help narrow the gap between the parties’ carbon commitments and goals laid out in the Paris accord.

The National South American Economic Commission (COMNENA) will hold its 7th Conference of Parties (COP26) on Nov. 4-10 in Temer’s hometown of Curitiba, Brazil. The conference — which will bring together over 1,000 participants from all corners of the planet — is expected to focus on mitigating global warming through low-carbon growth, energy transition, innovation, the best way to fight deforestation and deforestation-related environmental degradation, and more.

Mexico, Bolivia, and other small island countries also plan to send representatives, perhaps as early as next week, in hope of building momentum ahead of a meeting of climate negotiators in Bonn, Germany in November. There, those parties will have a chance to finally take action to curb global warming.

These are solid plans, said Vianne Timmerman, a researcher and lecturer at the University of Geneva’s Institute for Applied International Relations. But Brazil’s track record at COP meetings, where it has historically been mired in political and geopolitical disputes, makes the conference an uphill battle.

Brazilian negotiators could have been making progress on pushing green proposals, Timmerman said. But recent political blows to the President Temer, which includes the ouster of his longtime ally, Brazil’s Supreme Court Justice Joaquim Barbosa, pushed these talks into reverse. If they do make progress, however, it will be very quiet and without the aggressive language in which the country typically has an opportunity to flex its negotiating muscle.

Three years ago, Temer won the presidency amid promises of reform, and he proceeded to carry out more than 40 actions after assuming power, said Dante Adinkra, an activist with EarthRights International in Sao Paulo. One of these included removing thousands of people from Twitter; another was to scrap indigenous rights protections in the Amazon and remove protections for the Great Apes of the Congo Basin.

It was enough for the Brazilian government to refuse to support the COP24 preparations at the 2017 session, and the government refused to submit its national plan to fight deforestation for inclusion in this year’s conference, despite pleas from like-minded parties, Adinkra said.

Dilemma

“The debate over the environment and climate is really dominated by the political equation between Brazilian society and government and politics,” Adinkra said. “And that’s a political dialogue. And there’s really no way to negotiate or align with policies that involve more policy alterations in the environment.”

Timmerman says that until Brazil does make some progress — and leaves behind its recent chapter of politics that favors private and oil industry interests over public ones — the country is unlikely to win many friends on the global stage.

But Timmerman, who represents South and Central America on the World Policy Institute advisory board, says that Brazil could change its traditional negotiating tactics and play ball at COP26. The country, she said, may actually still be the world’s most important potential power broker, as both Peru and Argentina have been stalemated for years.

“If they start negotiating in a more realistic way, talking about ways of trying to define mitigation, to clarify what greenhouse gas emissions, and to define who’s going to pay, that would be pretty novel,” Timmerman said. “It would be more productive to move that way and communicate in a mature, mature way.”

But even Brazil doesn’t always display the behavior that pundits say is necessary for agreement to occur. The country may be making quiet progress at COP26 in hopes of mending things back home, Adinkra said. But unless it sends a more active delegation to the conference, things aren’t likely to improve, he said.

Timmerman is skeptical, and doesn’t think the country can produce too much progress. The most that Brazil could accomplish, she said, is to show its leadership in ensuring no log jam arises again at negotiations next year in Katowice, Poland.

“Brazil is still weak,” she said. “They will be weak for a while, and so it’s harder to negotiate.”

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