By Guy Edwards and Cody Zeger
Last week, the climate credentials of Mexico and Brazil were under scrutiny as they hosted the G20 and Rio+20 summits respectively. Little cooperation has taken place between these regional and global leaders on climate change, but such cooperation could prove essential for achieving greater action on climate in Latin America and abroad.
Mexico and Brazil have made efforts to improve their relations on trade, security, energy and biofuels, but cooperation is limited due to geographical differences and distinct regional and international perspectives. Relations are largely positive but competition between Latin America’s two largest economies and carbon emitters is unquestionable.
In the run up to the G20 and Rio+20 it is unclear what cooperation took place between Brazil and Mexico. Brazil did change the original dates for Rio+20 due to a clash with the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II and to accommodate Asian leaders attending the G20 Summit. As an increasingly important issue in Mexico and to complement the Rio+20, the Mexican presidency of the G20 included green growth on the agenda for the first time.
With the G20 and Rio+20 held in Latin America, we are reminded that Mexico and Brazil have more in common than their rivalry suggests. As world leaders on climate, the competition between them is a constructive part of the effort to confront global warming and achieve sustainable development.
At the global climate negotiations, Mexico is considered more of a flexible and ambitious player given its role in successfully hosting the COP16 climate negotiations in Cancun in 2010, its membership in the Cartagena Dialogue and its role as the original proponent of the Green Climate Fund.
Brazil may be too conservative on the concept of “common but differentiated responsibilities” – the idea that countries must act together to confront problems such as climate change but some have particularly responsibility - but it is still highly influential and can be credited for helping to keep some of its BASIC partners (China, India and South Africa) in line during negotiations on the Durban package of climate measures in Bonn last month.
Brazil and Mexico have been active in securing domestic legislation on climate change. In 2009 former Brazilian President Lula signed a law establishing the National Climate Change Policy which sets a voluntary national greenhouse gas reduction target of between 36.1 and 38.9 percent of projected emissions by 2020. This includes a target to reduce deforestation rates in the Amazon by 80 percent.
This month President Calderon signed Mexico’s Climate Change Law which includes targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2020 and by 50 percent by 2050 and achieve 35 percent of Mexico’s energy from renewable sources by 2024.
Brazil may have recently announced the lowest deforestation rates on record due to tough government action, but it faces a tough time ahead if it is to maintain its leadership on climate change. Brazilian government data from 2011 shows emissions will grow more rapidly than previously expected due to larger projected emissions as a result of deforestation due to likely changes in the country’s Forest Code.
On clean energy, Brazil continues to be a world leader on hydropower capacity and ethanol production while Mexico lags behind. According to Climatescope 2012, Brazil has the most amenable environment for climate-related investments in Latin America, with Mexico in sixth place.
Mexico and Brazil are competitors in the race towards low carbon resilient development. This competition is necessary and a constructive force for driving change. Enhanced cooperation, however, is required to take better advantage of the attributes of these emerging powers and could be decisive for regional and global action on climate change and low carbon resilient development.
With both countries pushing for a new global climate treaty and touting their own climate legislation, their combined power pushing for these demands could be pivotal. Sharing lessons and best practice on clean energy, REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), disaster risk reduction, adaptation and climate finance could contribute significantly to improving national and regional efforts.
As Mexican president Calderon said in 2010, referring to Brazil: ‘Imagine what we can do together’. With few concrete results to emerge from the G20 or Rio+20, now is the time for Mexico and Brazil to seize the moment.
Guy Edwards, who is based in Ecuador, is a research fellow at Brown University’s Center for Environmental Studies and works with the Latin American Platform on Climate and the Climate and Development Knowledge Network. Cody Zeger is also from Brown University. A longer version of this blog first appeared on Intercambio Climatico.