São Paulo, Brazil and California, USA: Sustainability Partners?

Sustainability Framework Comparison :: Excerpt from Upcoming Policy in Motion Book

–contributed by Amanda Bradshaw; Policy in Motion Intern, Columbia University Graduate Student

In 2005, the State of California and the State of São Paulo, Brazil formally signed an agreement which initiated a partnership between both states to share technical and political expertise to measure and combat the effects of climate change.  More than just a spontaneous decision between the respective Secretaries of the Environment, this agreement was rather a formal acknowledgement of the similarities between both states.  For example, each is responsible for the largest portion of its nation’s economic production; each is the most populous state in its country—and among the most populous in the world—with more than 35 million residents; each is home to the region with the greatest air pollution in its country—the Greater Los Angeles area and San Joaquin Valley in California and the São Paulo Metropolitan Region in São Paulo; each is particularly vulnerable to the threat of global climate change; and each is a leader in the introduction of alternative fuels in pursuit of lowering local pollutants and GHG emissions ([i]).

On a global scale, this partnership was also a formal response to the perceived inability of international agreements to benefit the environmental leadership of both states.  For example, Brazil is exempted from mandatory reductions under the Kyoto Protocol, which establishes that GHG emissions should be reduced among the industrialized-country parties by 5.2 percent from 1990 levels by 2012.  The United States has signed, but not ratified, this Protocol.   However, even in the absence of international reduction commitments, actions by states like São Paulo in Brazil and California in the United States are demonstrating that a broad scope exists for actions that go beyond “business as usual” and achieve significant savings in GHG emissions (i).

On June 5, 2009, São Paulo became the first of Latin America’s cities to implement a citywide plan to address climate change— and the first city to do so in the developing world. The citywide action plan, codified into law, aims to reduce Sao Paulo’s citywide greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent of 2005 levels by 2012 through several measures comprehensively focused on transportation, renewable energy, energy efficiency, waste management, construction and land use ([ii]).

What makes the experience of São Paulo so exceptional is that it goes against the generalization that such “megacities” are “environmentally stressed” and inherently ill-equipped to address the challenges that both rapid urbanization and climate change present. Such portrayals attempt to legitimize the perception that countries like Brazil are late adopters of ideas of environmental responsibility, and thus necessarily solicit the influence of international environmental norms and standards ([iii]).

On the contrary, political opportunities in Brazil have arisen from major political transformations that have propelled Brazilian environmentalism.  These include the recent transition to democracy and a modern tradition of public participation, which have been more important in shaping outcomes than assumed.  Thus the case of São Paulo, similar to the case of California, highlights that contextual political processes, such as political institutions, regulatory frameworks at municipal, state, and national levels, and pressures from civil society, underscore the success of urban planning effort and interventions.

([i]) No Reason to Wait: The Benefits of Greenhouse Gas Reductions in Brazil and Sao Paulo. http://www.climatechange.ca.gov/publications/others/GOLDEMBERG_LLOYD_2005-12-02.PDF. Accessed July 27 2011.

([ii]) Robinson, Kaleigh. “Sao Paulo Adopts Comprehensive Climate Change Policy.” http://www.wri.org/stories/2009/08/sao-paulo-adopts-comprehensive-climate-change-policy. Accessed July 27 2011

([iii]) Hochstetler, Kathryn and Margaret E. Keck. Greening Brazil: Environmental Activism in State and Society. New York: Duke University Press, 2007.




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