Brazil must intensify energy mix diversification to meet climate change targets
October 14, 2015
By Elton Alisson
Agência FAPESP – Scientists working in the fields of climate change and bioenergy say that Brazil will present an ambitious plan to address climate change at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) in Paris this December.
The post-2020 reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to be targeted by Brazil as part of its “intended nationally determined contribution” (INDC) to the new international climate change agreement were announced September 27 by President Dilma Rousseff.
Greenhouse gas emissions are to be cut 37% compared with 2005, to 1.3 gigatons of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e) by 2025. By 2030, they are to be cut 43% compared with 2005, to 1.2 GtCO2e. In 2005, they peaked at 2.1 GtCO2e.
Scientists say achieving these targets will depend on intense diversification of Brazil’s energy balance to reduce the share of fossil fuels.
“Time is running out for greenhouse gas emissions to be cut relatively cheaply by reducing deforestation,” said Gilberto Câmara, a researcher at the National Space Research Institute (INPE).
“From now on, Brazil can’t cut greenhouse gas emissions without decarbonizing the economy,” he told Agência FAPESP. “And doing that will require a major effort to reduce emissions by the energy sector.” Câmara is a member of the steering committee of FAPESP’s Research Program on Global Climate Change (RPGCC).
Brazil’s INDC also pledges to increase the share of renewable sources to 45% of the country’s energy mix by 2030. Although commendable, this target is considered conservative.
“Today, renewables account for 40% of the total, whereas the average for the rest of the world is 13%,” Câmara said. “However, we should be aiming at 60% by 2040.”
Among the actions Brazil’s INDC promises to take in order to raise the share of renewables to 45% in the overall energy supply by 2030 is an effort to obtain at least 23% of its electricity from wind, solar and biomass sources.
Another pledge is to raise the share of bioenergy to approximately 16% by promoting consumption of biofuels and increasing the supply of ethanol and other advanced or second-generation biofuels. Petroleum diesel will also be blended with growing proportions of biodiesel.
According to researchers in the field, however, bioenergy’s share of the energy balance could be far greater if appropriate economic and political incentives are deployed.
“Brazil could double its production of ethanol from sugarcane, for example, because the industry is operating well below capacity. But for that to happen, we need the right incentives,” said Gláucia Mendes de Souza, a professor at the University of São Paulo’s Chemistry Institute (IQ-USP) and a member of the steering committee of FAPESP’s Bioenergy Research Program (BIOEN).
Souza said the use of sugarcane ethanol instead of gasoline currently enables Brazil to reduce CO2 emissions by some 50 million metric tons per year.
Increasing the shares of ethanol and other biomass-derived sources in the energy mix would further reduce Brazil’s total emissions.
“We’re missing a significant opportunity to diversify and continue developing our energy portfolio by making more use of biomass-derived sources, which include biofuels, biogas and bioelectricity,” she said.
“There’s really not much of an alternative to biomass if we want to diversify our energy balance. Brazil has been developing biomass as an energy source for many years and has ample expertise in the field.”
According to Câmara, the fact that Brazil already has one of the world’s largest and most successful biofuel programs, which includes electricity cogeneration from biomass, could help increase the share of renewables in the energy mix and contribute to the required decarbonization of the economy.
This process will be much costlier and therefore more difficult than reducing deforestation in the Amazon.
“What is to be done with the presalt offshore oilfields, which the government says will produce 6 million barrels per day in 2020, if we want to decarbonize the Brazilian economy?” Câmara asked.
For Paulo Artaxo, Full Professor at the University of São Paulo’s Physics Institute (IF-USP) and another a member of the RPGCC steering committee, effective public policies as well as the allocation of sufficient financial resources will be needed to diversify the energy mix and ensure achievement of the greenhouse gas emission reduction targets pledged by Brazil.
“The targets are feasible but will depend on strong and clear legislation that prioritizes the use of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar,” he said. “We also need to increase energy efficiency in industry.”
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