Obama and Rousseff to discuss climate ahead of COP 21

US President Barack Obama and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff will meet in Washington on Tuesday (June 30) to discuss climate change, amongst other issues. Rousseff is expected to reveal some elements of Brazil’s climate action plan, yet the content of any US-Brazil statement on climate change is still unknown. Brazilian Foreign Ministry official Carlos Paranhos noted Thursday (June 25) that the text should “indicate what the two countries are willing to do to ensure the summit is fruitful,” reports Reuters.

Rousseff had previously cancelled a state visit to the US in October 2013, after revelations that she had been spied on by the National Security Agency. The two countries have since worked to overcome this setback. In a phone conversation with Rousseff on Thursday (June 25) regarding her impending trip, US Vice President Joe Biden “conveyed that President Obama’s invitation was a reflection of our commitment to deliver on the enormous potential of the US-Brazil partnership for the benefit of the American people and the people of Brazil,” and “emphasized the importance of working with Brazil and other partners to produce a robust Paris climate agreement in December and the economic importance of facilitating travel between the United States and Brazil.”

Going in to UNFCCC climate talks in Paris, the US has already made its GHG reduction targets clear by formally committing to cut emissions by 26 to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025, whereas Brazil has not yet submitted its INDC. Brazil has a slightly different position than the US in the climate debate. In a country of over 200 million people, GHG emission are perhaps less relevant than the country’s carbon sinks. The Amazon rainforest region is home to trees and plant life responsible for pulling vast amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere. Therefore, deforestation is a serious threat to the destruction of these carbon sinks, and in turn the release of large quantities of carbon back into the atmosphere. RTCC notes that Brazil cut its GHG emissions by 41% between 2005 and 2012, largely by slowing destruction of the vast Amazon rainforest. Despite this reduction in deforestation evidenced over the past 5 years, Reuters states that nearly 5,000 square km of forests are still lost every year.

One potential point of negotiation for the US to leverage climate commitments from Brazil is trade policy, for example attaching sustainability conditions to loosened trade restrictions. An increase in trade with the US could help liven up Brazil’s economy, which could be useful for Rousseff, who has recently experienced a slump in popularity due to a struggling economy and a multi-billion-dollar corruption scandal at state oil giant Petroleo Brasileiro SA. On the other side of the same coin, discouraging American firms from buying goods produced on illegally deforested land could have a significant negative impact on Brazil’s economy as the US is the country’s second biggest export market.

UPDATE 30.06.2015

US President Barack Obama and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff have agreed to work together and with other partners in reaching an agreement at the Paris Climate Change Conference that reflects the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities . While the US has already made its submission, Brazil plans to present an INDC “that represents its highest possible effort beyond its current actions”, based on the implementation of policies in the forestry, land-use, industrial, and energy sectors.

Furthermore, the two presidents launched the Brazil-United States Joint Initiative on Climate Change. The initiative will be implemented through a new Climate Change Working Group (CCWG) that will become effective in October 2015. Specifically, the group will work to enhance “bilateral cooperation on issues relating to land use, clean energy, and adaptation, as well as policy dialogues on domestic and international climate issues”.

Copoperation and coolaboration on sustainable land use, clean energy, and adaptaiton to climate change are also discussed in a joint statement issued following yesterday’s meeting.
Besides climate change, Obama and Rousseff have agreed to expand trade and investment cooperation and to strengthen defense and security cooperation.


(Dilma Rousseff and Barack Obama during Obama official visit in Brazil in March 2011. Photo credit: Planalto/Flickr)