Throughout 2023, Brazilians have felt the effects of global warming combined with a more prolonged and severe El Niño. From the unprecedented drought in the Amazon to flooding and cyclones in the south, extreme weather events are frightening and draw attention to the need to act quickly and assertively to stop greenhouse gas emissions.
A new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), released on the 24th, shows that Brazil and the world are already investing more in the energy transition than in the prospecting and production of fossil fuels. By 2030, the share of renewable sources in the world should jump from the current 30% to 50%, according to the entity linked to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Even with this global movement, the production and consumption of fossil fuels, especially natural gas, should continue for a few more years. Experts lament that the pace of change must be “slower than necessary” and that the development of countries, in general, still implies the worsening of climate crises and their effects on populations.
Rafael Amaral Shayani, professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Brasília (UnB), highlights that emerging countries must continue burning coal and natural gas and that the greatest reduction in emissions will be driven by a slowdown in China’s growth. He also highlights the European movement to stimulate the production of electric cars, but that this large-scale solution depends on adapting the energy generation system.
“Brazil itself intends to increase the use of solar energy, wind energy, biomass, but it does not expect to be able to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. We have this mission, as do several countries around the world, but many of these countries are being satisfied just by reducing a little”, he criticizes.
The engineer also highlights that fossil fuels represent 80% of the world’s energy matrix and that it is expected that, by 2030, this percentage will be reduced to 73%, which would still be a very slow pace. “Reducing 7% in a few years, how many years do I need to get to zero?” asks Shayani, who also addresses the fact that Brazil faces a path of economic and population growth.
“Everyone wants Brazil to grow and, if it grows 1% to 2% per year until 2050, we will need a lot more energy. So Brazil intends to have more renewable energy sources, but everything that is missing must come of the growth of natural gas, which will be very bad. It will increase the demand for gas in the world, which will make this peak have a maximum value and that the reduction will never reach Brazil”, he emphasizes.
For Edson Silva, from the energy consultancy ES Petro, companies such as the Brazilian Petrobras should continue investing in new oil fields, such as the one on the equatorial margin of the Amazon, but they should also increasingly expand investments in clean sources. “The ‘oil era’ will end not because there will be a lack of oil, but because it is an imposition of the survival of the planet. And as this movement is irreversible, an oil company that does not turn to this market that is being established will suffer” , indicates.
Despite predicting a 75% reduction in oil and coal consumption by 2050 in Latin America, the IEA highlights that natural gas will continue to rise and should grow by almost 25% in the period. On the other hand, Brazil must continue to reduce the activation of thermoelectric plants – those that produce energy from the burning of natural coal – and which in 2022 registered a 65% drop compared to the previous year, according to the Institute of Energy and Environment (Iema).
The institute emphasizes, however, that the reduction occurred due to favorable weather conditions during the period, making it possible for emergency measures to activate thermoelectric plants to be more restricted. Last year, for the first time, wind generation surpassed fossil thermoelectric generation. Solar generation registered an increase of 80% compared to 2021.
An important step, but still insufficient to achieve the goal of zero carbon emissions, according to the following simplified explanation by Shaiany. “Coal emits a thousand to generate a given energy, natural gas emits 500, half the pollution of coal, and the solar energy system emits 50, 10 times less than natural gas and 20 less than coal. So you switch Using coal and natural gas reduces emissions by half, which is good, but there’s no point in cutting emissions by half, which should be zero.”
Reducing deforestation is an ‘achievable’ goal
In the Brazilian case, decarbonization also involves reducing deforestation rates, especially in the Amazon, which corresponds to the main carbon dioxide emitter in the country. A projection made by the Climate Observatory predicts that, on this front, it is possible to achieve the reduction target established for 2025, if the country manages to reach levels of deforestation similar to those achieved between 2005 and 2006.
In a technical note released to the press, the non-governmental organization states that the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) suffered distortions during Jair Bolsonaro’s government, which applied what they call “environmental pedaling”. Now, to resume the goals established in 2015 – to reduce emissions by 37% by 2025 and 43% by 2030, in relation to 2005 emissions – it is necessary to resume the speed of reducing deforestation.
Even the Brazilian energy matrix, recognized as cleaner than average, could also present better results and must get worse before it starts to improve. This is what David Tsai, coordinator of the Climate Observatory’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Estimation System, points out.
“The majority of energy consumed in Brazil is of fossil origin. Although compared to other countries we have a much higher percentage. But it does count and the premise is that there will not be a major disruption within two years. We continue with this energy matrix trend of recent years”, he states.
Biofuels market grows and Brazil takes the lead
If European countries favor the production of electric cars, other countries in Latin America are also prioritizing the rapid adoption of vehicles of this type, such as Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica and Mexico. Brazil is part of an increasingly numerous group of countries that invest in biofuels through the adoption of laws that impose the adoption of a mandatory mixture of ethanol with fossil fuels, such as gasoline and diesel.
According to the American sector newsletter, Biofuels Digest, more than 60 countries foresee the mixture, in different proportions, around the globe, with representatives on all continents. According to the publication, the decision stems from different motivations, ranging from concerns about reducing greenhouse gas emissions to the country’s energy security.
Brazil, which began producing ethanol made from sugar cane in the 1970s, has also started to extract the fuel from corn in recent years, giving the sector even more competitiveness. According to data from the National Corn Ethanol Union (Unem), corn ethanol production is expected to reach 6 billion liters in the 2023/204 harvest, adding up to a total of 19% of national ethanol consumption, which now includes a mix of the product extracted from corn and sugarcane.
For Edson Santos, the success of this venture around the world should open a market that can benefit the Brazilian economy. “Today, ethanol, despite everything, is still not a commodity, an energy priced on the international market. But as several countries enter this market, such as India, China, several countries in Africa, this will change”, trust.
“The movement is not restricted to rich countries, because other countries have land, climate, even if they don’t have oil. This is very important because it is not production restricted to one or two countries, which creates insecurity. For example, from industry to produce a flex-fuel car without having the security of international supply, and we are moving towards a global biofuels market”, adds Santos.
Shayani, in turn, emphasizes the two distinct routes that exist in various parts of the world towards reducing dependence on fossil fuels. “Either you invest in an electric car or you use biofuel, and the transition to biofuel is simpler because if you have many electric cars at the same time, the energy distributors’ electrical network needs to prepare for it. So, the Brazil has a lot of potential to lead this biofuels market as a whole”, he adds.
In addition to biofuels, Brazil also has enormous potential in the production of green hydrogen, which stores energy produced by renewable sources. There is also room to invest in sugarcane biomass and solid waste and even extract energy from the force of the waves that reach our coast.
Initiatives that depend on investments, but that can end up being profitable in the long term, in addition to saving public coffers by “putting out fires”. Shaiany recalls that Brazil disbursed around R$1 billion to help the victims and homeless people after the floods in the South and also to help riverside communities in the North region to face the acute drought of recent months.
“Countries need to understand that, if Brazil, for example, takes this R$1 billion to invest in clean energy, and other countries follow this same logic, we would emit less greenhouse gases and we could curb the climate problem a little”, suggests the teacher, who summarizes. “The cost to you of fixing the climate problem could be much greater than what you gain from this exploration.”
For Silva, governments need to see as soon as possible the need to promote changes, to enhance the production and consumption of biofuels and renewable energy sources. “This is a commitment to the survival of the planet and it is good business. Regardless of everything, it is a good business for the future, a future that already exists today”, he concludes.
Editing: Thalita Pires