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Brazil, Russia, India and China, the so-called BRIC countries, are all rapidly industrialising, or in the case of Russia, re-industrialising, and at the same time facing major climate policy issues. Basically how can they have economic growth without compromising their own, and global, climate security? A new book, ‘Feeling the Heat’, in the Palgrave ‘Energy, Climate and Environment’ series, seeks to explore how they are trying to develop energy and climate policies, focusing on internal political processes and constraints. A multi-authored text, edited by Ian Bailey and Hugh Compston from, respectively, Plymouth and Cardiff University, it’s something of a companion to their earlier ‘Turning Down the Heat’, which looked at the politics of climate change in the affluent democracies.

While we may be familiar with the national political battles over climate policies in the UK, EU, USA and more recently Australia, the political situation in the BRIC countries, for example in terms of public reactions to what are often seen as draconian proposal for change, is sometimes not that much different- and the suggested remedies are similar. They include better communication to convince people of the need for radical change, coupled with an emphasis on the positive benefits that could accrue in terms of jobs, economic security and of course health and safety. Given that what happens in the rapidly expanding BRIC countries may shape the global future, it’s well worth looking at.

What are the technical renewable energy supply options for the BRICs? Globally renewable energy supplied an estimated 16% of global final energy consumption and delivered close to 20% of global electricity production. The BRIC countries are making their mark: for example renewables accounted for about 26% of China’s total installed electric capacity in 2010, 18% of electricity generation, and more than 9% of final energy supply. This along with India’s smaller input, helped make Asia a dominant supplier of renewable energy, while Latin America has increased its supply of renewable energy by over 50%, with Brazil making major contributions .
See REN21 2011 review:

Much of this growth is based on biomass and that could expand further. The World Bioenergy Association says that biomass currently supplies around 10% of global energy, which it notes means that it is already around double the size of nuclear energy globally. But it forecasts the potential for global bioenergy utilisation in 2050 to be 20-30 times the present use. Clearly there are land-use and biodiversity issues to face, something Brazil has be battling with for some time in terms of deforestation, but also in relation to its biofuels (ethanol) programme. Large hydro is also problematic- that is the mainstay of China’s programme, the only large renewable so far in Russia (supplying 21% of electricity) and also the major contributor in Brazil, accounting for 69% of the total installed capacity in 2010.

Less problematically, wind power is also expanding: China has over 45GW in place and plans to have 100GW by 2015. It is moving offshore- it plans to have 30GW offshore by 2020. The technically exploitable onshore wind resources is put at 300 GW, and offshore resources are up to 700 GW

India has 13GW of wind capacity in place on land and plans to expand that, but is also pushing ahead with solar- it is aiming for 20GW to be deployed by 2022. Brazil is also pushing ahead with both wind and solar. Solar heating is in widespread use and its wind target is 1,423MW under the PROINFA programme. The theoretical potential for wind is put at 140 GW.

As in China and Brazil, Russia’s renewables programme is dominated by hydro, but in terms of new renewables, it is moving quite slowly: it currently only gets 0.5% of it power from renewables, but aims to increase that to 4.5% from 25 GW installed by 2020. However, the potential wind resource is very large. One study put the Northern Russia/NW Siberian resource at 350GW.

Of all the BRICs, China is pushing renewables the hardest- with a target of getting 16% of its total energy for renewables and low carbon sources by 2020, although Brazil has a head start in that it already gets around 50% of its electricity from hydro and has a significant biofuels programme. To move things on, some help for the BRICs and other developing countries is coming from the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP), which has recently announced the first 21 projects to be funded in its €3m 8th Programme. Five projects target China, including a study on a national-level carbon trading framework with the Energy Research Institute of the NDRC, and support for a study on smartgrid technology for integrating renewables into China’s grid. REEEPs funding is made possible by donations from the governments of the UK and Norway. REEEP previously disbursed €4.7m in 2009, €3.2 m in 2007, €2.2 m in 2006 and €1.1 m in 2005.

In their book, Bailey and Compston conclude ‘China’s investments in renewable energy, Brazil’s deforestation and biofuels policies and India’s efforts to combat black carbon offer glimpses of the opportunities, but many more co-benefit and development enhancing policies will be needed’.

In terms of funding, REEEPs input is relatively small and the Kyoto Clean Development Mechanism has its limits. Perhaps more important are the internal and external political processes that define the overall strategies adopted by the BRICs. As Bailey and Compston put it, the BRICs also have other perhaps more urgent priorities, and will make comparisons with the what the already developed world is doing: ‘Progress by industrializing countries in curbing their emissions will inevitably return attention to the deficiencies of climate policy in the developed countries and the need for their governments find ways to resolve political obstacles to the further development of climate policy in their countries,’ with the focal strategy often inevitably being ‘to prioritize policies that offer significant co-benefits alongside reducing emissions’.

  • All of the BRICs have nuclear programmes of various scales (Russia gets17% of its electricity from nuclear, Brazil 3.1%, India 2.9%, China 1.8%), with expansion planned. See my earlier Blog on nuclear and the developing world:

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Brazil trying to mix social with environmental sustainability

On a recent trip to Brazil to understand water-resources management with respect to biofuel crop and other agriculture, I learnt much more about Brazilian energy policy. While in some cases, water-resource management is in its infant stages, in many others reductions of water usage have made great strides.

The total water flow in a sugar-cane-ethanol distillery is approximately 22 m3 per tonne of sugar cane processed, but new plants can be designed to withdraw only 1 m3 per tonne of cane. Most distilleries withdraw less than 5 m3 per tonne. Additionally, Dedini (the Brazilian vertically integrated company that sells industrial components and turn-key sugar-cane processing plants) has a plant design that can take green sugar cane, harvested by machine and without burning, and actually produce clean, fresh water instead of requiring it as an input.

Speaking of machine harvesting, the state of Sao Paulo, where more than 50% of cane is grown, has mandated that all sugar cane is harvested mechanically (i.e. by tractor) by 2014. The reason is to improve air quality during harvest season when the cane would otherwise be burnt before manual harvest. The cane is burnt to remove the leaves and “trash” from the stalk of the sugar-cane stalk and this leaves the main stalk with the sucrose and fiber. So much cane was being produced and harvested in a relatively small region that air quality was becoming unsafe for residents.

This practices of using mechanical harvesters for harvest was actually used as one of the criteria guiding the designation of Agriecological Zones for future sugar-cane agriculture. To prevent any perception of “food v fuel” argumetns for sugar cane in Brazil, the goverment has now set up the zones where sugar cane should be expanded. A sugar-cane developer cannot recieve goverment support via low-cost loans unless exapnding into these agricultural zones, and agriculture is generally too expensive without this government support. So, because mechanical harvesting is assumed not possible on lands with slopes greater than 12°, that slope limit was used as the criterion number. The other two criteria for determining the agricultural zones were climate (rainfall, temperature profile, etc.) and soil quality. The vast majority of sugar cane in the south and central parts of Brazil requires no irrigation except for possibly some during initial planting, and those areas in the new zones are anticipated to require little irrigation (˜200–300 mm/yr) if any at all, and it is not clear if the economic payoff will induce the investment in irrigation infrastructure.

Another, more social, aspect of Brazilian energy policy is the promotion of small farmers throughout Brazil for growing various crops for vegetable oils for biodiesel. The “pro-alcohol” programme was seen to leave out the small farmer as it is a large-scale industrial crop. Because sugar cane to ethanol is estimated to have a much higher energy return on energy invested than many oils to biodiesel, it is not apparent if people expect to make monetary returns similar to the industrial scale ethanol industry. Nontheless, there is an attempt to include more rural communities and farmers into Brazilian energy policy – for better or for worse.

Thus, from air quality to soil quality, Brazilian energy policy is promoting its cash crop of sugar cane. As the current land area used for Brazilian sugar cane is approximately 8–9 million ha, and the land used for cattle pasture is 180–200 million ha, we don’t have to worry about Brazilian biofuel development as a specific driver for removal of the Amazon rainforest. The Amazon is clearly restricted via the agriecological zoning for sugar cane. On the other hand, increasing pressure for beef may have a part to play as policing such as vast area is difficult to impossible. But there is a push for increasing the density of cattle on land in Brazil to prevent expanded land clearing for pasture.

In summary, there is sufficient land zoned for sugar cane for Brazil to produce approximately 4–5 times as much ethanol than is produced today (˜6.2 billion gallons in 2008). There is also generally a better climate (rain and temperature) and soils for first-generation and possibly second-generation biofuels feedstocks than in North America or Europe. Thus, it is important that the developed world understand its own agricultural practices for energy-related biomass and determine whether domestic water and soil resources are better preserved by importing and investing in Brazil or investing at home. But then perhaps this brings up a new set of domestic social sustainability questions …

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