Nachricht | Analysis of Capitalism - Globalization - Brazil / Paraguay - Socio-ecological Transformation - COP26 - Climate Justice The Business Climate and the Climate Business

COP26 was a panacea for corporations, but had little to offer those most affected by climate change



Fabrina Furtado,

Big headlines, advertising campaigns, and promises  —  a lot has been published recently about the 26th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), or COP26, held in Glasgow, UK in the midst of a pandemic between 1–13 November 2021. Decarbonization, net zero emissions by 2050, the Paris Rulebook, funding and loss and damage, adapting and limiting global warming to 1.5 ºC, the carbon market, and mitigation goals were some of the most-discussed topics during the conference, the mission of which was to promote political actions to tackle climate change caused by “human beings” and, more specifically, to establish the rules for operationalizing the Paris Agreement, signed at COP21 in December 2015.

Fabrina Furtado is a professor with the Department of Development, Agriculture, and Society of the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro (DDAS/UFRRJ) and with the Social Science Postgraduate Programme in Development, Agriculture, and Society (CPDA) of the UFRRJ.

Translation by Aline Scátola.

However, what we know for sure is that, just like in previous sessions, the new commitments on fighting climate change announced at the latest COP are not going to change the currently imposed course of “development and progress”, which is leading to continuously rising temperatures, conflicts, disasters, and environmental offences. There were conversations about reducing methane emissions by 30 percent and even phasing down “ineffective” subsidies for fossil fuels and the “unrestricted” use of coal, but other than words, this is it for now  —  just conversations. COP26 was yet another stage for speeches. In fact, there were no commitments regarding how to fund all this. It was a “viable agreement”, as the Brazilian ambassador Paulino Franco de Carvalho Neto put it as he celebrated the establishment of carbon trading regulations. This means that, instead of reaffirming a commitment to keeping global warming below the promised 1.5 ºC threshold, we are looking at an increase in global temperatures by up to 2.7 ºC. However, as bad as these numbers are, they do not tell the whole story.

This is why those big speeches were not the only ones being made at this COP. Organizations and movements from around the world are denouncing the corporate siege of yet another climate negotiation. Despite the health challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the financial obstacles the non-corporate world faced in order to travel to Glasgow, these voices of resistance took part at COP itself and around the world. Significant criticism came from important actors in the Indigenous and Black movements, who made sure to address environmental racism, climate injustice, and the importance of Indigenous and traditional territories for environmental conservation. This means that not all “human beings” are responsible for the climate crisis we are experiencing and, most importantly, not everyone feels its effects the same way. Brazil’s Black Coalition for Rights stated, “there is no climate justice without racial justice”, leaders demonstrated how Indigenous peoples have always been on the front line fighting the climate crisis, and different women activists discussed feminist actions and climate justice considering the effects of the intersection between coloniality, racism, and patriarchy. But first, a few questions on what COPs  —  and, more specifically, the latest one  —  mean.

As I write from a country where more than 610,000 people have died from COVID-19, it is always worth pointing out that the number of COVID-19 cases has gone up in Glasgow since COP26 and its activities started. According to the British government, the number of new cases reported in the first week of COP alone totalled nearly 2,000, a 110-percent increase over the previous week. Not to mention all of the delegates who will return home after the conference,

COP in Context: Harmonizing Capitalism and the Environment?

Virtually all governments, organizations, movements, media outlets, and even corporations today take climate change as one of the greatest challenges of our time, arguing that human activities are unequivocally the cause of global warming. “Climate change is a common concern of humankind”, states the Glasgow Climate Pact, the final draft produced at COP26. But this has not always been the case. Policies related to environment and climate today differ radically from the context in which the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Rio Summit) took place, where the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was first established.

The first United Nations conference on the environment, the Stockholm Conference, took place in 1972 and was proposed by the Swedish government to address issues including pollution affecting the Baltic Sea, acid rain, pesticides, and heavy metals found in fish as a consequence of industrial operations from Sweden and its neighbouring countries. The conference was crucial for the emergence of a discussion on global issues from the perspective of environmental issues. At that point, however, the ruling perspective  —  which was also advocated by the Brazilian government  —  was that protecting the environment was an obstacle to growth. The 1972 report The Limits to Growthcommissioned by the Club of Rome, an international organization consisting mainly of members of the business and scientific sectors, and based on the economist Thomas Malthus’s theories on the dangers of population growth and scarcity, addressed concerns regarding the impact of economic growth on the availability of the so-called natural resources.

In 1984, the United Nations World Commission for Environment and Development conducted a study on environmental degradation and environmental policies, which culminated in the report Our Common Future, also known as the “Brundtland Report”, aiming to propose ways to harmonize economic development and environmental conservation. This process has resulted in the notion of sustainable development, eventually solidified at the Rio Summit. A theoretical and political debate then began seeking to “put a price” on nature and internalize “environmental externalities” in the economic system. Contradictions between the environment and growth could be eliminated, they argued.

In this context  —  more specifically, the second half of the 1980s  —  anthropogenic climate change became a politically important discussion, especially after the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988. An international body created by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to assess scientific research on climate change and its socioeconomic effects, the IPCC provides a scientific foundation for the consolidation of the UNFCCC policies signed by more than 150 nations  —  known as the Parties to the Convention  —  at the 1992 Rio Summit. Based on IPCC data, a consensus was built over the existence of a climate crisis, an understanding that allows setting up measures, institutions, and policies to tackle it.

Not all human beings are responsible for the climate crisis we are experiencing and, most importantly, not everyone feels its effects the same way.

The first major outcome of this process was the Kyoto Protocol, a binding agreement signed by 37 industrialized countries and the European Community, setting goals and timetables for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at an average of 5 percent, over 1990 levels, within five years from 2008–12. The agreement came into effect on 16 February 2005 and defined the market as the main mechanism to fulfil emission reduction targets. A carbon market was then created, grounded in the notion of “the right to emit” and a logic of offsetting  —  the right to pollute here, buying carbon credits there, no matter where, how, from whom. Different processes are rendered equivalent. Also based on the scientific assessment provided by the IPCC, according to which deforestation is one of the main sources of GHG emissions, a debate emerged about institutional mechanisms for forest conservation. Forests became perceived as carbon stocks, so industrialized countries in the North can avoid implementing emission reduction targets while proclaiming that this kind of forest conservation could economically and politically benefit countries in the global South. Mechanisms for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) emerged in this context. To keep their “forests standing”, they argue, countries in the South (and their corporations) must receive payments for it. These are goodness packages, as argued by the head of the Rio de Janeiro Green Economy subdepartment, established at the time of Rio+20, concurrently with the creation of the Rio de Janeiro Environmental Exchange and with efforts to create a regional carbon market. Other conferences have continued to extend the Kyoto Protocol, juggling politics and narratives, while not moving forward in terms of actual measures to face the problem.

The Paris Agreement, signed during the 21st COP in December 2015, created an international climate regime to regulate voluntary greenhouse gas emission reduction goals as of 1 January 2020. At the time, the “international community” made a commitment to limit temperature rise by up to 2ºC over the levels of the pre-industrial era, and to “continue the efforts to limit temperature rise by 1.5 ºC”  —  the “magic numbers”.

The Paris Agreement did not define a binding emission reduction target. It was vague about its rules regarding voluntary targets, such as how to measure rise in temperature, and it did not specify the database or the timeframe that should be used as reference to measure the 1.5 ºC increase. All these definitions were moved to the Rulebook concluded at COP26. Additionally, in a more structural aspect, the Paris Agreement did not include emission elimination goals for the energy and transportation industries, which would effectively reduce fossil fuels use. Conversely, its Article 4.1 establishes the possibility of achieving “a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century”. This language originated the concept of “net zero emissions”, which we will further address below.

But nine small paragraphs in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement have been leading to tensions in negotiations at COP26. The article establishes three mechanisms for “voluntary cooperation” in mitigation: two market-based and one “non-market” approach. According to the first mechanism, established in Article 6.2, Parties to the agreement that meet their emission reduction goals (nationally determined contribution  —  NDC), their renewable energy goal, or any other kind of target are allowed to sell their excess credits to another Party that has not met its own goals. The second mechanism, established in Article 6.4, creates an international carbon market to be managed by the United Nations, making it possible for the public or private sector to trade emission reduction anywhere in the world, with any kind of technology. This mechanism may or may not include REDD+. This new market has been called Mechanism of Sustainable Development (MSD), thus replacing the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol, implemented in 2008–12. The third mechanism of the Agreement, established in Article 6.8, encompasses “non-market approaches”, which may include REDD+, for example.

Closing one day later than planned, COP26 resulted in an agreement between its 197 member countries regarding the need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and review its commitments, as necessary, by the end of 2022 to move forward regarding its 1.5°C warming threshold. The rulebook was “concluded”, providing the regulations for the operation of a carbon market, regarded as one of the great achievements of this COP. It established, for example, that the agency overviewing the global emission reduction market will have two instances: one to approve activities to be part of the market mechanism, and one to authorize the international transfer of credits  —  that is, the possibility of offsetting emissions by buying credits. Also, there seems to be some loopholes, such as double counting, which means that those that save up emissions and sell their carbon credits should count the buyers’ emissions as their own, recording all carbon credits in the country’s emission inventory.[1] The operational details of the international carbon credit trading system are yet to be defined.

Another topic that is always controversial and was therefore an issue at COP26 as well was funding. Prior to 2020, countries in the North had promised US$100 billion in funding a year  —  20 percent of which have not been allocated yet. And this COP was no different. While promising 100 billion US dollars in funding per year until 2025, the Glasgow Pact was “deeply sorry” that these promises were not fulfilled, calling on countries in the North to go through with the funding as quickly as possible by 2025. An agreement that expresses its own failure. Countries in Latin America, Asia, and Africa have requested, to no avail, 1.3 trillion US dollars for mitigation and adaptation measures as well as resources to compensate them for loss and damage already caused by climate catastrophes. They have, therefore, left this conference discontented, to say the least. Just to have an idea of what these numbers mean, the president of the United States, Joe Biden, is trying to pass what he calls a welfare and ecological transition package in the US Congress, the “Build Back Better” plan (BBB), amounting to 1.75 trillion US dollars over a decade. The countries that have been most affected by the climate crisis had their calls for the creation of a specific funding mechanism for loss and damage rejected  —  the US quickly considered how much damages it would have to pay and therefore opposed this proposal.

In this process, we can see how political problems are often forged in such a way as to already include the means for their own solution. Based on certain scientific knowledge, a problem is established and regarded as a pressing matter to be tackled — anthropogenic climate change. The primary solution for this problem — mitigation, as it is often characterized — is focused on measurable reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Governments set emission reduction goals, as defined by the UNFCCC, provided with scientific legitimacy by the IPCC reports. These goals can be achieved through flexibilization mechanisms, based on carbon credit creation and trading, green assets, or other little-known technological adjustments that produce even worse effects than the problems they intend to address. This “objectification” of the climate then expands to include new emission reduction equivalent units, which are also divided, measurable, and objectified to be traded and financialized. It is, indeed, a process of appropriation, by the ruling agents of the climate issue, and its insertion in the capitalist logic, the market, its instruments, mechanisms, policies, projects, and language.

The COPs are events where this perspective is presented to the public, obviously concealed behind apparently benign narratives and concepts that claim the best of intentions (saving the planet, why not?), but with a purpose: to cater to corporate interests, prevent structural change, and grant justification and legitimacy to interventions in and control over the necessary territories for the expansion of capitalism. This is performative environmentalism, a moment when governments and big corporations present their political and administrative responses based on the assumption that overcoming the climate crisis is possible through technological and procedural innovation, market instruments, and building consensus (among humanity). The environment is no longer an obstacle to growth. Considering that its “resolution” now requires producing, buying and selling technologies, changing institutions, assigning prices to nature, and creating “assets” to be traded in the market and included in the financial logic, the environment then becomes a new engine of the capitalist machinery.

The Glasgow Pact

A survey conducted by the organization Global Witness revealed what we already suspected: the fossil fuel industry participates extensively in international climate negotiations. At least 503 fossil fuel lobbyists attended COP26 and outnumbered several national delegations, including the Brazilian delegation. There were more than 100 fossil fuel companies with 30 trade associations and associate organizations, outnumbering the official Indigenous representation by around twofold and the eight delegations combined of the countries that have been most affected by climate change in the past two decades — Porto Rico, Myanmar, Haiti, The Philippines, Mozambique, The Bahamas, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Twenty-seven official delegations included fossil fuel lobbyists, such as Canada, Russia, and Brazil. The International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) attended the conference with 103 delegates, including three people representing the multinational corporation BP. Meanwhile, not many civil society organizations from countries in the South could attend the conference because of health restrictions due to the pandemic — which is not over! — and the high cost of travelling and staying in the United Kingdom. This turnout is not a coincidence. The corporate world, including finance capital, is not only taking part in it, but actually formulating policies. It has always been part of it, but COP26 has seen an increase in corporate participation in and control over the process.

Yes, it is true that for the first time ever in COP history, the topic of fossil fuels was included in the final draft. But consider this: if fossil fuels are acknowledged as the main cause of climate change, why only now? This is no reason for celebration. Secondly, the pressure by lobbyists has led to substantial change in the initial proposal. The first version of the draft included accelerating “the elimination of coal and fossil fuel subsidies”; the second version changed it to “the progressive elimination of unrestricted use” of coal and “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”, and the final draft had the term “elimination” replaced with “phasing down” coal use. Who defines what “progressive reduction” is or which subsidies are “inefficient”? Not the people who are impacted by them. Moreover, one must also look into the proposals the corporations are presenting as a way to guarantee their “reductions”.

These proposals are presented in a context in which the process of economic neoliberalization has turned the environment into opportunities for business and legitimization, through mechanisms that favour a privatistic and commercial logic in spaces that, until that point, were outside the market, such as air, water, and living systems. According to this logic, just like in other senses of financialized capitalism, governments, banks, and companies adopt strategies to put a price on natural goods and create environmental assets, products, and services they can trade. The environment is seen as a collection of services, which includes biodiversity, water regulation and filtration, carbon sequestration and storage, and its economic value is then calculated and expressed in monetary terms, commodified, and financialized. This rush for natural resources through new frontiers is not new — what is new is the creation of a sophisticated legal and scientific apparatus to make sure this rush is institutionalized, naturalized, legitimized, and amplified for several realms of nature, including different types of traditional knowledge and life itself.

A key notion in this process is regarding “net zero emissions”, related to offsetting greenhouse gas and forest carbon emissions, one of the pillars of the conversation around the so-called “nature-based solutions” (NBS). To regard an activity as carbon neutral, one must calculate its total emissions, subtract wherever possible, and balance the rest of emissions through “offsetting”. Project possibilities include the potential for carbon fixation in trees, soils, wetlands, and prairies, as well as geoengineering approaches, such as climate enhancement, direct carbon capture from the air, or bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). As a result, the extractivist industry is incrementing investments to offset its continuing extraction of “natural resources”, conveying the notion that they create biodiversity, not the opposite.

While it is a widely known fact that the oil and gas industry is contributing the most to climate change, when it comes to the climate debate, big corporations, especially those related to fossil fuel and agro-industrial production, are making net zero emission commitments with investments in projects for carbon capture and storage, as well as “reforestation”, to offset the continued extraction of fossil fuels. Shell, for example, announced in April 2020 that it plans to accelerate its “Net Carbon Footprint” target, to align itself with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 °C target, and to reach net zero emissions by 2050. It will achieve this goal by improving energy production, diversifying energy sources, and especially “storing emissions in carbon sinks”. In 2019, the French oil and gas company Total launched an NBS initiative as well, called Total Nature Based Solutions, arguing that it is “not only reducing its emissions, adapting its energy sources, and helping to shape clients’ demands”, but also “investing in natural carbon sinks and developing carbon capture and storage solutions”, to become a “carbon neutral” society by 2050. The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI), which brings together a dozen of the world’s biggest oil and gas companies, responsible for more than 30 percent of the global oil and gas production, proposes a role for NBS to build a carbon capture, use, and storage (CCUS) “industry”. However, studies show fossil fuel extraction plans exceed the 1.5 ºC warming threshold by 120 percent. This means there are no plans for, not even a discussion about, reducing fossil fuel extraction and production — conversely, production is expected to increase substantially by 2030, according to available data.

Creating a carbon market is essential to achieving net zero emission targets. The proposal established in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, operationalized within the Glasgow Pact, sets up that the carbon sequestered through the processes and technologies previously mentioned should be used to offset GHG emissions through carbon credit trading. A significant part of these credits will be generated through projects in countries in the Global South, which will be used to offset emissions from countries and companies in the North. This mechanism is infamous for not resulting in emission reductions, suppressing conversations and policies dedicated to addressing the causes behind emission increases, and generating other effects for territories and peoples.

But the demand for emission offsets and credits is on the rise, while carbon allowance prices have risen by up to 60 percent this year in Europe. According to Refinitiv Holdings Ltd. data, the total value of global carbon markets — 238 billion euro, roughly 281 billion US dollars — went up 23 percent in 2020. Though it may seem like a small amount compared to oil and mining markets, there is potential for growth: Wood Mackenzie estimates that a global carbon market may be worth 22 trillion dollars by 2050. The oil trader Hannah Hauman said the carbon market value may exceed the oil market value by 2030, and possibly by 2025, if regulations are implemented.

And let us not forget green finance, such as green assets, which allow big corporations under extractivist capitalism to fund their actions while using a “green” rhetoric and pushing for further deregulation. The value of these assets has grown 59 percent in 2019–20.

Not many civil society organizations from countries in the South could attend the conference because of health restrictions due to the pandemic — which is not over! — and the high cost of travelling and staying in the United Kingdom.

And what do these projects mean for the territories? First, it should be noted that the planet does not have enough capacity to remove and offset emissions as they continuously increase. Therefore, it will be impossible to reach the magic number 1.5 ºC warming with net zero emission plans that rely on carbon offsetting. Offsetting means being able to buy the right to continue to pollute. In fact, it means expanding energy frontiers, extracting fossil fuels, and mining. It makes sure to maintain profits, based on a system of exploitation, violence, and destruction. Moreover, offsetting often results in increasing private appropriation of land, or even land grabbing, negatively impacting food production and, therefore, affecting the food security and sovereignty of communities and peoples. It legitimizes extractivist capitalism, ensuring its expansion and increasing control over territories. This not only aggravates conflicts in rural areas and violates the rights of Indigenous and traditional peoples, but also aims to incorporate their territories and knowledge into the logics of the market. It does not solve anything — it simply makes problems change places. Now in the name of the climate.

Brazil’s Climate Delegation under Bolsonaro

Intimidation, forged data, silencing social organizations, and racist comments — this is how the participation of the Brazilian delegation at COP26 has been portrayed. With a record number of 480 members, it was COP’s largest delegation — president Bolsonaro did not attend, but several lobbyists with agribusiness and industrial sectors, as well as representatives of companies such as JBS, DSM, Suzano, Bradesco, Petrobras, BNDES, and Banco do Brasil joined the conference. The Brazilian booth partnered with the country’s National Industry Confederation (CNI) and the Brazilian Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock (CNA). Brazil’s chief negotiator in Glasgow, ambassador Paulino de Carvalho Neto, not only celebrated what he considered “making up lost ground”, but he also countered criticism about the lack of civil society organizations in the Brazilian delegation by pointing out that Brazil’s official representation at the conference “could not include non-governmental representatives”. So, from the Bolsonaro administration’s perspective, agribusiness is part of the government. Well, there is nothing new about that.

However, the Brazilian government had to “yield” in the face of international pressure. It made a commitment to reduce methane emissions and zero deforestation by 2050, and it was forced to sign the Declaration on Forests, also signed by more than 100 countries, which underscores how important it is to fight deforestation to tackle climate change. Due to this pressure, it also signed a declaration affirming a commitment to keep global warming below the 1.5 °C this century, over pre-industrial levels. And the government thinks this has improved Brazil’s image abroad.

But let us recall what we have here in Brazil. It is a known fact that Brazil has been losing more and more international credibility as the Jair Bolsonaro administration and his ministers have been “pushing the whole lot through”. Deforestation has been on the rise (to the highest levels of the past decade), wildfires have been uncontrolled in the Amazon, the Cerrado, and the Pantanal biomes, and land grabbing increases in the country, while the government dismantles the public apparatus and pushes anti-Indigenous and racist policies. This is the country of impunity, which has been at the top of the Global Witness list of killings recorded against environmental activists and land defenders for several years. There has been an increase in the number of conflicts in the countryside and murders of Indigenous people under the Bolsonaro administration. A country where less than ten percent of killings of rural leaders make it to trial and less than three percent of environmental offences result in fines. In fact, the number of notices of environmental violations hit an all-time low under Bolsonaro (in the first nine months of 2021, 9,182 fines were imposed, while in 2000–10, the annual average of notices of violation ranged between 20,000–25,000). But the number of environmental officials fired, suspended, or who had their pensions revoked has increased.

Moreover, Bolsonaro did not even wait for COP to be over to create a working group “aiming to propose strategies to optimize environmental licencing processes regarding oil and natural gas production and exploration”, which means further relaxing the rules for environmental licencing for oil blocks off the Brazilian coast — the highest CO2 emitting industry. The Minister of Environment, Bento Albuquerque, has also announced that, in addition to the everlasting Angra 3 Nuclear Power Plant, the country’s next Ten-Year Energy Plan (PDE) will include another nuclear power plant in the Southeast of Brazil. A government that is continuously investing in the most polluting sources of energy: the Brazilian government began operating all thermal power plants in the country and has plans to build more stations.

And let us not forget that Brazil has created one of the most powerful sectors in agribusiness, one of the main players in the international commodity market, which is constantly expanding its frontiers of accumulation and growing exploitation, expropriation, and speculation, showing how ineffective (to say the least) “sustainability” charters, declarations, and agreements are. Cargill, Amaggi, and Bunge — Brazil’s leading companies in the commodity market — have signed the soy moratorium (which has a number of origin issues), but have recently been found to buy soybeans from Fiagril and Aliança, two companies that have sourced from a rural producer that has been fined 12 million real (roughly 2.15 million US dollars) for deforestation. These are also companies implicated in conflicts with Indigenous peoples, Quilombolas (residents of communities first established by Black people who were enslaved in colonial Brazil), and fishers. This is our “sustainable’ agribusiness”.

The “thriving and innovative” agribusiness that is building a positive image for itself at COP26 — overcoming the fact that the industry is “inappropriately put in the limelight of the debate about wildfires”, according to the president of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA), a strong presence at COP. Brazilian soy is not the result of deforestation, argued the CEO of CropLife Brasil. A study published in Science magazine by researchers from Brazil, Germany, and United States showed that at least 20 percent of the soy exported from the Amazon and the Cerrado tropical savanna to the European Union might have come from illegally deforested areas — so, in this context, would that be nonsense? And what about the data showing growing deforestation in the Amazon, reaching the highest level since 2008? Not to say that, in addition to perpetrating violence, forging data is the primary method used by the current government and its allies.

Meanwhile, several news outlets from Brazil and abroad argue that the country has “huge potential to generate forest-based or clean energy-based carbon credits”. It is no coincidence that Brazil — which has become an infamous hindrance to the conversation on carbon markets in recent years — celebrated when the regulations were set to operationalize Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. The government made sure to acknowledge its carbon credits from the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol, even though the European Union insisted on disregarding them. While it wanted to include all carbon credits since 1997, it was able to include those recorded since 2013. This means the government is using more carbon credits to fulfil its own emission reduction commitment, instead of effectively reducing emissions. A study by the Environmental Defence Fund estimates, for example, that the country could raise a 7.2-billion-dollar net revenue by 2030 by selling carbon credits.

Meanwhile, several companies are moving forward with projects that can benefit from the carbon market. Vale, for example, an important member of the Brazilian delegation at COP26, made a commitment to invest at least 2 billion dollars to reduce its carbon emissions by 33 percent by 2030, as part of its commitment to become a carbon neutral company by 2050 and reach for No Net Loss on long-term biodiversity. The company claims to “protect and help to protect an area nearly 6 times bigger than the area occupied by [their] operations”. It is the same Vale responsible for the worst environmental criminal offences in mining history — the Mariana and Brumadinho dam disasters — and all other conflicts resulting from its operations in the Carajás Corridor across the states of Pará and Maranhão, as well as in other cities in Brazil and over the world. Moreover, the Brazilian Mining Institute attended COP26 and supported the establishment of a carbon market, as well as regulations in Brazil such as payments for environmental services, and a voluntary carbon market integrated with the compulsory carbon market — the Brazilian government’s Forest+ Program.

Another example that was glorified by Brazil’s Minister of Mines and Energy, Bento Albuquerque, in Glasgow: the national agrofuel policy RenovaBio. This policy allows meat processing companies such as JBS and Minerva to sell carbon credits for preventing emissions. But the issue is that RenovaBio includes emissions from producing fuel in farms to the gate of the supplier — except animal fat. It does not include all the methane released by livestock in the process and it does not require operations to be deforestation free. Therefore, while JBS and Minerva are some of the meat processing companies more closely associated with deforestation (ranked first and eighth), they are estimated to have earned nearly half-a-million Decarbonization Credits (CBIOs), profiting over 11 million Brazilian real last year (approximately 2 million dollars).

Vale is also keeping an eye on the agreement between the German Cooperation–GIZ and Emergent/LEAF Coalition, a coalition established between the United States, United Kingdom, and Norway — which aims to fund projects to fight deforestation and promote forest conservation — and the governors of the Legal Amazon. The governors are looking for funding to drive a bioeconomy in the Amazon and other projects aiming to reduce deforestation. The governors’ forum had already pushed this agenda by launching a request for proposals to grant forest concessions to trade carbon credits during the World Bioeconomy Forum held in the city of Belém in October 2021. And bioeconomy in Brazil, it should be noted, starts through mapping “natural resources” in traditional communities and their different forms of knowledge.

And Still, We Resist

Amidst all this organized irresponsibility — including a racist declaration by the Minister of Environment who said, “where there are forests, there is also a lot of poverty” — and despite the limitations of their context, Indigenous peoples and the Black movement stand out for their critical participation in COP and also at the People’s Summit, whether in Brazil or Glasgow, countering the government’s rhetoric, despite intimidations and threats. It was the biggest delegation of Indigenous and Black leaders from Brazil in COP history. There was progress in the discussions on how necessary it is to overcome racism, move forward in granting land titles to Quilombola territories, ratify Indigenous lands (as numbers have hit an all-time low under Bolsonaro), and formalize land titles for other traditional territories and communities, as well as end the genocide these peoples endure.

Environmental racism is a concept propagated by the US sociologist and activist Robert Bullard. It addresses the realization that Black populations are disproportionally impacted by industrial pollution at their jobs and neighbourhoods and, therefore, are forced to live with contaminated air and water because of landfills, incinerators, polluting industries, treatment units, and hazardous waste elimination and storage operations. This is the result of systemic racism that manifests in development-related policies and practices — which means it manifests in the locations chosen to house projects, in how these groups are excluded from decision-making processes, and how negotiations to address their impacts are conducted. Environmental racism, therefore, demonstrates that there are policies and practices that disproportionally impact populations or communities because of their race, colour, or origin. The primary victims of environmental racism are Black, Indigenous, and Quilombola people, whose territories are appropriated to implement big projects and industries that lead to degradation and serious environmental impacts, contaminating water, soil, and air, and making life impossible for them.

It is also worth noting that many Indigenous and Quilombola leaders who attended Glasgow are women. These leaders remind us that, in addition to race and class, there is a gender component to environmental inequality. Women and girls are disproportionally affected by the climate crisis. They represent 80 percent of the people who are displaced due to climate change-related disasters around the world, and they also enjoy far fewer rights in terms of land and territory — yet they take the brunt pursuing and managing the necessary resources for the maintenance and reproduction of life. Many women are also the ones who start, organize, and/or lead struggles for environmental and climate justice.

Considering this context and what leaders are struggling to tell us, this is more than just some green ideology or greenwashing; it is more than just a matter of capitalist accumulation. It is also about maintaining a value system — based on coloniality of power, knowledge, and being — grounded in racism and patriarchy (understood as a system of all oppressions and forms of violence perpetrated against the peoples and nature, historically built over women’s bodies), shaping minds and social practices. It reinforces the ruling knowledge, which is based on dichotomies and hierarchizations, of processes of domination: over nature, women, Indigenous communities, and Black people. A process that dismisses and despises all other forms of knowledge and practices that are not grounded in the society/nature separation and domination. As racist epistemicide is the other side of the coin of the genocide of Black and Indigenous people, we must speak up about, listen to, and promote these bodies and their struggles. Otherwise, no magic number will ever be achieved. This is the only way to start a conversation about climate justice. Because where there is a forest, there are Indigenous people, Quilombolas, traditional riverside communities, small-scale fishers, women coconut breakers, nut collectors, rubber tappers, piassava fibre harvesters, Fundo de Pasto communities (century-old communities in remote areas in Brazil’s semiarid), Faxinal communities (traditional peasant communities from Southern Brazil), peasants. Where there is a forest, there is a territory — where there is a forest, there is life.

[1] Double counting occurs when a company from one country sells its excess carbon credits (which it has achieved by reducing emissions to levels below the necessary) to another country and does not record this amount of emissions (credits) sold as its own emissions, which it would have to do as it has sold the right to record them as not emitted. If both countries — the one selling and the one buying carbon credits — record these reduced emissions, there is double counting. To avoid double counting, all countries must include the emissions related to the carbon credits traded in their emissions inventories. According to this logic, Brazil would have to add those emissions referring to carbon credits it sells to other countries, such as European countries, to its emissions inventory  —  exactly what it does not want to do.