In this topic, some of the main events and trends of environmental policies in Brazil and China are explored. Both Brazil and China have many challenges to be faced in relation to the set of problems that make up the environmental issue in a world characterized by high modernity, society of risk and by the global environmental changes. This is not, however, a local issue only for these two countries; since this is a global issue, it should be part of the political agenda of other countries around the world, especially with regard to the dilemma of prioritizing environmental concerns at the expense of economic development on a planet that is facing significant environmental changes.
Given the range of possibilities that a study on the scenario of global environmental change in Brazil–China presents, the analytical approach used for the development of investigations was defined and specifically positioned to study the problem presented, that is, climate change.
Brazilian Strategies with Respect to Climate Change
Regarding environmental concerns in Brazil, it is always difficult for them to become a priority in Brazilian politics. The analysis of the political and administrative dimension of environmentalism in Brazil reveals a complex legal and institutional framework increasingly growing, defined in public administration levels since the 1970s. Indeed, several government environmental agencies have been created along with a considerable number of environmental regulations (Ferreira and Tavolaro 2008; Ferreira et al. 2016). Thus, there were several policies aimed at improving the quality of life of urban and natural areas in the last 30 years or more, whether at the federal, state and local levels.
The creation of the Brazilian Forum on Climate Change (FBMC, in Portuguese) was, in 2000, one of the first moves at the federal level related to climate change. They aimed at presenting, educating and mobilizing society for the discussion of issues related to global warming. In 2007, the federal government established the Interministerial Committee on Climate Change, and the main tasks were planning and implementing of a National Policy on Climate Change, through a National Climate Change plan (Barbi et al. 2015; Ferreira et al. 2016).
During the administration of President Lula (2003–2010), the National Policy on Climate Change (NPCC, in Portuguese) was approved, in 2009. Two weeks before the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change of the United Nations in Copenhagen (COP 15), Brazil moved from its historical position in negotiations and adopted a voluntary target for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) from 38 to 36.1 %, that is, 9 % of the total projected emissions for 2020 (Brazil 2009; Viola and Franchini 2012; Viola et al. 2013; Ferreira et al. 2016).
The NPCC stipulated the preparation of Sectoral Plans, developed between 2012 and 2013. The national policy agenda is focused on the implementation of these sectoral plans. In general, the national planning emphasized the small contribution of Brazil in generating global problems related to the environment, if compared with the contribution of other emerging and developed economies, and indicated that the country had done its best in mitigation actions, but would be willing to adopt more comprehensive environmental policies to address the problems in question (Ferreira et al. 2016).
During the process of creating and promulgating the Forum and National Policy, other public events, research institutions and civil society organizations have been established at the federal and state levels. Among them are: the presentation of the Climate Network; the creation of the National Institute of Science and Technology for Climate Change; the development of a network of civil society organizations called “Climate Observatory”; the launch of the Research Program on Global Climate Change in the State of São Paulo by FAPESP (Foundation for Research of the State of São Paulo); and the creation of the Brazilian Panel on Climate Change (PBMC) (Ferreira et al. 2016).
PBMC, launched in 2009 by MCTI (Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation) and the MMA (Ministry of the Environment), tried to strengthen relationships between climate science and policy. It was structured based on the IPCC, in order to provide scientific assessments on the impacts, vulnerability and adaptation actions and mitigation of climate change. The “First National Assessment Report” of PBMC was presented in 2012 during the Rio + 20 (PBMC 2013). The importance of this report lies in the elements it can provide for the implementation of climate policy in the country, both related to mitigation and adaptation.
Data presented by the Anthropic Brazilian Inventory (MCT 2010) show that in the last 15 years, Brazil has increased its GHG emissions at very significant levels. Between 1990 and 2005, CO2 emissions increased by about 65 % on the sum of all surveyed sectors; only coal mining-related emissions decreased by 29 %. The Change of Use of Land and Forest was responsible for most of the CO2 emissions in 2005, representing 77 % of total emissions. During the analyzed period (1990–2005), emissions from this sector grew 64.3 % (Ferreira et al. 2016).
According to Viola (2015), the situation is very different between 2009 and 2015. In 2009, the country was coming from a dynamic of economic prosperity and starting to think long term. According to the same author, in a society made by the short term, climate policy is unachievable. The author points out that we had a macroeconomics seemingly in order; in addition, the whole “control” process of the Amazon issue, in fact, was a consequence of the inability to control deforestation. Thus, we went through 2004 when all was uncontrollable, for years of systematic and aggressive reduction of emissions. We were at the end of a virtuous cycle of “empowerment” of forces favorable to the mitigation of climate change and “decarbonisation” within the ministerial cabinet.
In fact, now, according to Viola (2015), we are in an opposite period. First, the country is taken by the short term. There is a deep economic, political and moral crisis. This causes a social and collective action capacity breakdown. This means that the Brazilian “decarbonisation” forces, which go far beyond the environmentalists, are in a very unfavorable social context.
In relation to adaptation to the effects of changes in the climate system, Brazil has implemented a subsistence agriculture program in the Northeast region of the country aimed at the improvement of plants that would be adapted to climate change and has been dedicated to keep its main ecosystems such as Amazon and Atlantic Forest, through the establishment of biological corridors. However, the country needs to implement permanent adaptation actions to resolve, once and for all, problems related to climate change affecting the population.
According to Nobre (2010), the first step to the adaptation would be reducing vulnerability to exposure to climate at present and this is slowly happening in Brazil. The population in the Northeast is often affected by drought, which has always occurred in the region. Some measures to adaptation to drought, which have been implemented in the Northeast, are the construction of cisterns to collect rain water, as exemplified by the author. However, when the drought occurs for long time as has happened in the region in recent years, accumulating water is not possible because there is almost no rainy season. Therefore, adaptation to climate change has to be a permanent measure. It cannot be solved now, on a particular climate problem that affects a population, and then, next year, an assessment is done to decide what to do if the problem re-emerges.
The Chinese Perspective on the Global Environmental Changes
As a global actor, China can be considered a key country in the international climate policy (Basso and Viola 2014; Ferreira and Barbi 2014; Moreira 2015). Moreover, it is also the largest GHG emitter in the world since 2007, when it overtook the USA (Moreira 2015).
One of the reasons that makes China a key actor in climate negotiations, according to the same author, is its status and influence in the G77, a group that brings developing countries to increase their bargaining power in the UN system. China’s performance in the G77 generates prominence in climate negotiations, since the drafting of the document that became the Climate Convention in 1992, going through the negotiations for the establishment of the Kyoto Protocol, and conquering more and more importance in the rounds of the international environmental order of climate change.
China can be considered the engine of economic growth in the world due to its rapid development and its economic and industrial expansion. This scenario is accompanied by a strong growth of population density of its urban areas, a fact directly connected to the emergence of mega cities since the 1990s. As a result, energy consumption has grown significantly as well as emissions of pollutants discharged into the air, which has been producing negative effects on the population health. Consequently, pollution of air and water is one of the most serious environmental problems presented by China, but other environmental issues including the reduction of water resources, the accelerated deforestation and a number of threats to human health, arising from climate change, should also be highlighted. Thus, the size of the country, the magnitude of its population and the current scenario of strong and rapid development cause environmental problems from spreading not only locally, but to the rest of the world, not only through macroeconomic policy impacts, which generate disorders to the financial equilibrium of different countries, but also with regard to cross-border pollution, in the form of acid rain and dust storms, and the strong contribution of the country to the global climate change scenario (MacBean 2007; Chan and Yao 2008; Huang et al. 2010; Oliveira 2011; Xie 2011; Ferreira et al. 2016).
According to Moreira (2015), China is rich in fossil energy resources, especially coal reserves, but he considers that, in terms of per capita possession of these resources, it is below the world average. The country is at the forefront in reserves of coal, iron, copper, bauxite, lead and zinc. China’s forest cover was, in 2008, 195.45 million hectares, and is one of the “megadiverse” countries. According to the same author, in 2005 China produced about 7467 Gt CO2 eq, 80 % of which were CO2 emissions. Of these, emissions from the energy sector account for 90.4 % of the total, while emissions from industrial processes account for 9.5 % of the total, which are the sectors that emitted more CO2 in China. The country credits the rapid increase in GHG emissions between 1994 and 2005 to the economic development and improvement of the standard of the population living. In this period, total emissions of CO2, CH4 and N2O increased from 3.65 Gt CO2 eq to 6.6881 CO2 eq.
Despite this growth, China emphasizes that its per capita emissions in 2005 arising from fossil fuels were 3.88 tonnes, that is, the equivalent of 34 % of the average of the Annex I countries of the Framework Convention on climate change, which represent 20 % of the world population and that produced 57 % of global GDP, based on purchasing power parity, and account for 46 % of global GHG emissions (IPCC 2007). It is important to note that these per capita data strongly support the arguments of large countries such as China, a large emitter in absolute terms, but with a huge population, which makes its per capita emissions to diminish dramatically and justify, in its view, the position of not accepting commitments regarding GHG emission reduction before the convention.
In a continuity scenario of economic development and increase in energy consumption, C2 emissions per capita will continue to grow in leaps and bounds until the per capita GDP reach 10–15 thousand dollars a year, which should happen after 2015. Furthermore, it is expected that China’s population continues to grow steadily over the next decade, as well as urbanization rates, which grew on average 1.37 % per year in the 2000–2010 period. According to the Chinese government, these increases will require construction of urban infrastructure on a large scale, more iron and steel, cement and other products that require high energy consumption, which will lead to increased energy use and CO2 emissions (Keith et al. 2014; Moreira 2015).
In this sense, the government policy adopted by China constantly faces the dilemma of prioritizing economic growth or prioritizing environmental protection, especially since the introduction of reforms made by Deng Xiaoping (four modernizations and the opening to the international market), in 1978. During most of its past, China considered nature as a restriction to be dominated or overcome, rather than as something to be harmonized and preserved (Ferreira et al. 2016).
Hung and Tsai (2012) highlight the challenges that China faces as a result of climate change and their costs. Challenges include glacier melting, especially in Tibet and Tiansham; loss of agricultural production, which can be reduced by up to 10 % by 2030; increased number of droughts, storms, floods and natural disasters caused by extreme weather; rising sea level, which will affect 67 million people; dwindling resources, severe pollution problems and a rapidly growing economy. All are factors of a typical development dilemma, and the potential cost of climate change to the country is extremely high.
In this sense, China began to develop, since the 1970s, environmental legislation and to build institutions aimed at protecting the environment. The laws on environmental protection in China are considered the most progressive than any developing nation, at least on paper. It is noteworthy, for example, the presence of a Ministry dedicated exclusively to the promotion and compliance with environmental laws: the State Board of Environmental Protection. In addition to the political society, the active presence of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) concerned with environmental protection is verified. Lawsuits against polluters have been fought in the courts, some successfully. However, at the provincial level, in important sections of the political cities administration, it appears that the existence of conflicting objectives, as well as strong corruption in State management, ultimately weaken severely the effectiveness of policies and targeted legal measures for environmental protection on Chinese soil (MacBean 2007; Oliveira 2011; Ferreira and Barbi 2013; Ferreira et al. 2016).
As can be understood of the above observations, China faces a general process of change with respect to policies for the environmental issue. This set of changes, which runs through the central and local policy of China, as well as its civil society, reveals a significant increase in attention given by different sectors of the country to environmental issues. This is due to growing awareness of the local government regarding the problems of local order and its repercussions on the global level; these complementary dimensions share the same horizon, the urgent need for environmental degradation interruption due to its adverse effects. This reflection, in turn, has been driven by the civil society participation, which has pushed the government to promote local and national actions in the environment and society (Huang et al. 2010; Ferreira et al. 2016).
To cope with an increasing range of global environmental issues, the Chinese government has become more engaged internationally in the last two decades. In 1990, the State Council announced a statement on the “Problems and positions related to global environmental issues”, in which principles have guided China’s position on global climate negotiations. They emphasized the responsibility of developed countries for environmental crisis, the harmony between environmental protection and economic development; the recognition of development right of countries; the sovereign equality of all countries and the need to create funds for developed countries (Oliveira 2011; Ferreira et al. 2016).
With regard to climate change, China has engaged in the international debate, developing domestic institutions appropriate to the issue and collaborating with the Climate Convention in those international negotiations that led to the Kyoto Protocol. In addition, as a council member of the United Nations Environment Programme Council (UNEP), China adopted and signed 50 international treaties, 15 are conventions and 27 bilateral agreements related to environmental protection during the 1990s. However, since international negotiations were set to be consolidated and had to be absorbed internally, the intentions of the Chinese representatives clashed with international aspirations. In this context, the domestic position that global policies could not reduce the growth rate in the country was expressed (Oliveira 2011; Ferreira et al. 2016).
Although the opening to the international debate is a reality, as can be seen with the largest participation of the Chinese government in international forums, GHG emissions in China continue to grow.Footnote 1 In this sense, due to pressure from the international community, the country began to play a more proactive role with respect to the commitments made in the negotiations on climate change. In 2007, for example, China announced the National Climate Change Program and created the National Leadership Group on Climate Change. In 2009, China committed to the international community with the decision to significantly cut GHG emissions by 2020, by increasing the use of “clean” fuel sources by 15 %, as well as by increasing the pace of reforestation and developing a “green economy”. However, according to the Chinese leadership, this structure of commitments will hardly be achieved since there is the dilemma of reducing emissions and decreasing economic growth, which would produce effects on the current pace of social development currently observed in China (Huang et al. 2010; Oliveira 2011; Ferreira et al. 2016).
So, in this brief overview of environmental problems in China, the country has adopted a series of policies and programs aimed at mitigating climate change, either within the civil society and the government sphere. The measures stood out for its diversity and coverage. Oliveira (2011), for example, notes that the China National Institute of Standardization adopted new rules for the regulation of electrical appliances efficiency to reduce by 10 % energy consumption by 2010. In cities as Beijing, Chungquing, Shanghai and Tianjin, similar measures have recently been introduced to reduce by 65 % the energy consumption of public buildings. In the transport sector, China already has one of the largest fleets in the world of bus powered by compressed natural gas. The country also invests in the development of electric cars, in the set of projects called Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which tries to create leading groups in the sector and the establishment of research institutions on the subject.
Other environmental issues in China that drew attention were the biodiversity protection, desertification control, nuclear safety, the protection of the ozone layer and marine pollution (Huang et al. 2010; Ferreira et al. 2016). Therefore, the increasing participation of the country in the global public sphere should be noted, especially regarding the treatment of subjects that make up the contemporary environmental agenda such as energy issues (problems related to nuclear energy and the search for alternatives to fossil fuels) and issues that impact on the climate change issue, as in the case of GHG emissions.