Brazil’s Green Economy: A strategy for Sustainable Development

19 Feb

There is a growing acknowledgement that the current world economy is unsustainable; hence a need for an economy that promotes a rather sustainable environment. This in turn has led to rise in the promotion of a ‘Green Economy’. This article is an endeavour to examine the role of Brazil in the promotion of a green economy. To do so, I’ll begin by undertaking a brief study on Curitiba and highlight the various factors that led to the sustainability of the city. Then, I’ll bring out the Brazilian approach to the field of biofuels in the achievement of sustainable development. I’ll conclude by using the fundamentals of this model and try to extrapolate whether the model as implemented by Brazil can be beneficial to rest of the world.

For the purposes of the Green Economy Initiative, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) developed a working definition of a ‘Green Economy’ as one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. In its simplest expression, a green economy can be thought of as one which is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive. [UNEP, 2008].

“I consider that Brazil has a sacred mission to show the world that it is possible for a country to grow rapidly without destroying the environment. We are and will continue to be the world champions in clean energy, a country that will always know how to grow in a healthy and balanced fashion.”

– Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil [UNEP, 2013]

 

Brazil is home to the largest rainforest in the world and possesses an extensive coastal line. It is extremely rich in biodiversity and ecosystem services, and possesses huge water reserves; hence is biodiversity hotspot. Due to its natural resources and temperate climate, combined with a relatively small population, Brazil’s biological capacity has the potential to surpass its ecological footprint [Green Economy Coalition, 2012], thus leading to a sustainable environment. Seeing the potentials of this resource rich nation, her leaders have embraced the notion of generating growth based on the principles of a ‘Green Economy’ and thereby channelizing a sustainable environment for its citizens.

Brazil has the fourth largest urban population after China, India, and the US, with an annual urban growth rate of 1.8 per cent between 2005 and 2010 [UNEP, 2009]. Curitiba, capital of Parana state and the eight largest city in Brazil [Wikipedia, 2010] has successfully addressed this challenge. This has been done through an integrated urban planning initiated through the Master Plan. This plan established the famous Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) System for which Curitiba is known for.

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The popularity of the BRT System has resulted to a modal shift from automobile travel to bus travel [Goodman et al, 2005, p.76]. However, this doesn’t mean that the city automatically favors public transport over private as it only goes to show how planned the city is. The above image is of the Trinary Road System. This system not only allows quick access to the city centers for the car drivers but also has dedicated BRT lanes, thus assuring faster commutation no matter what mode of transportation.

Other policies have also contributed to the success of the transit system. Land within two blocks of the transit arteries is zoned for high density, since it generates more transit ridership per square foot. Beyond the two blocks, zoned residential densities taper in proportion to distance from transit-ways [Goodman et al, 2005, p.76]. Even though, the number of private car users [Lindau et al, 2010, p.2] is growing, it is estimated that three-quarters of Curitibans still rely on public transport [Grist Staff, 2007]. Thus, it is noteworthy to state that such a planned transportation network in a city has dual benefits. Firstly, it provides people an efficient public transport system and secondly, it keeps the environment in check as it encourages more and more people to use public transport. Given the present scenario where nations face the issue of climate change, such a model, should indeed be encourage in any country.

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 Furthermore a number of others programs have proved to be a living success in the city. The Pedestrian-Friendly Streets are areas in the city which are closed to vehicle traffic and thus pedestrian friendly. The Garbage That Is Not Garbage Program encourages people to separate discards into recyclable and non-recyclable waste. One to three times a week, trucks collect paper, cardboard, metal, plastic, and glass that has been sorted by households. This recycling saves the equivalent of 1,200 trees a day, and local parks contain displays on the numbers of trees saved. The money rose from selling recyclables supports social programs, and the city employs the homeless and people in alcohol rehabilitation programs in the garbage separation plant. The Green Exchange Program is seen undertaken in slum areas inaccessible to waste collection vehicles. To encourage the poor and slum dwellers to clean up the areas and improve public health, the city started to offer bus tickets and vegetables to people who brought garbage to neighborhood centers. In addition, children were allowed to exchange recyclables for school supplies, toys etc [Suzuki et al, 2010, p.303]. All these initiatives thus enable the city to avoid future environmental costs and at the same time have led to an increased in the quality of life of its citizens and a sustainable future. No wonder, Curitiba is famously referred to as the ‘Ecological Capital of Brazil’.

The adverse impact of global warming has resulted in harmful consequences for the future of the planet. Faced with a scenario of conflict and uncertainty, changes in the management of energy issues are important. Renewable energies, especially biofuels, have emerged as alternatives for achieving sustainable development [Faustino Cristian Verissimo, 2012, p.74]. While the average of OECD countries’ consumption of renewable resources is only seven per cent, the Brazilian index is 46 per cent, mainly composed of hydroelectricity and biofuels. It is estimated that, over the past thirty years, the use of biofuels has prevented 644 million tones of carbon from being released into the atmosphere [Faustino Cristian Verissimo, 2012, p.75]. The use of ethanol has helped the plight of the peasants. The average income earned by rural workers in the sugarcane industry is 86 per cent higher than their counterparts in other areas of agriculture [Faustino Cristian Verissimo, 2012, p.85]. Thus, biofuels has come to be the best alternative for the reduction of greenhouse gases and could even contribute to the establishment of supply chains in many sectors of the economy, such as agriculture and industry in accordance with sustainable development.

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Another area where the Brazilian model of a Green Economy has been a success is through the ‘Green Jobs’ initiative. The Brazilian Government has embraced it as a core element in its national development policy. Since 2009 the International Labour Organization (ILO) has been providing permanent technical support to the conceptual development and practical implementation of green jobs at federal and state levels in Brazil [ILO, 2010]. Such jobs are seen in industries such as seedling production management, forest management, recycling, biofuel production activities and the like [People’s Daily Online, 2009]. The work of ILO is commendable especially in the states of Bahia and Mato Grasso through the Decent Work Agenda. Such jobs are also seen in the Amazon region. By 2008, Brazil had more that 2.6 million green jobs and ILO believes that the transition to an economy with lower greenhouse gas emissions can further increase the number of such jobs [People’s Daily Online, 2009].

What the fence sitters and the skeptics fail to understand is that climate change fundamentally changes the 21 century balance sheet … Investing now in green solutions is cheaper – and ultimately more profitable – than spending more, later, in a catch-up race for global competitiveness.”

– Ban Ki-moon, U.N. Secretary-General [UN,2009]

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Green economy thus offers an immense possibility for productive investment and sustainable growth and therefore should be the central focus of any government policy. It will help in the eradication of poverty as being labor intensive it creates jobs and provides communities with sustainable livelihoods. Though initially it may result in a slowdown in economic growth in the long run it ensures that economic growth will be accelerated as climate change catastrophes, energy shocks, water scarcity and loss of ecosystem services are reduced. Finally due to its inclusiveness, a greener economy will not only ensure that not only our needs but also of our children and their children’s children will be met

By: Kester Pereira

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REFERENCES

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People’s Daily Online (2009): ‘Brazil over 2.6 mln green jobs in 2008: ILO report’, < http://english.people.com.cn/90001/90777/90852/6838181.html > (last viewed on 16th February 2013)

Faustino Cristian Verissimo (2012): ‘Energy and the Environment: The Challenges of Biofuels’, World Affairs: The Journal of International Issues, vol.16 no.1

Goodman Joseph, Laube Melissa, Schwenk Judith (2005): ‘Curitiba’s Bus System is Model for Rapid Transit’, Race, Poverty, and the Environment , vol 12, no.1

Green Economy Coalition (2012): ‘Brazil national dialogue’, < http://www.greeneconomycoalition.org/maps/brazil-national-dialogue > (last viewed on 12th February 2013)

Grist Staff (2007): ‘15 Green Cities’ < http://grist.org/article/cities3/ > (last viewed on 13th February 2013)

ILO (2010): ‘Green Jobs Country Brief- Brazil’, < http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/—integration/documents/publication/wcms_149662.pdf > (last viewed on 11th February 2013)

Lindau Luis Antonio, Hildago Dario, Facchini Daniela (2010): ‘Curitiba, the cradle of Bus Rapid Transit’, CTS Brasil

Suzuki Hiroaki, Dastur Arish, Moffatt Sebastian, Yabuki Nanae, Maruyama Hinako (2010): Eco2 Cities:  Ecological Cities as Economic Cities, The World Bank, Washington, DC

UN (2009): ‘Ban Ki-moon’s speeches- Opening Remarks to the World Business Summit on Climate Change’, < http://www.un.org/apps/news/infocus/sgspeeches/statments_full.asp?statID=500#.URlQYR3WiE4 > (last viewed on 12th February 2013)

UNEP (2008): ‘What is the Green Economy?’ < http://www.unep.org/greeneconomy/AboutGEI/WhatisGEI/tabid/29784/Default.aspx> (last viewed on 11th February 2013)

UNEP (2009): ‘Sustainable urban planning in Brazil’, < http://www.unep.org/greeneconomy/SuccessStories/SustainaibleUrbanPlanninginBrazil/tabid/29867/Default.aspx > (last viewed on 11th February 2013)

UNEP (2013): ‘Brazil’s Green Economy’, <http://www.unep.org/greeneconomy/Partnerships/BrazilsGreenEconomy/tabid/79642/Default.aspx> (last viewed on 11th February 2013)

Wikipedia (2010): ‘List of largest cities in Brazil’, < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_cities_in_Brazil> (last viewed on 13th February 20134)

4 Responses to “Brazil’s Green Economy: A strategy for Sustainable Development”

  1. sumedh March 5, 2013 at 1:22 pm #

    Kester, this is indeed a well researched and systematically presented argument. You have efficiently explained the change that Brazil has been able to make, thanks to the adoption of a green economic model of development.

    In the last two decade Brazil has transformed itself from a major debtor to an emerging donor. Kester, I would like to know whether the Pink tide that started from Venezuela (1999), Chile (2000), and rapidly stormed almost entire Latin America played any role in Brazil’s development. Do you think
    this kind of development is possible in neo-liberal economies and to what extent?

  2. vipul March 17, 2013 at 5:16 pm #

    Well done Kester!! it’s an excellent article which attempts to bring environmental issues at center of discussion in international relations.Environmental issues are always pushed aside when national interest gains ascendancy. But gradually nation-states are realizing that environmental issues and national interests are inseparable. Brazil has emerged as quintessential of it.

    • Kester Pereira March 24, 2013 at 8:09 pm #

      Thanks Vipul! Yes, Brazil has emerged as quintessential of it and furthermore, more states are following suit.

      It is more of a duty rather than a choice for countries to become Greener.

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