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Which Countries Won't Be Signing the Paris Climate Deal on Earth Day?

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An unprecedented number of countries will be gathering in New York City tomorrow to sign the Paris climate deal.

After significant progress was made this past December in agreeing the landmark deal, more than 167 countries—including past climate villains Iran, Canada and Australia and polluting giants China, the U.S. and the EU—are set to sign the Paris agreement on its opening day.

So while much focus has been on who will be signing the Paris Agreement on April 22, here we take a look at those that might not be. Photo credit: United Nations Photo / Flickr

But despite this, there are still some countries that remain absent from the UN’s official list of attendees—and this includes some pretty big emitters and fossil fuel producers.

So while much focus has been on who will be signing the Paris agreement on April 22, here we take a look at those that might not be.

Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)

There have been a lot of questions about whether or not Russia would attend.

Up until April 20, it was the largest emitter and producer absent from the UN’s list is Russia, dwarfing other non-signatories, representing more than five percent of annual global emissions.

But according to a new list updated by the UN, Russia has now indicated that it will be attending the New York ceremony tomorrow.

The country’s president Vladimir Putin has previously described climate change as a conspiracy to diminish the country’s power, but changed his tone (though not necessarily increasing Russia’s ambition) at the opening ceremony of COP21 in Paris.

Russian newspaper Kommersant hinted at progress there reporting that some ministries have begun submitting draft implementation measures for the Paris agreement.

As Vladimir Chuprov, Head of the Energy Unit at Greenpeace Russia told DeSmog UK, a Russian Federation governmental order stated that the country would sign the agreement.

World Wildlife Fund’s Alexey Kokorin echoed Chuprov’s comments, saying Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Khloponin will sign on behalf of Russia in spite of hard lobbying of coal and steel companies.

There are however still some Commonwealth of Independent States which have also not indicated whether they will attend, including Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

Saudi Arabia, OPEC and the Middle East

Saudi Arabia, with almost 1.2 percent of global emissions leads the list of the five OPEC nations and two other Middle Eastern states currently not confirmed to attend the event.

The country’s minister for Petroleum and Mineral Resources Ali Al-Naimi indicated in 2015 that Saudi Arabia would have to stop using fossil fuels at some point.

Despite this the country faced accusations of trying to wreck the climate deal at the Paris COP21 climate conference. The Guardian reported that Wael Hmaidan, director of Climate Action Network, said they were “undermining the position of other Arab countries.”

Meanwhile, Africa’s largest economy, Nigeria, is a major oil exporter and the second largest OPEC member who may not put pen to paper tomorrow. The country significantly out-emits the other African non-signatories, with 0.66 percent of global annual emissions.

Ecuador, one of the smallest OPEC members is the only South American country that hasn’t indicated it will sign.

Others include Iraq with more than 0.5 percent of global emissions, Qatar and non-OPEC countries Syria and Yemen, with emissions between 0.2 percent and 0.05 percent of the global total.

The Other No-Shows

According to the latest UN update there are still some sub-Saharan African countries that may not be at the New York ceremony. This includes Botswana and Zambia.

Last month, the think tank Third World Network called on developing nation to boycott the signing.

Speaking to ClimateHome on the call to boycott, an advisor to African nations said their slowing of the ratification process could lead to countries that stand to lose the most from climate change being excluded from talks on the deal’s implementation.

Others nations still missing from the list include Trinidad and Tobago and Nicaragua.

Michael Jacobs, visiting professor at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change told DeSmog UK that Russia, Saudi Arabia and other OPEC states will not like the rhetoric on decarbonization and the necessity of strong climate action which will surround the event. But it makes no difference.

Whether or not any of these countries show up on Friday, some 83 percent of states and 88 percent of emissions will still be represented at the ceremony.

And as Carbon Brief points out, the agreement is open for signatures at the UN headquarters for a year and that it’s even possible to accede to the agreement after this.

The next, more important step, is for those countries to get approval at home.

Once 55 percent of signatories covering 55 percent emissions do so, the agreement will come into effect after 30 days.

So far eight countries, Barbados, Belize, Fiji, The Maldives, Nauru, St Lucia, Samoa and Tuvalu have indicated they will deposit their instrument of ratification after the signing ceremony.

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Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:

Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."

According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.

The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.

But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.

The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.

Archer Daniels Midland soy silos in Mato Grosso along the BR-163 highway, where Amazon rainforest has largely been replaced by soy destined for the EU, UK, China and other international markets.

Thaís Borges.

An Uncertain Future

The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.

Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.

There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.

Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).

Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.

One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).

Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."

Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.

The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.

The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."

Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.

Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr

Alternative Amazon Funding

Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.

In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.

Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."

Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."

Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.

Council of Hemispheric Affairs

Looming International Difficulties

The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.

In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.

But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."

The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."

Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.

Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.

Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY

Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."

Such a delay could have severe repercussions for Brazil's struggling economy which relies heavily on its commodities trade with the EU. Analysists say that Bolsonaro's fears over such an outcome could be one reason for his recently announced October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.

Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."

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