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Insights of our BC-Workshops: More electricity at what cost?

04. November 2021

A critical view from Brazil

Norberto Filho, our recent Brazilian trainer for the Bridging Cultures program, talked about the the 'Responsible Consumption and Production' Sustainable Development Goal 12 and the 'Climate Change' (SDG 13) during his workshops in different High Schools in Berlin. Connected to these topics, he presents the Brazilian situation around energy production and its climate impact in this article.

By Norberto Filho

Electricity and energy generation is a very common topic when talking about climate. Fossil fuels still play a big role in the global energy production and are directly related to greenhouse gases emission and to climate change.

On this regard, one might consider Brazil a lucky place: the dense and heavy flow rivers in the country makes hydropower electricity generation the main source on the Brazilian matrix, accounting for 63% of electricity generation.

So, is it possible to say that Brazil doesn’t need to worry about climate and energy, and now just need to watch other countries to do their chase for more renewable sources? The answer is a loud and clear “No”. And here’s why: The high dependency on hydroelectric power makes it vulnerable when we are considering climate change. Also, these hydroelectric power plants do not come without setbacks either.

The first reason for that is the expected dry season, but as the climate is changing, it has been often more intense, and besides the worries with water supply itself, energy disruption has become more common too. Taking a step back: why are droughts intensifying? The main player considering the rain rhythm in Brazil is the Amazon rainforest. The rainforest occupies the less populated area on the north of the country. But the rain cycle, even on cities hundreds of kilometers away from the Amazon, depend on the existence of the giant forest. And the country faces severe problems concerning deforestation.

If in one hand Brazil has a step forward on renewables, with hydroelectric powerplants, on the other it should still be very aware of deforestation in the Amazon and the impacts on water supply.

More green energy should also not include new hydroelectric dams. They can be full of ecological and societal problems.

A good example of these impacts can be seen in the last big hydroelectric power plant built in Brazil: Belo Monte. The project impacted a big number of indigenous people living in the area. They were never agreeing to the project, not only due to its negative environmental impacts, but also because it literally destroys a part of their ancestral land. In the end, what lasts is a massive human intervention in the Amazon, that blocked a river, destroyed nature and the relation of people relying on it. More electricity at what cost?

The claims of indigenous groups are hardly taken into consideration by decision makers as they are a minority. But indigenous peoples in South America lived in the forest without destroying it for ages, and data also support the fact that their territory is remarkably good in maintaining a healthy environment. It is time to start seeing the preservation of the Amazon differently: after all the climate crisis is already here and the protection of the Amazon should not be “just” an environmental concern or an agenda for minorities, such as indigenous people. It should be treated as a more urgent topic.

It is time to consider the Amazon also as part of human safety, as a form of risk prevention and key to societal development; not as an obstacle to outdated views of progress.

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