Can Brazil’s President Rousseff help Obama’s climate legacy?

rousseffBrazil’s first female president, Dilma Rousseff, will meet with President Obama Monday evening to discuss climate change and the environment, amidst revelations that the National Security Agency (NSA) spied on her communications, the AP is reporting today. Some believe the meeting will demonstrate to the world that the two countries have put aside their acrimony for the good of the planet. In 2013, it was learned the NSA also hacked into Brazil’s robust communications systems as well as Rousseff’s private communications.

The two-day visit is also part of Obama’s ongoing, orchestrated attempts to lock in commitments (and his legacy) by Brazil and other countries ahead of the upcoming Paris Climate Conference in December. So far, Rousseff has not announced what her country will do, if anything, to address so-called greenhouse gas emissions. Brazil is part of a majority of nations that has not made any binding commitments with regard to the December climate treaty talks.

All told there are 196 countries involved in the upcoming Paris conference, and the first and third largest carbon dioxide emitters (China and India, respectively) have not made any legally binding agreements. Any climate treaty involving the U.S. would also need to be ratified by the Congress, though the just-passed Trade Promotion Authority may give Obama a way to bypass them altogether. After Monday’s dinner with Obama, they will meet again on Tuesday for more “formal talks” followed by a joint news conference, where Rousseff is expected to announce Brazil’s commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Brazil is one of the largest exporters of petroleum and is also the second largest maker (behind America) of the controversial gasoline additive ethanol. Rousseff, who is serving her second term as Brazil’s first female president, had canceled an earlier meeting scheduled a few years back when it was learned that the “NSA had spied on her communications.” Reports showed that the NSA had illegally hacked the state-owned oil company Petrobras’ computer network and “stole billions of emails and telephone calls that passed through Brazil.”

Rousseff has come under fire lately for her country’s dismal “economic performance erupting from a massive corruption scandal involving Petrobras.” According to the NY TImes, Petrobras pumps 90 percent of the country’s oil, owns all of Brazil’s refineries, operates thousands of miles of pipelines, and is the primary retailer of gasoline and diesel as it owns the largest chain of service stations.

Late last year, Brazil’s top prosecutor charged many of Petrobras’s suppliers and subcontractors on accusations they had “bribed executives in return for inflated contracts, forcing the oil giant to halt new contracts with some of the country’s biggest engineering and oil services firms.” This in turn had a ripple effect on the entire country. President Rousseff, who had served on the Petrobras’ board, has not been implicated in the scandal.

With the Petrobras incident negatively influencing every aspect of Brazil’s economy, protests have erupted across the country to protest Rousseff’s handling of the scandal. Some believe that having Obama warmly embrace the beleaguered Brazilian president will help her approval ratings back home. But because Rousseff is not coming to the White House as part of a “state visit,” she won’t get the formal “welcome ceremony on the White House South Lawn or be celebrated with the formal State Dinner.”

If Rousseff chooses not to make any binding agreements to cut emissions ahead of the upcoming Paris Climate Talks, not getting all the usual pomp and circumstance may suit everyone just fine.

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