Brazil’s President Lula on global warming: No delay at Copenhagen

Postponing hard decisions about the fight against global warming will only make an already tragic predicament worse.

Just over two months ago in Copenhagen, I enjoyed one of the happiest days of my life when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) chose Rio de Janeiro to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. I am now returning to the Danish capital for the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15). The IOC event was the highpoint of Brazil’s successful bid. For the international community, it is the COP15 that marks a crucial juncture in a long negotiation process. Every day that we postpone the critical decisions before us, the greater the damage to the planet’s health.

While some still question the criteria used in assessing the scale of the damage, there is no disputing the gravity of the accumulated losses and the real and imminent threat they pose to humanity. Development and consumption patterns dating back to the Industrial Revolution became globalized in the 20th century. In the 21st century, their disruptive legacy is obvious in degradation that is not only environmental, but also social and economic. The task of building consensus and ensuring more balanced growth will require courage and openhandedness, virtues that have sadly been absent from this debate. 

It is therefore a cause for hope that more than 100 heads of state and government are attending the decisive moments of the conference. Gathering such a significant number of world leaders in Copenhagen is a good start, but clearly not enough. We must all make concessions and sacrifices, avoiding backroom maneuverings that only fuel suspicions and delay a final solution.

It is beyond doubt that both the benefits of economic development as well as the costs of environmental degradation over the past decades have been unevenly distributed both among and within countries. While some profited and continue to profit from the irrational exploitation of natural resources and unsustainable levels of consumption, the vast majority of the world’s population has little to show for it.

As if this were not enough, it is the poorest and most vulnerable that have been hit hardest. The time has come to discuss how best to share these costs and sacrifices. This means establishing concrete “housecleaning measures” to rethink the tasks and priorities ahead. It is time to pay up. However, for lack of agreement, interest arrears continue to pile up, leaving the coming generations to foot the bill. We must deal with this matter in a timely manner if we are to avert the environmental disasters that plagued the 20th century and to reverse, with the help of modern technology, the growing gap between rich and poor. This will require taking to heart the universally acknowledged concept of common but differentiated responsibilities. All accept it in theory, but endless excuses, disagreements and delays keep it from being put into practice.

Developed countries can no longer avoid sharing in the costs and sacrifices. Brazil believes that developing countries should equally be part of the solution. We have therefore made a significant offer at the negotiating table in COP15: an ambitious proposal to reduce by 2020 national CO2 emissions by between 36.1 percent and 38.9 percent. We have also committed to cutting deforestation in the Amazon by 80 percent over the same period. This year alone deforestation of the Amazon dropped 45.7 percent by comparison to 2008, a testament to Brazil’s earnestness. These proposed reductions in emissions from deforestation alone will be larger than those offered by many developing countries in Copenhagen. Such glaring disparities will have to be ironed out during negotiations. 

Brazil’s successful experience in renewable energy – which accounts for an impressive 47 percent of the country’s energy mix – compares very favorably with the global average of just 13 percent. In fact, large-scale use of hydropower as well as flex-fuel cars that run on sugarcane-based ethanol have for decades helped Brazil fight global warming. Brazil’s use of ethanol fuel starting in the 1970s has alone avoided 800 million tons of CO2 emissions.

If Copenhagen is to be a success, all must pull their weight. This means avoiding the temptation to polarize the debate along the North-South divide, or wasting time looking for scapegoats. It we are to avoid such traps, we must focus on identifying partners truly committed to working toward common goals and leave aside jaundiced preconceptions and vested interests.

My conversations over recent months as well as the media coverage of the first week of COP15 offer hope that the leaders gathered in Copenhagen will have the courage of their convictions. Let us rise to the challenge. As a politician and a former labor leader, I am coming back to Denmark fully aware that no breakthrough is possible without open dialogue and earnest negotiating. I am prepared to engage in a frank discussion with all those committed to finding meaningful answers to climate change. The G-20’s effective response to the international financial crisis offers an encouraging example of how multilateral dialogue can come up with solutions that avoid catastrophic outcomes. Let us take to heart this inspiring example and commit the necessary resources to fighting climate change, just as we did to avoid the global financial meltdown.

The time to act is now. Let us not waste the opportunity at Copenhagen. Postponing hard decisions will only make an already tragic predicament worse. Let us tackle it without delay.

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is the president of Brazil.

© 2009 Global Viewpoint Network/Tribune Media Services. Hosted online by The Christian Science Monitor.

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