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Professor Suani Coelho

02 February 2006
Professor Suani Coelho

The Climate Group speaks with Professor Suani Coelho, Deputy Environment Secretary for the State of São Paulo about the state's action on climate change to date. São Paulo's booming biofuels industry has become an iconic example of the type of efforts needed to achieve a successful shift to a low carbon future, and it's collaborative efforts with other regional governments across the globe on the issue have allowed the state to emerge as a leader in emissions reduction...

On a personal level, what is your interest in climate change?

Both the State Environment Secretary Jose Goldemberg and I have been involved on the issue for many years through our work at the University of São Paulo. Professor Goldemberg was previously a minister for the federal government before our move to the São Paulo Secretariat of State for the Environment. Climate change has increasingly become an important focus in all aspects of my work.

How will São Paulo be affected by climate change?

São Paulo is a very large state - bigger than France and it many beautiful beaches on its long coastal area. Any potential rise in sea level as a result of climate change would of course affect all of these areas within the state.

When did the state of São Paulo first take action to address climate change?

The State government has demonstrated continued support for action on climate change, primarily over the last 5 years since Governor Geraldo Alkmin and Professor Goldemberg as State Environment Secretary came to power. Last year, shortly after the Kyoto Protocol came into force, the Governor established the São Paulo State Forum on Global Climate Change and Biodiversity, a cooperative effort between government and society to raise awareness of and develop collaborative solutions to climate change.

But perhaps São Paulo's main contribution to climate change mitigation has been the state's role in the global production of biofuels as a substitute for fossil fuels. Brazil is the world's largest producer of ethanol derived from sugar cane and São Paulo is responsible for 60% of this.

Within the State Environment Secretariat, we are working to incentivise sustainable practices within ethanol production and we have been involved with the development of flex-fuel vehicles, which are able to run on either ethanol, gasoline or a mix. Flex-fuel is a technology that has been developed in Brazil, and pioneered in the state of São Paulo, with many important manufacturers and international brands including Volkswagen, Fiat, GM, Peugeot and Citreon who are operating and producing flex-fuel vehicles in the state. So we have an established biofuel industry and as such have been committed to emission reduction for a long time.

Do you see São Paulo as a role model on climate change? Can your successful biofuel industry be replicated elsewhere?

We consider the development, production and use of biofuels as a good opportunity not to be missed. We are involved in various groups and we have been trying to encourage other developing countries to introduce biofuel production, supported by international agencies like the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and World Bank. Aside from the benefits of lower emissions, biofuel is an appealing option in terms of development because: it involves an already commercialised technology; degraded land can be utilised in its production; fuel is derived from a sustainable source; jobs/markets are created though the industry and; it reduces reliance on foreign fossil fuel imports.

Does São Paulo have the capacity to export excess supply to developed countries?

São Paulo, together with the other states in Brazil already exports ethanol - last year we exported around 2 billion litres to developed countries. There is definitely a need to increase the amount of exports, but São Paulo and even Brazil as a whole will not be able to meet the global demand for ethanol, even now, with the typically small amount of ethanol that is added to gasoline. There is definitely space for other developing countries to join this market and it would be beneficial for them to do so.

Aside from biofuel production, what are São Paulo's plans for taking action on climate change further?

The state has just embarked on an ambitious reforestation programme funded by GEF and the World Bank. It involves 'repairing' areas of the Atlantic rainforest that were deforested in the past. In relation to this, we are strongly enforcing environmental legislation relating to the protection of the Atlantic rainforest as a whole. The programme's success is already becoming evident. During the past 20 years there has been a swooping trend of rainforest depletion throughout Brazil. However, last year, the state of São Paulo was able to stop this decreasing trend and even increase the area occupied by the Atlantic rainforest in the state. This is a massive achievement as it is exactly the opposite of what is happening in the rest of the country.

In a recent report produced by Stanford University, the work of the states of California and São Paulo in reducing emissions was discussed. How important was this report in terms of raising awareness of both the issue and what São Paulo is doing?

I think it was very important. The idea behind the report was to highlight how these two states are each effectively addressing climate change since both are the most developed states in their respective country. The work of both states clearly demonstrates how climate change and reduction of {CO2} emissions can be managed together with development. Many people say that we should not control carbon emissions because it conflicts with economic development; however the experience of California and São Paulo shows exactly the opposite. We have shown that it is possible to have sustainable development, lower carbon emissions as well as economic development of the state.

Do you think there is a need for a forum whereby global states come together to discuss climate change?

I think this is a good idea. We have been involved in different fora related to climate change. The recent collaboration with California and Stanford is one example of our commitment to collaborate with other state entities. São Paulo also participated in the Regional Government Climate Leaders Summit at the COP11 negotiations in Montreal. In addition, we are involved with another group called the Network of Regional Governments for Sustainable Development. We are keen to be involved in different international forum of regional states discussing both climate change, sustainable development and other issues.

Are you optimistic that as a global community we can take action to reduce our greenhouse emissions to avert dangerous climate change?

Yes we think so. We are of course dependent on key nations like the US and developing nations like China, India and Brazil to be involved. We are optimistic and I think we can manage it but I also think that we don't have too much time.

The views presented in the Viewpoint Series are not necessarily representative of the views of The Climate Group.


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