The idea of forming a coalition of civil society organizations in Brazil to discuss climate change emerged in 2001 in Salinópolis, on the coast of Pará, over dinner. On a night off from an annual meeting of USAID (the US government cooperation agency) four environmentalists who attended the meeting fled to a beach-front bar and – believe it or not – proceeded to talk shop.
Miguel Calmon (The Nature Conservacy), Mario Monzoni (Amigos da Terra Amazônia Brasileira), Paulo Moutinho (Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia) and Fernando Veiga (ProNatura) met to continue a conversation that had started earlier that morning, at the Belém airport. They had been discussing the direction that the debate on forests and climate was taking in Brazil. There was tremendous dissatisfaction among several organizations as to the way that the deforestation issue had been treated by the government in the context of the Kyoto Protocol, the first climate agreement, executed in 1997.
Today it is obvious to the whole world that deforestation carries a huge weight in terms of worldwide emissions and that it needs to be contained, with some kind of compensation being offered to tropical countries to reduce their rates of deforestation. This is the rationale behind the REDD+ mechanism, which was the first component of the new climate agreement whose negotiation was concluded.
However, at the beginning of the century things were different: the only place where forests were mentioned in the Kyoto Protocol was in the so-called Clean Development Mechanism, according to which emissions avoided in countries under development could generate carbon credits for developed countries. Some people argued that avoided deforestation and recovery of native forests in tropical countries should be part of the CDM and generate credits, as a means of increasing the value of forests left standing. The Brazilian government would not hear of it, citing issues of national sovereignty – 70% of our emissions came from deforestation of the Amazon. Several NGOs, represented by the Brazilian Forum of NGOs and Social Movements (“FBOMS”) were also against such initiative, as they did not want conservation actions taken here to serve as an excuse for rich countries to avoid cutting their own emissions.
“It was a very hostile debate”, recalls Monzoni, currently a director of GVCES (the Center for Sustainability Studies at Fundação Getúlio Vargas), in São Paulo.
The year before, during the Hague Climate Conference, in the Netherlands, certain organizations had tried to hatch an agreement between NGOs to push governments into accepting the inclusion of forests into the CDM, to no avail. “Some NGOs were stealing material from other NGOs on the subject and throwing it away”, says Calmon.
It was necessary to try to build a consensus on the issue from the bottom up. And the best place to start was the country with the largest tropical forest asset on the planet, Brazil. Since neither the government nor FBOMS appeared to offer fertile ground for this discussion, it would be necessary to create a new forum. That night, in Salinópolis, the first ideas about how this forum should be created and who should be called to create it started to emerge.
“The first draft of what would become Observatório do Clima was drawn up there, on two paper napkins”, recalls Calmon.
Several e-mails later, an initial meeting was called and held at a hotel on Rua Teixeira da Silva, in São Paulo. Representatives of 33 organizations attended that initial meeting, a significant number that signaled the need for a debate on climate and forests in the country.
On March 22 and 23, 2002, a meeting held in a classroom at Fundação Getúlio Vargas with 26 organizations* marked the official foundation of OC. The birth of the network, with the launching of its letter of principles, took place on March 23, 2002. Four work groups were created: climate change, changes in the use of the land (which includes forests and biodiversity), sustainable development and information and communications.
“Among the main tasks was to provide NGO personnel with training on climate issues. We wanted to inundate the major networks with this information”, says André Ferretti, of Fundação Grupo Boticário, who attended that initial meeting.
From 2002 to 2005, prior to the implementation and entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol, the structure of OC was put in place and discussions dealing with forest projects generated vibrant debates. The concept of “deforestation avoided” was replaced by the concept of “positive incentives”, i.e., instead of generating credit for leaving forests standing, the country would receive compensation for the rate of deforestation that it demonstrably reduced in relation to the past. A volunteer service to provide alternative coverage of the COPs was initiated by members of the network.
It was also during this period that the network operating system was established: coordination would be shared among six organizations representing different biomes and areas of knowledge. A general meeting would take place annually and the network would not have legal personality. “It was decided that OC would not act as an institution, so as not to lose its main characteristic as a movement or enter into the dispute for funds with organizations”, says Rachel Biderman, of WRI Brasil, the first executive secretary of Observatório.
After 2005, with the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol (without forests being included in the CDM), OC entered a period of regular operation, with annual meetings and the four work groups leading the network’s activities. “These activities included discussions about the national climate policy, the CDM, mechanisms of verification, inventories of emissions, communication and education”, says Rachel Biderman. GVCES hosted OC and the executive secretary mapped new potential members. Journalist Ricardo Barretto was in charge of communications, including coverage of the COPs, which gained a more systematic approach.
Starting in 2007, a group within OC began a discussion that would give rise to one of the main contributions made by the network: a set of guidelines for the formulation of public climate policies in Brazil. The country was beginning to display a change in its standing in the debate on climate and forests, based on reducing the rate of deforestation in the Amazon. There were nascent discussions of a National Plan on Climate Change, which was finally presented in 2008. Bills of law dealing with climate policies flourished in the Congress. In 2009, OC drafted a document with a set of proposals. Some of them were incorporated into Law 12,187/2009, which established the National Policy on Climate Change.
“It was one of the biggest victories for OC”, recalls Rachel Biderman.
The process of drafting the document lasted almost a year, with public consultations taking place in Rio, São Paulo, Brasília and Curitiba, with participation of many experts. The Parliamentary Environmentalist Front facilitated a meeting with congressmen who were informed of the “alternative Bill proposed by the NGOs”, and decided to incorporate a major part of such proposal into the federal bill of law then under discussion. In the same year, during COP15, in Copenhagen, OC submitted proposals to the three main candidates for the Presidency of the Republic (Dilma Rousseff, Marina Silva and José Serra). From 2009 to 2012, OC focused its actions on public policy, fighting the government in several fronts, especially the Forest Code and the monitoring of the implementation of the national climate policy and the Copenhagen goals.
In 2013, OC entered a new phase: that of data generation. In March, an annual emissions estimation carried out for the first time by Tasso Azevedo in the previous year was incorporated into OC: this marked the creation of SEEG (Greenhouse Gas Emissions Estimation System), the first nongovernmental initiative in the world to calculate annual emissions from all sectors of the economy.
SEEG became a fundamental instrument of transparency in the compliance with the national climate change law and a more dynamic tool to monitor the changes in the profile of the economy of the country – national inventories are published only once every five years and have a 10-year delay in their calculations.
In September 2013, OC created the position of exclusive-dedication executive secretary. Carlos Rittl, an ecologist with a PhD from Inpa (the National Institute for Amazon Research), was selected to occupy the position. In 2014, the network attended COP20, in Lima, when it demanded more ambition from the Brazilian government and presented the SEEG methodology.
The permanent secretariat and SEEG helped to bring regular resources into the network, through foundations such as Oak, Avina, Larci (currently Instituto Clima e Sociedade) and Clua (Climate and Land Use Alliance). Fundação Grupo Boticário, SOS Mata Atlântica, IPAM, TNC, Ipsus, Conservação Internacional, ISA, WWF and GVCES are among the organizations that have also regularly contributed resources to the network throughout its history.
In 2015, OC created an exclusive-dedication communications department. SEEG was expanded to Peru and gave rise to two by-products: Monitor Elétrico, which allows daily monitoring of the emissions by the electricity sector, and MapBiomas, a digital platform that screens changes in the use of land and that will allow, for the first time, the annual monitoring of deforestation in all biomes of the country. The political action of the network was marked by the development of a INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contribution) proposal, which established a minimum level for the ambition to be adopted in the official proposal of the country, which has been a decisive factor to cause the government to present a INDC with absolute targets for the entire economy.
“To set up a network like this is easy, what is difficult is to keep it working”, says Paulo Moutinho, from Ipam. “OC is one of the few groups in the Brazilian civil society that have representativeness, plurality and longevity in the discussion of climate change”.