Brazil states forge ahead in climate change fight despite Bolsonaro ambivalence


FILE PHOTO: Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro speaks during opening ceremony of the 22th conference of the march in defense of the municipalities, in Brasilia, Brazil April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Adriano Machado/File Photo

(Reuters) - State governments in Brazil have agreed to work towards fulfilling the country's Paris Agreement climate change commitments, despite far-right President Jair Bolsonaro's ambivalence over the pact.

Bolsonaro said on his campaign trail he would withdraw Brazil from the accord, although later walked back those remarks. The country remains party to the agreement, with a commitment to reduce its national emissions by 37 percent by 2025.

Representatives for 12 state governments made the commitments at an event in Rio de Janeiro that ended late on Thursday, according to Alfredo Sirkis, the coordinator of the Brazil Forum for Climate Change, which organised the event.

Those states account for just over half of the country's gross emissions of carbon dioxide equivalent, according to data compiled by the Climate Observatory, a Brazilian non-government organisation.

The move parallels 23 U.S. states that have committed to upholding the country's prior national commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions after President Donald Trump pulled out of the Paris agreement, Sirkis said.

But unlike in the United States, Bolsonaro has not pulled out of the Paris Agreement and the states are acting preemptively in the face of uncertain climate change policy at the federal level, he said.

Brazil's Environment Minister Ricardo Salles told Reuters in December it was unclear whether humans are causing global warming, but said his "inclination" was to stay in the agreement.

Bolsonaro has also said that the Amazon rainforest, which absorbs vast amounts of carbon dioxide emissions, should be opened to mining and other economic development.

The state governments have agreed in principle to start a state-level climate council, with discussions underway on how to structure that body, Sirkis said.

The president's office did not immediately respond for a request for comment.

Among the state leaders, Joao Doria, governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil's wealthiest and most populous state, voiced support for meeting climate goals in a video shown at the meeting and highlighted the state's programs to cut emissions.

"Let's help Brazil to comply with its international commitments determined in the Paris Accord and achieve the UN's sustainable development objectives," Doria, who has emerged as a Bolsonaro ally on other issues, said. "This is our commitment."

Other states expressing commitments included Rio de Janeiro, Amazonas, Para, Minas Gerais, Parana, Rio Grande do Sul, Espirito Santo, Amapa, Rio Grande do Norte, Mato Grosso do Sul and Pernambuco.

(Reporting by Jake Spring; Editing by Susan Thomas)


   

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