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Brazil’s actual forest-related CO2 emissions could blow by Paris pledge

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Deforestation is a leading cause of carbon emissions in Brazil, but far from the only cause related to forests. Photo credit: CIAT International Center for Tropical Agriculture on Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA

 

According Mongabay Brazil is likely underestimating its actual emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases in its reported United Nations statistics, say scientists interviewed by Mongabay. If this missing data were included in official reporting, they add, it would show Brazil unlikely to meet its Paris Climate Agreement carbon reduction commitments.

Low-resolution satellite forest surveys and overlooked sources of emissions, especially those due to forest degradation and wildfires, mean that Brazil’s reported national greenhouse gas emissions statistics may be too low.

Experts note that Brazil is likely meeting United Nations guidelines in its reporting. However, those U.N. rules ignore significant sources of national greenhouse gas emissions by disregarding carbon emitting processes related to forests. None of this underreporting is likely unique to Brazil, but it is perhaps more acute there than in other nations due to Brazil’s vast Amazonian forests.

The challenges of counting carbon emissions

As part of the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, now ratified by 175 countries, Brazil pledged to reduce its national greenhouse gas emissions by 37 percent by 2025, relative to 2005 levels. This means reaching annual total emissions of 1.3 gigatons of CO2 equivalent within seven years.

Official reports suggest the country is on track to meet these obligations – the national total reported for 2012 was 1.2 gigatons – but scientists say key sources of emissions are going unreported or underestimated.

The UN Environment Programme’s Emission Gap Report published in October 2017 stated that, “recent studies assessed suggest that Brazil… [is] likely to – or [is] roughly on track to – achieve [its] 2030 Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) targets with currently implemented policies.”

However, the Climate Observatory, a national civil society network, using its Greenhouse Gas Emissions Estimates System, known as SEEG, contradicted the UN’s assertion. The Climate Observatory found that Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions rose nearly 9 percent from 2015 to 2016, and have reached their highest level since 2008.

“Many informed scientists think that Brazil is seriously underestimating its annual carbon emissions,” says Bill Laurance, Director of the Centre for Tropical Environment and Sustainability Science at James Cook University in Queensland, Australia. The country is “grossly underestimating the impacts of forest degradation,” he says. Full disclosure: Laurance serves on the Mongabay board.

So even though Brazil may be meeting its official obligations under the UN’s carbon reporting framework, a variety of causes including deforestation, forest degradation, and wildfires are going partly untallied and adding significantly to atmospheric carbon, and to global warming. The Brazilian government did not immediately respond to requests for comment for this story.

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