U.S. sees progress with Brazil on climate talks

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazil has the clout and credibility to assert itself as a leading voice in world climate talks to help ensure the success of any new treaty aimed at reducing global warming, the top U.S. environmental diplomat said on Thursday.

Already a pioneer in clean energy and the use of biofuels such as cane-based ethanol, Brazil could cement its pro-environment credentials if it succeeds in slowing the destruction of the Amazon rain forest, U.S. climate change envoy Todd Stern said after a three-day visit to the South American nation.

“They have a huge challenge but also a huge opportunity with respect to the Amazon,” he told a small group of reporters in Sao Paulo before departing for the United States.

“The avoided deforestation will count as emissions reductions in the agreement we’re negotiating,” Stern said, adding that he recognizes how difficult it is to protect such a vast rain forest as the Amazon.

Last year, Brazil abandoned years of opposition to deforestation targets and pledged to reduce destruction of the Amazon by 50 percent in a decade.

Official data released this week showed Brazil is making some progress in slowing the destruction of the world’s largest rain forest, prompting Environment Minister Carlos Minc to predict that deforestation could fall to a 20-year low.

While it is making some inroads in preserving the Amazon, Brazil has long been reluctant to adopt strict greenhouse gas emissions targets, arguing that the onus should be on rich countries to do more to reduce global warming.

Stern, who was the senior White House negotiator at the Kyoto Protocol negotiations in 1997, acknowledged developed nations have a greater responsibility to cut back on emissions. But he also suggested that big emerging markets like Brazil will have to do their part if a new global climate treaty is to be agreed upon at a summit in Copenhagen in December.

“I think Brazil is at a point right now in its development where it is very rightfully, from my point of view, seeking to lift itself up onto the global stage,” he said.

“And I think that an issue like this, which is of enormous importance to the world ... is an ideal opportunity for Brazil to demonstrate leadership on the global stage. And if you want to be a global player, that’s what you have to do.”

Stern, who met with Minc, Foreign Minister Celso Amorim and President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s chief of staff Dilma Rousseff on his trip, said he came away with the sense that the Brazilians were ready to embrace the opportunity to show leadership in global climate talks.

“I actually think Brazil is going to do that,” he said.

In an interview with Reuters on June 10, Lula said Brazil would be open to adopting emissions targets if wealthy nations commit to do more to curb climate change.

The world needs to cut emissions of greenhouse gases by 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 if the worst effects of climate change are to be avoided, according to the United Nations’ Climate Panel.

Poorer nations, led by emerging market giants like China and Brazil, have been pushing rich countries to cut emissions of greenhouse gases by 40 percent or more. Wealthy countries, however, have balked at the proposal out of fear of hamstringing their economies.

Stern’s visit to Brazil comes two weeks after a similar trip to India, another big emerging market and influential player in global climate negotiations. The talks with Indian officials made little headway on issues such as emissions cuts and transfer of green technology.

Editing by Todd Eastham