Sustainable Energy in Brazil – Reversing Past Achievements or Realizing Future Potential

Brazil is at a crossroad with regard to its sustainable energy future. Despite currently boasting one of the world’s cleanest energy supplies, a number of current trends are pointing towards a deterioration of the country’s sustainable energy performance, measured in terms of renewable energy use, energy efficiency, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Firstly, declining emissions from land use and increasing demand for fossil fuels are turning energy into a key driver of Brazil’s domestic GHG emissions. Secondly, the electricity sector, dominated by large-scale hydropower, is facing challenges in meeting the growing demand. Worrying trends include the shrinking relative storage capacity in the system and the growing use of natural gas in lieu of cleaner sources. Thirdly, demand for transport fuels is growing fast, prompted by rising living standards and a long-term policy of favouring road transport. Expanding volumes and shares of oil are of particular concern and are intimately interlinked with the present troubles of the bioethanol sector. Furthermore, despite low levels of carbon and energy intensity, the country’s energy efficiency performance remains stagnant.

In this paper, Mari Luomi provides an evaluation of the prospects and potential for sustainable energy in Brazil in the medium and long term, based on an analysis of current energy-related dynamics, existing government policies and plans, and domestic and international projections of energy supply and demand through 2035. She argues that there is still plenty of room for increased ambition and warns that, unless current trends are reversed with determined policy and implementation, Brazil will place at risk the decarbonization of its energy supply at a time in which global attention is turning to resource-efficient low-carbon transitions. Policy recommendations for achieving a diversion from current plans and projected trajectories include: a diversification into non-large scale hydro renewables in the electricity sector, a sustainable expansion of bioethanol production, increased attention to energy efficiency across the economy, and an ambitious post-2020 climate change mitigation policy.

By: Mari Luomi