When the president of the western hemisphere’s most populous country meets with the president of its second most populous — Dilma Rousseff of Brazil — next week, climate change will be a focal point of discussion, a White House spokesman said Thursday.
“I would fully expect that climate and the environment would be an important part of the agenda,” said White House deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes on a press call.
“We think a strong signal out of these meetings… can add additional momentum” to a final Unied Nations climate deal at the end of the year in Paris, Rhodes said. He also described next week’s session as “another key milestone on the road to Paris,” referring to the December meeting seen as the next chance for the world to agree on binding commitments to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.
Mark Feierstein, senior director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council, also noted that climate was one of two issues Vice President Biden and Rousseff discussed in a phone call Thursday.
It is unclear whether Rousseff will unveil any concrete carbon reduction targets during her visit to Washington, but Rhodes emphasized that any announcement she makes would reverberate throughout the region. “They have a critical role to play as a major economy,” he said.
And while Latin America has not ranked as high a priority as other regions during Obama’s tenure, Rhodes emphasized that Obama has made an effort during his second term “to really prioritize Latin America,” though his work to normalize relations with Cuba and outreach to other nations.
In that context, he said, the U.S.-Brazil relationship is key: “This has to be a cornerstone of how we engage in the region.”
Rousseff canceled an earlier visit to Washington after reports surfaced — based on documents released by Edward Snowden — that she had been subject to American surveillance, but Rhodes said both leaders had put the issue behind them. “They did have a chance to discuss this at the Summit of Americas and frankly, the visit itself indicates that we’re moving forward here.”
The meeting between Obama and Rousseff next week in Washington has sparked hopes that another China-style agreement may be in the offing, this time not with the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, but still with one of its top ten and a leading emerging economy.
The United States has already made its greenhouse gas targets, heading into Paris, clear. It has formally pledged to cut emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, hoping to hit the latter target.
But Brazil is in a different place in the climate debate. Though as a country of over 200 million people, it certainly emits a large volume of greenhouse gases, perhaps still more important to the global climate is the fate of the Amazon rainforest, whose deforestation damages one of the world’s key carbon “sinks,” a region where trees and plant life pull vast amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere.
Whether or not Brazil commits to climate targets, it has an impressive record of late to point to.
“If one graphs the deforestation rate over time, there have been times when it was really high, then brought under control, and more recently, as all of this became more and more important for climate considerations, the Brazilians did a remarkable job of bringing down their deforestation rate,” says Thomas Lovejoy, a conservation biologist and expert on the Amazon at George Mason University. “It was a dramatic reduction.”
A commitment by Brazil to lower deforestation still further could thus be a very strong climate policy signal heading into Paris.