Southern Hemisphere Climate Change Champion

Brazil has developed a scientific model for analysing climate change and its effects on the southern hemisphere that will contribute to global research coordinated by the IPCC. So far, most of this research has focused on the northern hemisphere.

Research has shown that Brazil is likely to suffer significantly form climate change. You can  read more about these effects by clicking here. More intense droughts, agricultural losses, reduced fishing yields, reformulation of the energy grid : these are  just part of  the scenario described in the executive summary of the Work Group 2 (WG2) of the Brazilian Panel on Climate Change (PBMC), released on October 25 at the Brazilian Foundation for Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro.

Working together with the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Brazilian scientists in September  had launched BESM (Brazilian Earth System Model). With the election of a new “climate change skeptic” government in Australia, Brazil could soon be the only southern hemisphere nation working on climate modelling.

In fact the Brazilian Panel on Climate Change (PBMC) is breathing new energy into a much beleagured discipline assailed on all sides by climate change skeptics.

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The results were presented in São Paulo at Brazil’s first-ever  National Conference on Global Climate Change. The event was hosted by the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP). The Brazilian data is being included in the fifth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),   released in September 2013.

Key scientists involved in launching the Brazilian climate model are:

Carlos Nobre, President of PBMC and Secretary of R&D Policy Development at Brazil’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MCTI);

José Marengo, head of earth Science systems at INPE, the Brazilian space research organisation.

Paulo Artaxo, Professor at São Paulo University’s Physics Institute (USP);

Tércio Ambrizzi, Professor of Astronomy, Geophysics  and Atmospheric Science at São Paulo University (USP);

Moacyr Araújo, Professor of the Department of Oceanography at the University of Pernambuco;

Eduardo Assad, researcher at Embrapa, Brazil’s  plant an animal research institute

Mercedes Bustamante, Director of the Institute of Biologiocal Sciences at the University of Brasília (UnB);

Emílio La Rovere, researcher in  Environment and Climate Change at  the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).

One of the scientists presenting the new model, Paulo Artaxo, brought his findings to London to present them at a conference on UK-Brazilian Scientific cooperation  at the prestigious Royal Society, hosted by FAPESP.

The new initiative is the fruit of an alliance in Brazil between researchers from several member institutions, participating in the FAPESP Research Program on Global Climate Change (PFPMCG), the Network of Brazilian Research on Global Climate Change (Rede Clima) and the National Science and Technology Institute on Climate Change (INCT- MC). Overall,  there are 345 scientists who make up the Brazilian Panel on Climate Change (PBMC).

One of the main contributions of the new Brazilian Earth System Model to international efforts to advance climatic, environmental and atmospheric sciences will be to examine several Southern Hemisphere-specific issues and to represent certain important environmental processes for Brazil and other South American countries that are considered secondary in international climate models.

These focal issues include fires, which can intensify the greenhouse effect and change the characteristics of rain and clouds in a given region, and the deforestation of Amazonia. BESM is intended to be an open platform in which several hypotheses about processes that occur in South America, the Atlantic Ocean and Antarctica, for example, can be tested by researchers from the area in fields related to climatic and environmental sciences.

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According to PBMC President Carlos Nobre, “Brazil’s decision to face the challenge of developing its own system model of global climate change rather than importing an existing model and applying it was made with the strategic objective of building a network of researchers capable of operating in all dimensions of the construction of a model of this nature, from development to validation and simulation.”

The Brazilian Earth System Model will also be used to determine public policy in Brazil for the country’s adaptation to the impacts of global climate change. According to the Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX), which was recently released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the frequency of extreme climate events worldwide has increased over the past few decades due to climate change.

Early results from test version of the climate model had already shown:

  • Improved rainfall forecasts for the South Atlantic and South America.
  • The discovery that the deforestation of Amazonia increases the probability of El Niño (a phenomenon characterized by abnormal heating of surface waters in the tropical Pacific Ocean, capable of affecting the regional and global climate).
  • Greater accuracy in predicting rain formation in the South Atlantic Convergence Zone (SACZ), a region with an elongated axis of clouds formed from the Amazon region and Central and Southeast Brazil to the Atlantic Ocean.

The conference also highlighted mounting concerns that, thanks to climate change, Brazil’s new status as a major bread-basket and global food provider, may be short-lived.

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For decades, Brazil had adopted an approach toward climate change that, if not exactly complacent, projected the issue as a problem created by rich nations, and somebody else’s responsibility.

After all, the country’s energy matrix, powered by huge hydrodams and renewable ethanol fuel, made it one of the world’s most responsible-seeming low carbon producers. Or rather, it would have earned the plaudits for being a carbon emissions “good boy”, were it not for the wholesale deforestation in Amazonia for cattle ranching and clearance of huge swathes of cerrado for soybean plantations.

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But now rather than an innocent bystander, Brazil is starting to look like a victim.

Already the change in rainfall patterns and the elevation of temperatures in productive zones is being seen as responsible for falling yields of rice, beans, corn and wheat. In addition, a number of public health problems have arisen because of higher temperatures or alterations in humidity in the major urban areas of Brazil.

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A recent report in The Guardian newspaper highlighted Brazil’s growing insecurity about climate change. It paints a stark picture of “higher temperatures, drastic changes in rainfall, lower productivity, more blight and disease − these are just some of the expected consequences of climate change in Brazil.”

The Guardian report – also carried by the influential online service Climate Central, predicts that if present trends in greenhouse gas emissions continue, average temperatures in Brazil will be 3º-6ºC higher by 2100 than they were at the end of the 20th century. This suggests that in the southern hemisphere   the “losers” from global warming will not be limited to low-lying Pacific islanders, but could also include some of the biggest multinational players in the global food chain. Since the year 2,000, researchers at EMBRAPA have been tracking falling productivity at Brazilian farms.

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The São Paulo conference had six round-tables at which scientists fed back the conclusions of their work, which started in 2007 when the project first began. The PMBC took formal shape in 2009 when Brazil’s ministries of the Environment of Technology and Science commissioned the study.

Key topics for addressing climate change were: Oceans, Atmosphere, Earth Surface and Chemistry.

As well as protecting its own agricultural interests, Brazil sees itself as making a contribution to the global study of climate change under the aegis of the UN. The group is developing its own suggestions for greenhouse gas reduction.

“The objective was to build a climate model with Brazilian competence that can be incorporated as the country’s contribution to the construction of a global Earth system model, which we intend to create in the next few years,” said PBMC’s Nobre.

“In the future, there will be a global Earth modeling system that will make it possible for a researcher to create climate models with modules of interest to test his/her hypothesis,” he predicted.

The new Brazilian model can also predict long-term weather change far outside its immediate zone. Researchers say the model has accurately forecast the latest findings on the reduction in Arctic glaciers.  It also gives Brazil the capacity to forecast the advance or retreat of marine ice formations in other parts of the planet, according to the PBMC’s Nobre.

So, as a new and energetic “believer” in a scientific community grown weary and defensive  of rancorous climate change debates, Brazil could inject  much needed  vigour — as well as a new scientific perspective from the southern hemisphere.


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