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Analysis: Brazil Eyes Energy And Farms For Future Emission Cuts

Date: 22-Dec-10
Country: RIO DE JANEIRO
Author: Brian Ellsworth

After winning global praise for protecting its Amazon forests, Brazil now faces another tricky obstacle to cutting its carbon emissions -- the gases produced by its booming economy.

International pressure for reductions to slash-and-burn deforestation led Brazil to cut illegal Amazon logging by 34 percent from 2004 to 2009, making it one of the few nations at climate talks in Cancun to show progress against global warming.

But with its farm belt fast becoming the bread basket to the world and its free-spending consumers spurring greater use of fossil fuels, Brazil will not be able to depend on simply Amazon protection to become a low-carbon economy.

"There's been an evolution in the carbon emissions," said Brazil's main climate negotiator, Branca Americano. "This is why we're focusing on specific sectors, especially agriculture and energy, to continue emissions reductions."

Brazil has said it expects carbon emissions of around 2.1 billion metric tons in 2020, a relatively small increase from its 2009 emissions of 1.8 billion metric tons given expectations of rapid economic growth in those years.

Changes in land use such as deforestation accounted for 58 percent of Brazil's carbon emissions in 2005, a figure that fell below 50 percent in 2009 as the country reduced the amount of land cleared through illegal logging.

That deforestation decline coincided with steady economic expansion that pushed millions of poor Brazilians out of poverty and into the middle class, giving them income to buy household appliances and drive their first cars.

Demand for electricity is in turn rising faster than Brazil's capacity to install clean hydroelectric generation, which provides most of the country's electricity. The result is that future power generation is expected to rely more on fossil fuels such as natural gas that have higher emissions.

Within the next 10 years, each megawatt-hour generated will likely cause 30 percent more carbon emissions, said Magno Maciel of consulting firm GSS Consultoria in Sao Paulo.

"The pace of development of renewable energy sources is not compatible with the pace of demand growth ... leading to an increasing dependence on non-renewable thermoelectric sources," Maciel said. "The profile of Brazil's greenhouse gas emissions is changing."

GROWING ENERGY EMISSIONS

Though widely used sugarcane ethanol has helped lower emissions from vehicles, consumption of liquid fossil fuels in 2010 grew faster than the country's overall economy -- possibly signaling a rise in high-carbon energy use down the road.

Controlling this increase will require the government to make good on promises to expand port and rail infrastructure, which would help cut the heavy emissions caused by diesel-powered trucks transporting goods across the continent-sized country's precarious and often unpaved roads.

Carbon from agriculture made up 22 percent of Brazil's emissions in 2005, a figure that is likely to increase as the nation's farm sector, a crucial part of Brazil's economic success, continues to expand.

Use of chemical fertilizer to cultivate staple crops such as corn, soy and cotton can spur global warming by releasing nitrogen into the environment, while belches and manure from the world's largest commercial herd of cattle release methane.

The government this year launched a program to boost the area under "no-till" cultivation -- which cuts carbon emissions from soil movement -- by more than 30 percent over the next 10 years.

In 2011, Brazil will invest more than 4 billion reais ($2.35 billion) to replant vegetation in Amazon areas degraded by deforestation, helping boost storage of carbon dioxide.

"We advanced a lot in recent years due to the reduction of Amazon deforestation. But we need to reduce deforestation elsewhere and control greenhouse gas emissions in energy, agriculture and industry," Science and Technology Minister Sergio Rezende told a recent news conference.

(Editing by Dale Hudson)

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