Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 11/2011

Deforestation's Challenge to Green Growth in Brazil1

Benjamin S. Allen, Charles Travers, Louise Travers

September 2011

Berkeley Roundtable on the International Economy


Understanding Brazil’s green growth and emissions story requires a second look. Brazil’s energy matrix is approximately 46% renewable, so when one compares the share of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from energy in Brazil to that of most OECD countries, Brazil is doing relatively well (IPEA 2010, 133). However, looking at energy alone misses the core GHG story in Brazil: The principal drivers of GHG emissions in the country are not energy production or heavy industry, but rather deforestation and agriculture. Deforestation is responsible for about 55% of Brazil’s GHG emissions, and agriculture for another 25% (McKinsey & Company 2009, 7). In fact, the two areas of emissions are intimately linked: deforestation is principally a problem of agriculture. Cattle ranching and soybean and sugar cane farming are the major industries contributing to Brazil’s emergence today as an agricultural and agroenergy superpower – and are directly and indirectly responsible for deforestation in Brazil’s largest forests, the Amazon and Atlantic (Banco Mundial 2010, Barros 2009, Margulis 2004, McAllister 2008b, Nassar 2009, Nepstad et al. 2008, Sennes and Narciso 2009). By extension, because Brazil’s large and growing renewable energy sector is principally based on agriculture, it has ties to deforestation and may not be as green as it first appears.