Local Initiatives for a National Agenda: Brazilian Cities are Creating a Climate for Change

By Laura Valente de Macedo

Brazil’s national climate agenda has set ambitious goals until 2030. But so far, the country lacks a strategy to include actors from all levels of governance into a cohesive approach. Nevertheless, many Brazilian cities are taking on the challenge to make a change. Laura Valente de Macedo analyses obstacles, drivers and possible perspectives.

A national agenda for climate change

Brazil first committed to reduce its carbon footprint in 2009, presenting voluntary targets during COP15, in Copenhagen. In 2016, the country submitted its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to the UNFCCC Secretariat, declaring absolute GHG emissions reduction goals of 37 per cent by 2025 and 43 per cent by 2030 relative to 2005 levels. (BRAZIL, 2015; 2017).

The country´s most important national legal framework is the Climate Change Policy (PNMC, 2009) that establishes its implementation through nine sector-based plans, including pre-existing policies on deforestation in the Amazon and Cerrado regions, the low carbon agriculture plan, and the ten-year national energy plan. Other plans address mitigation in health, industry, mining, mobility and the steel industry.

Limitations for local climate action

Up until now, Brazilian cities do not have a part in decision-making on climate change mitigation strategies for several reasons. The 1988 Constitution establishes shared jurisdiction of environmental protection between the three levels of government, for instance on water and air quality management. However, authority over issues concerning international relations clearly lies within federal jurisdiction. Subnational governments have nonetheless engaged in transnational relations, i.e. decentralised cooperation or paradiplomacy. The federal government tolerates these activities, albeit without specific regulation (Rodrigues, 2008; Setzer, 2009; Macedo, 2017).

Climate governance in Brazil is thus centralised at the national level. Regulation is available, but compliance is a challenge, due to limited access to financing and technical capacity. Paradiplomatic activities have leveraged climate action but cannot secure transitional change. In this context, local governments do not dispute federal authority, and rather seek recognition and support.

Brazilian cities take action

Despite the discouraging context for local climate action, cities have engaged in activities through transnational municipal networks (TMNs). Municipal climate paradiplomacy goes back to 1998, when Rio de Janeiro joined ICLEI´s campaign Cities for Climate Protection (CCP) and undertook the first greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory in Brazil. Rio was joined by six other major cities: Betim, Goiânia, Porto Alegre, São Paulo and Volta Redonda, and followed by many others.

Eleven capital cities1 representing more than 33 million inhabitants are ICLEI members. They have developed GHG inventories and established climate policies, such as legislation to eliminate use of illegal timber from the Amazon, and measures on clean public transport, energy efficiency and solar energy.

More cities have since joined transnational cooperation initiatives. Many have adhered to pledges, such as the Global Compact of Mayors that requires signatories to report climate action on global platforms2. However, the information is self-declared and not verified.

Measuring the success of local climate action in Brazil

Local climate action in Brazil has been increasing, driven by a global movement of municipal cooperation networks. By April 2018, there were 57 Brazilian signatories to the Global Covenant of Mayors (GCMCE)3.

An ongoing survey to assess municipal environmental management (ANAMMA)4 launched in September 2015 included questions on climate change for the first time. Respondents were required to identify climate-related initiatives, such as developing GHG inventories and climate policies, implementing sustainable urban mobility and solid waste management. Some cities mentioned addressing deforestation, biodiversity and water protection; a few mentioned adaptation and disaster prevention. Besides these activities, many reported ongoing measures that potentially reduce their carbon footprint, even if they are not framed as climate action. Instead, municipalities frame climate-related initiatives in the context of local management, for example, transport or urban infrastructure, often in isolation within their departments. Nevertheless, by April 2017 over 50 per cent of respondents had declared undertaking at least one climate-related activity since 2013 (Macedo, 2017). Thus, research demonstrates that since 2005, there is an increasing trend towards recognition of urban management activities as climate-related. However, there is a lack of quantitative data that would allow assessing their effectiveness and continuity.

Concluding remarks

Brazil is an acknowledged player in the global climate arena and has voluntarily committed to reducing its GHG emissions. However, mitigation strategies have so far been concentrated at the federal level. As negotiations within the UNFCCC progress, parties recognise the important role of subnational governments to effectively achieve GHG emissions reductions and to meet the 1.5°C global challenge.

TMNs have been drivers of local climate action worldwide. In Brazil, TMNs have supported and guided local climate experiments by engaging cities in their initiatives, raising awareness, and providing tools and finance. Brazilian cities have shown an increasing interest in urban climate experimentation, motivated by co-benefits, but also by their will to participate as global players. In the past two decades, they have undertaken interventions that potentially reduce GHG emissions, while improving the quality of life for their inhabitants. But the effectiveness of these efforts cannot be verified without consistent and accurate reporting and mechanisms for accountability. Nevertheless, by setting an example, cities have contributed toward strengthening the climate agenda in Brazil, establishing a foundation for future integrated action.


BRAZIL (2015) Pretendida Contribuição Nacionalmente Determinada e informação adicional sobre a iNDC apenas para fins de esclarecimento. Brasília, DF: Ministério de Ciência, Tecnologia, Inovações e Comunicações (MCTIC).

________ (2017) Second Biennial Update Report of Brazil to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Brasília, DF: Ministério de Ciência, Tecnologia, Inovações e Comunicações (MCTIC). Online publication.

Macedo L V. Participação de cidades brasileiras na governança multinível das mudanças climáticas. 2017. 238 f. PhD thesis. Universidade de São Paulo, 2017.

Rodrigues G M A (2008) Relações internacionais federativas no Brasil. Dados, Rio de Janeiro.51(4):1015-1034.

Setzer J (2009) Subnational and transnational climate change governance: Evidence from the state and city of São Paulo, Brazil. 5th Urban Research Symposium.

Laura Silvia Valente de Macedo

Laura Silvia Valente de Macedo

Laura Valente de Macedo is a consultant, researcher and architect, with a PhD and an MSc in Environmental Science from the University of São Paulo. She also obtained an MSc in Environmental Change Management from Oxford University as a Chevening scholar. Since 1991, Laura has worked in different levels of government, specialising in sustainable public policies, governance and management. She was Latin America director at ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability between 2002 and 2011, supervising several projects on cities and climate-related initiatives. She has also written several articles and chapters for publications on sustainability.
Laura Silvia Valente de Macedo

Latest posts by Laura Silvia Valente de Macedo (see all)

By | 2018-06-01T18:57:56+00:00 June 1st 2018|Categories: CLIMATE CHANGE & RESILIENCE|Tags: , , , |Comments Off on Local Initiatives for a National Agenda: Brazilian Cities are Creating a Climate for Change