Brazil Extends Coal Use for Another 18 Years

Energy
Extraction of coal

Coal extraction in Brazil. Photo credit: Lelia Valduga / Moment Open / Getty Images

Right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro approved a law late Wednesday that would extend the nation’s coal use by more than a decade.

Previously, the government was supposed to end subsidies for coal plants by 2027 and rescind the authorization for three new plants in particular by 2025. But the new “just transition” law allows for coal use through at least 2040.

“This is bad news for consumers and the environment,” Ricardo Baitelo, a project coordinator at non-profit the Institute of Energy and Environment (IEMA), told Reuters. 

Coal is the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, and scientists say that if we want to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, then nearly all coal burning must stop by 2050. At the COP26 UN climate conference in Glasgow last November, Brazil pledged to half its emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, the Brazil-Arab News Agency reported at the time. 

Extending coal use “contradicts the energy transition, with significant environmental impacts, and extends to inefficient costs for all energy consumers,” the Association of Large Energy Consumers (Abrace) said, as The Catholic Transcript reported. 

The law in question is a “just energy transition” law, referring in theory to the movement to ensure that the switch to a renewable energy economy benefits everyone, and that those impacted by the change are compensated, Reuters explained. However, Nelson Karam, a just transition project coordinator at union research organization DIEESE, argued that the law merely appropriates the language of a just transition to prop up coal. 

In particular, the law benefits coal plants in Brazil’s southern Santa Catarina region, requiring that the government buy energy from these plants at a set price. Further, 80 percent of the energy in the region must come from these plants, The Market Herald reported.

In addition to harming the environment, this is also more costly for consumers because coal is more expensive than renewables. ABRACE said the law could cost consumers an extra $206.11 million a year.

The bill’s author, Senator Espiridião Amin, said on social media that it was an “important achievement” for Santa Catarina, as Reuters reported. 

Further, The General Secretariat of the Presidency of the Republic said it would “maintain the goals of carbon neutrality for the Brazilian economy until 2050, and deal responsibly with the economic, social and environmental impacts of phasing out” coal, according to The Catholic Transcript. 

However, Karam told Reuters that employment in the region’s coal sector was set to decline anyway because of mechanization, and that it made more sense to focus on a real transition away from the fossil fuel. 

“A real just transition needs to be built … by presenting alternatives. There has to be a heavy investment in that,” he said.

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