Merkel’s visit to Brazil can be a milestone on the path to clean energy

Intro

Two powerful women, the leaders of the largest economies in Europe and Latin America, could add further clout to the transition to a low carbon world. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is hosting German Chancellor Angela Merkel today and climate change is one of the topics on the agenda. Rousseff is President of a country which has an astonishing potential for wind and solar, while Merkel has spearheaded Germany’s transition to renewable energy and has a track record of leading others to climate ambition. German expertise in renewable energy can help Brazil to build up its solar and wind industries, providing clean energy and much-needed jobs for its growing population in the midst of a severe economic and political crisis. But both countries can go a step further still to firm up their climate credentials in the run-up to the climate change discussions in December: Brazil by submitting an ambitious climate change pledge to the UN and Germany by finally turning its back on coal.

Actions

Key Points

  • Brazil and Germany: climate champions or cowards? German Chancellor Merkel spearheaded the ‘EnergieWende’ transition away from fossil fuels and nuclear to renewables, enabling solar and wind capacity to rise meteorically. Yet Germany still gets most of its power from coal. Brazil reduced Amazon deforestation – a key contributor to climate change – by 70 per cent in ten years and reached an ambitious two-way climate change pledge with the US in June, but it is now turning to fossil fuels to plug its energy gap.
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  • Cooperation on clean energy could help recession become progression. Brazil must meet the growing energy needs of its 200 million people, and dig itself out of its current economic quagmire. German expertise in solar and wind energy can help provide jobs, a homegrown industry and more clean electricity for Brazilians, just as it has already done in Germany.
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  • Media-friendly handshakes are not enough. Any agreements made will be hollow unless followed with actions. Brazil has yet to submit its climate change offer to the UN, while Germany is still too cosy with – and reliant on – coal, despite citizens’ fierce opposition, the risk it poses to the country’s  emissions reduction goal, and coal’s downwards spiral worldwide. If Brazil makes a firm and ambitious offer for the Paris climate talks and starts to enact it, and Germany finally says ‘Tschüss’ to fossil fuels, their climate leadership clout will be multiplied, adding further momentum ahead of the UN negotiations this December.

Background

Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Dilma Rousseff are both facing their own issues at home.

Merkel arrives from a stormy German parliament which has just voted through a Greek bailout despite opposition from within Merkel’s own party – and from a Europe where questions are being raised over the very existence of a European Union with a common currency.

Rousseff has faced a weekend of riots and calls for her impeachment over the Petrobras corruption scandal. Her approval ratings are in single figures, as are the economic indicators of the country.

Yet as they meet in Brasilia, they are, amongst other issues, discussing a threat that is even more urgent, with far greater possible consequences: climate change.

Both leaders can be proud of certain elements of their climate change curriculum vitae.

Brazil has reduced Amazon deforestation rates dramatically, leading to a 39 per cent drop in carbon emissions in just five years.

Germany has reduced its emissions by 24 per cent since 1990 and has a target of 40 per cent reduction by 2020. It has pioneered an ‘EnergieWende’, or energy transition away from fossil fuels and nuclear towards renewable energy, driving renewables growth and remaining economically strong.  

Nevertheless, there have been some worrying trends in recent years. Brazil has begun to turn to fossil fuels. Deforestation in Amazonia has been inching up again recently, and a new proposal to stimulate Brazil’s economic growth, supported by President Rousseff, could put even more areas of rainforest at risk.

As for Germany, it remains wedded to coal, which provides the majority of its electricity. Germany’s emissions have risen in recent years, and a move to scrap the proposed ‘coal levy’ in July could leave the country falling short of its emissions target of a 40% cut by 2020.

The meeting between the two leaders is an idea opportunity to share expertise – German experience in renewables can bolster and stimulate the Brazilian industry – and agree to show real leadership at the UN climate change talks in Paris this December.