Since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development for Climate, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, Brazil has played one of the key roles on the international stage in coordinating commitments to environmental preservation and sustainable development. Nearly 30 years later, during the Conference of the Parties, or COP26, held in Glasgow, Scotland, goals were finally set to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and try to keep global warming below 1.5°C until 2050. Among these targets Reducing the use of coal, combating deforestation, accelerating the use of electric vehicles and encouraging the use of renewable sources.
However, the task of making this shift in energy is enormous. Despite significant advances in the development of clean technologies, especially with regard to solar and wind energy sources, there are other industrial chains that rely heavily on oil exploration and refining to provide essential inputs, such as the plastics sector. According to a Brookings Institution report published in 2019, the energy supply sector is responsible for the largest greenhouse gas emissions with 25%, followed by the agricultural sector with 24%, mainly due to deforestation and low production efficiency. Other sectors involved in industry and civil construction, including cement and steel, are responsible for 21% of emissions. And behind these polluting sectors is the technology they use.
It is necessary to understand the causes of systemic transformation, which includes changing the methods of production, marketing, transportation and use of goods and services. The system involves interaction between a wide range of actors, including businesses, consumers, policy makers, innovators, and civil society groups. The actions of these groups are driven not only by cost-benefit calculations, but also by interests, beliefs, and identities, and are conditioned by the availability of financial, technical, and organizational resources. Take the supply of electricity, for example: before the widespread use of lighting by lamps, published by Thomas Edison, lighting was supplied with lamps based on vegetable or animal oil. The widespread use of light bulbs, which depend on energy supply, led to a technological boom that was largely promoted by governments, which encouraged the installation of power plants that made lighting in homes cheaper.
Brazil’s experience with the green revolution and the creation of the Embrapa (Institution for National Agricultural Research) can pave the way towards the necessary systemic transformation in the context of climate change.
In Brazil, the availability of waterfalls began to supply hydraulic sources, which are considered clean due to the low emission of gases, which is still in the nineteenth century. And in the United States and Europe, with a large supply of coal mines and oil sources, this was the cheapest means of energy production for most of the 20th century. Most of the technologies developed by global industry, which found a place and space in the Northern Hemisphere, are widely used even today, by Most countries, especially. low income people. And this is one of the main problems we face in the current systemic transformation: the energy sector, one of the main pathways for industrial decarbonization, has infrastructure and markets that depend on legacy technologies. Although wind and solar energy sources are more available, the demand for energy has grown to the point that polluting sources are still in demand, due to lower costs.
Brazil’s experience with the green revolution and the creation of the Embrapa (Institution for Agricultural Research) may point the way to the necessary systemic transformation in the context of climate change. The development of the agricultural research sector, supported by international cooperation and public funding, allowed the country to make a leap in productivity from the 1970s onwards.
In the case of new climate change technologies, it is essential to create space for errors and successes in innovations that need to be tested before they are widely disseminated and commercialized. Research into the design of new products, whether in the chemical, plastics or industrial sector, requires financial support and knowledge exchange between researchers from different countries. While the space for research and public funding already exists, through universities and institutes of technology, the point of impact to encourage investment in research and development is to create investment funds in start-ups and venture capital with the goal of helping ideas take off and become viable from a commercial point of view. In this way, Brazil will achieve another leap in productivity, this time in the industrial sector, contributing not only to mitigating the effects of climate change, but mainly to increasing potential production and reducing poverty.