Skip to main content
KBS_Icon_questionmark link-ico
Climate diplomacy ;

Brazil and climate diplomacy

Brazil’s diplomatic corps relies on a long and impressive history of successful insertion into the international sphere. This can be traced back to the peaceful expansion of Brazil’s territory in the 19th century by chief diplomat Barão de Rio Branco, which inspired generations of diplomats. Most recently, Celso Amorim, Brazil’s foreign minister under President Lula was declared the world’s best foreign minister by Foreign Policy magazine due to his success at securing Brazil secure seats at negotiation tables from climate to nuclear disarmament to trade.

Sadly, this diplomatic prowess has not been visible in Brazil’s recent actions on one of the greatest challenges of our time: climate change. With the Amazonian rainforest in Brazil as one of the biggest carbon sinks on the planet, one might assume a strong diplomatic commitment to this year’s climate conference, COP-26. Since Brazil’s ongoing political crisis that began in 2014, foreign policy has been re-legated to a lower-tier priority, particularly visible under the current government of Jair Bolsonaro.

Nevertheless, Brazil has a long history of successful diplomatic action, a highly professional diplomatic service and a nascent, yet strong, track record in climate diplomacy. For the “Brazilian Voices on the Road to COP-26” project, former Brazilian Minister for the Environment, Izabela Teixeira, consultant and alumna of King’s Brazil Institute, Mathilde Chatin, and Pedro Feliú from the University of São Paulo share their assessment of what Brazilian diplomacy can contribute to the success of the climate summit.

Izabela Teixeira, served as Brazil’s delegation leader to the Paris climate conference. Drawing on this experience, she outlines the three dimensions that constitute success for COP-26.

  • Firstly, there is the visible outcome of the negotiation itself, which includes the establishment of more ambitious climate goals with human rights in mind, as well as transparency for the global carbon market to enable a race to global zero. Adaptation that puts inclusive growth on the local level at the center and emphasizes co-benefits of climate action are only two points that would mark a success. The re-orientation of global power structures and a strengthening of multilateralism are both, prerequisite for and desired outcome of the negotiations.
  • Secondly, the inclusion of all sectors of society and a wider set of commitments, including biodiversity and indigenous rights will be an important indicator of the success and viability of the results of the summit.
  • Lastly, the protection of rainforests needs to be a central outcome of the negotiations. In this realm, Brazil should work towards an understanding of the Amazon rainforest not only as a carbon sink but also as a stabilizer of the global climate. If this framing can be achieved, multilateral cooperation towards the protection of these areas seems more likely, including with modern financial instruments and developmental components.

Mathilde Chatin paints a grim picture of the impact of the current Brazilian administration on both, climate diplomacy and Brazil’s soft power standing in the world. While the Bolsonaro government emulated the Trump approach to climate policy – denial and deregulation – Brazil remained a party to the Paris climate accord. Still, Brazil opted to ease restrictions on deforestation and encouraged the expansion of agricultural development into the Amazon rainforest. While this might have served the country during the Trump administration, its reception by the Biden administration has been more critical with regard to human rights and climate concerns. Similarly, the EU-Mercosur trade agreement has been put on hold due to environmental concerns by European constituencies.

Pedro Feliú emphasizes Brazil’s strategic position as an environmental power. He outlines the options for Brazil to further insert itself into the multilateral system. Looking back at the Lula administration’s expansion of Brazilian diplomatic missions, he concludes that this model was not financially sustainable for Brazil in the long run. More recently, Brazil has demonstrated a strategic alignment with the United States. This option, however, has not proven unequivocally beneficial for Brazil and the strong dependence on personal diplomacy and external volatility caused by government changes in the Unites States make it unattractive as a long-term international strategy.

Environmental policy therefore seems to be the most promising strategy for Brazil’s international posture. This approach can position Brazil at the center of a debate between industrial and developing countries and allow for technological advancement and economic development within the boundaries of natural diversity. The central task for this redirection of Brazilian foreign policy would be to reinvigorate the Brazilian Development Agency as well as the departments at the Foreign Ministry that deal with climate change, the environment, and the respective international organizations.

All three contributors explicitly or implicitly see climate diplomacy as an opportunity for Brazil to re-establish itself as a serious player in the international realm. This is closely connected to Brazil’s main diplomatic asset that has suffered severely in recent years: soft power. This requires creating an international perception of Brazil that lends itself to acting as a role model or at least a reliable partner.

The crucial point in this attempted renewal of Brazilian foreign policy is that it largely depends on domestic factors. In this sense, the contributions lend themselves to constructivist or liberal interpretations of Brazil’s role in the world: climate diplomacy as an expression of Brazil’s responsibility to protect natural resources for a global good (Teixeira).

What seems to be missing is an interest-guided strategic objective for Brazil’s climate diplomacy. Or, in other words: soft power for what? The answer, again, can be found by looking at domestic issues. At times when Brazil was considered a global player, domestic policy was guided by ideas of the developmental state, the implicit or explicit strategic goal of the state to develop the national economy, national capabilities, and elevate the standard of living in the country. This was the overarching strategic goal towards which all policy, including foreign policy and climate diplomacy, aligned.

In a region of the world that has been spared of major wars in the past century, with stable neighborhood arrangements, and overall high levels of interstate security, the Brazil can – and probably has to – afford defining realist goals that go beyond security. Brazil’s decline in global influence demonstrates the vicious circle that occurs once policy lacks an active agenda. National development, aided by soft power and climate action, could inspire such an agenda. But as the contributors to the diplomacy section of the “Brazilian Voices on the Road to COP-26” project elaborate, domestic factors play a major role in the country’s ability to re-position itself. In this sense, the road to Glasgow must connect to Brasilia.

About the author

Diplomacy_Thomas AICGS(1)

Dr Thomas Froehlich is an ESRC-funded postdoctoral researcher at the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. His research examines the geopolitics of global climate change mitigation, and in particular the effects of the decarbonization of the global energy system. Thomas holds a PhD in International Relations from King’s College London and a Master’s degree in Political Science from the University of Munich. He has extensive work experience as a political consultant for the private sector, international organizations and grassroots movements. His most recent book is called “Brazil’s International Ethanol Strategy – Lula’s Quest for a Global Biofuels Market” and was published in early September 2021.

Video contributions


Dr Izabella Teixeira holds a B.Sc. in Biological Sciences from the University of Brasília, and a M.Sc. and Ph.D. in Energy Planning from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. She is also a specialist in Environmental Management, Environmental Impact Assessment and Environmental Licensing. She was Brazil's Minister of the Environment (2010-16). From 2008 to 2010, she was the Deputy Minister of the Environment. A career public servant, Mrs Teixeira has held a position at the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Natural Resources since 1984. She had also held several high-level management and advisory positions as Head of the Institute’s Environmental Quality Department, Task Leader of the National Environmental Program (with the World Bank), of the National Program on Chemicals, and the Pantanal Wetlands Program (with the Inter-American Development Bank). She also held positions at the State of Rio de Janeiro as Supervisor of Environmental Studies, Task Leader of the Clean-up Program of the Guanabara Bay, Chief of Staff of Rio´s Secretariat for the Environment and Undersecretary for the Environment. Today she works as a private consultant on environmental and climate change issues. In 2017, she was elected as co-chair of the International Resource Panel.

Mathilde Chatin

Dr Mathilde Chatin holds a PhD in International Relations from King’s College London. She has been a fellow at the BRICS Policy Center in Rio de Janeiro and a visiting scholar in the Department of International Relations of the University of São Paulo. Her publications about Brazil include: Chatin M. (2016) “Brazil: an analysis of a rising soft power” Journal of Political Power, 9(3), pp.369-393. Chatin M. (2018) “Sous-marin à propulsion nucléaire: dissuasion, développement et autonomie technologique” Champs de Mars, 30, pp.285-293. Chatin M. (2019) “Lula’s Brazil in Africa: cultural diplomacy as an instrument of soft power” Revista de Estudos Culturais, 4, pp.37-51. Chatin M. (2019) “Brésil : la politique étrangère de Jair Bolsonaro” Politique Étrangère, 2. Chatin M. (2019) Brazil: a new powerhouse without military strength? Riga: Dictus Publishing. 

Pedro Feliu

Dr Pedro Feliú Ribeiro is an Assistant Professor in the International Relations Institute of the University of São Paulo (USP), Brazil. He is also a researcher within the Center of Studies of International Negotiations (CAENI-USP). He holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of São Paulo and his research agenda covers foreign policy analysis in Latin America and legislative studies.

Latest news


4 March 2024

KCLDAA Alumni Weekend 2024

Two days of lectures gave people the opportunity to enjoy a more extensive programme this year. As…