If the Amazon were a country, it would be the 9th largest emitter of greenhouse gases

Deforestation is responsible for almost 40% of Brazil’s emissions, which increased by 9.5% in 2020 according to a SEEG report.

On the eve of COP26, the SEEG (Greenhouse Gas Emission Estimation System), coordinated by the Climate Observatory, launched an extensive analysis of the current situation regarding greenhouse gas emissions in Brazil. All major economic sectors were accounted for, as well as CO2, CH4, and N2O emissions. The news is not good for Brazil.

Brazil increased its greenhouse gas emissions by 9.5% in 2020 compared to 2019. It’s an enormous swell, in a pandemic year and at a time when      countries have to reduce their emissions by at least 5% a year according to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). With the significant increase in emissions and the 4.1% drop in GDP, Brazil became poorer and as it increased its pollution. It is the highest level of emissions since 2006. At COP26, Brazil shows it is going in the opposite direction of our needs. 

Land use change across the country is the leading cause for emissions, with 47% of the total value. Deforestation in the nine states of the Legal Amazon alone accounted for almost 40% of that number. Emissions related to deforestation reached 998 million tons of CO2e in 2020, a surge of 24% compared to 2019. It was the biggest emission of the last 11 years.

The PRODES system run by the National Institute for Spatial Research (INPE) estimates that 10,851 km² of forests were deforested in 2020. If the Amazon rainforest were a country, it would be the ninth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases. The profile of Brazilian emissions is still dominated by a mostly illegal activity that does not contribute to GDP or job creation in the country.

Agriculture is the second sector with the highest emissions at 577 million tons of CO2e (27% of the national total) in 2020, an increase of 2.5%. The increase in methane emissions from the digestive fermentation of livestock is notable - beef and dairy cattle accounted for 75% of emissions. However, there are possibilities for reducing emissions with good pasture management techniques.

The energy sector, which accounted for 18% of the country's emissions in 2020, had an expressive 4.6% reduction in emissions. This was due to the pandemic, which, in the first months of 2020, reduced passenger transport, industrial production, and electricity generation. With 394 million tons of CO2e, the energy sector has returned to 2011 emission levels, which is good news for the country. It was the sector with the largest relative drop in emissions in 2020. There was a strong reduction in the transport sector, and the demand for gasoline and ethanol also significantly decreased.

In the solid waste sector, quarantine measures increased emissions, mainly from the disposal of garbage in landfills and dumps, as well as from domestic sewage. The sector grew by 1.8%, going from 90.4 million to 92 million tons of CO2e. Increased urbanization in Brazil plays an important role in these emissions.

In industrial emissions, mainly represented by the manufacture of steel and cement, highly polluting activities, their emissions remained stable even in the pandemic. The sector emitted 99.7 million tons in 2020, representing only 5% of Brazil's total emissions.

Since 2010, when the National Policy on Climate Change (PNMC) was regulated, Brazil has increased its net emissions by 28% — an increase proportionally greater than that of gross emissions. This is because emissions increased faster than removals.

In addition to emissions, the SEEG also estimates the removal of greenhouse gases, so that it is possible to calculate the net balance. Brazilian native forests sequestered 636 million tons of CO2e(MtCO2), while emissions from this sector were 998MtCO2e. A substantial amount of CO2 absorption is concentrated in protected areas in the Amazon, like indigenous lands, conservation units, and others. For the first time, the report also included delayed emissions from forest fires, which result from the balance between the process of tree mortality and regeneration of vegetation in the years after a fire.

Considering removals, net emissions from Brazil reached 1.52GtCO2e, which represented an increase of 14% compared to 2019. Since 2010, when the National Policy on Climate Change (PNMC) was regulated, Brazil has increased its net emissions by 28% — an increase proportionally greater than that of gross emissions. This is because emissions increased faster than removals.

The SEEG report shows that Brazil is not moving towards fulfilling its Paris Agreement commitments or its PNMC goals. This is mainly due to the increase in the deforestation rate in the Amazon and the high rates of emissions from the agricultural sector. It is essential that the country resume its path of reducing emissions, and build a low-carbon economy in all key sectors of the Brazilian economy.


The physicist and USP professor Paulo Artaxo, an IPCC member, is writing about the COP26 especially for PlenaMata, direct from Glasgow. The opinion articles are the author's responsibility.

About the writer

Paulo Artaxo

Paulo Artaxo is a professor at USP's Institute of Physics, member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences (ABC), World Academy of Sciences (TWAS),...