Ana Yang, Acting Director of Climate Change of CIFF is the current president of the iCS’ Board. In this conversation, she talks about the process of creating Clima e Sociedade, the importance of having a 100% Brazilian institute and examines the role of philanthropy in the world. In addition, Ana touches on a subject that has a lot of resonance in Brazil: the need to create a line of arguments about the climate without mentioning the climate; focusing, instead, on economic and social development. Please find the full interview below.

iCS: Ana, thank you for your time. How do you analyze the climate issue in Brazil, in light of this scenario of political and economic crisis?

Ana Yang: I was wondering if I should be optimistic or pessimistic about what is happening in Brazil. I do not know if it is possible to have both a positive outlook and negative expectations. But I’ll explain.

If we look at the trajectory of Brazil’s performance on the climate issue, and the role that the country has played in international negotiations since Copenhagen, the outlook is very positive, both from the point of view of how Brazil acts internationally and in terms of its leadership role. Brazil has always played a leading role and, therefore, I hope that, with this track record, we will continue in this path.

With that said, at the current juncture – looking more specifically to the last 12 months, since Dilma Rousseff’s second term and her impeachment – I feel that things have degenerated a bit. Especially now, with Temer being held hostage by the rural party to stay in power, there has been a relaxation of a series of environmental laws, which can generate significant impact in this trajectory.

I try to maintain an optimistic view and believe that even with the crisis, and Brazil has been through several crises, the country’s leadership role has been preserved. But looking forward, at least over the next 12 months, especially as the rate of deforestation increases (which is linked to a sense of impunity), I do not have a positive outlook.

iCS: And, when looking into the Brazilian NDC, how does your vision stand?

AY: The environmental movement clearly says that we could have been more ambitious; in any case, the Brazilian NDC, comparatively speaking, is decent. Historically, Brazil has a consultation process, a format that provides for dialogue, mainly thanks to the Brazilian Forum on Climate Change. I do not know if this dialogue actually happens, but in any event this is better than what happens in other countries. In addition to the Forum, there are inter-ministerial committees to study the climate issue. In short, Brazil has a good framework, which is poorly implemented.

ICS: How do you imagine that the United States’ exit from the Paris Agreement could affect it? Can nations such as Brazil, large emitters of greenhouse gases, make any further moves to show that the planet remains united in facing climate change?

AY: The announcement of the US intention to leave (because it takes a few years for them, in fact, to leave the Agreement) is a sign. But what we need to remember, and what is one of the strengths of the Paris Agreement, is that its success depends not only on national governments but also on subnational players such as cities who can do a number of things, and corporations, for example.

Therefore, the announcement of the US exit is more of a perception than a real impact. We do not know yet. Since Trump announced his intention to leave, we saw other players stepping forward and saying that they maintain their commitment, that they will deliver on the commitments made under their NDCs. Seeing from this side, I think the American announcement is not necessarily negative.

But the big question that is still up in the air is about 2020. The cycles of the Agreement are reviewed every five years. Could we expect that, in 2020, the countries will sit at the table and step up to more ambitious contributions, or show that no progress has been made? That means that we will only know if the Agreement is actually working in 2020, and, at that time, we cannot fail. Beginning next year, the countries will start to show what they have been doing, something like a midterm review.

iCS: Ana, speaking specifically about iCS, we are one of only a few philanthropic institutions in Brazil with a focus on climate change. How do you analyze the role of the Institute and its relevance in the national scenario?

AY: CIFF was one of the founders of iCS. We helped to create it precisely because there was no institution in Brazil dealing with the issue of mitigation and climate in the country. In the initial discussions we were two Brazilians, myself and Leonardo (Lacerda, Director of the Environment Program of the OAK Foundation, and a member of the iCS board), and we always insisted that Clima e Sociedade should be a 100% Brazilian institution. This is because the climate issue is deeply associated to a debate about economic and social development. There is a perception, not only in Brazil (in China and India too, for example), about the legitimacy of an international institution to question the development process of a country. So when we thought about iCS, we knew that it would need to have a 100% Brazilian profile and that it should be focused on the climate issue, with a combination of technical capacity, based on facts and evidence, but also that it should have an excellent reading of the political situation.

In my opinion, the climate issue in Brazil is not really about the climate per se, but actually about development. Which development path will the country choose? The debate should not be whether or not Brazil will be the largest food producer, but rather how can we achieve that role while reducing deforestation, using low-carbon agriculture, etc.

iCS: Why, when we deal with philanthropy, the climate issue has an important role in Europe and the United States (including family-based philanthropy), but is still in its infancy in our country? In your opinion, what are some feasible alternatives to reverse these scenarios?

AY: My theory is that this happens because in the US and in Europe there is a legal framework that applies to very wealthy individuals, which encourages the creation of philanthropic entities. That’s why there are entities that are more than 100 years old, like the Ford Foundation, for example. In Brazil, there is no incentive to invest money in philanthropy.

The second point is that there is a theory of stages through which philanthropic institutions go through. Stage 1, in which most Brazilian institutions are, is the philanthropy of the environment, which includes, for example, actions that benefit the state where the company is located or where the owner of the money lives. Stage 2, in which some Brazilian institutions are now entering, broadens the horizon for more systemic issues, with interconnected themes. Stage 3 bring professionalization to the table and the institutions have structured boards, hire an independent CEO, among others measures.

iCS was practically born in stage 3, with a professional board and a professional CEO, but it still needs other funders. iCS is a unique case. Philanthropy in Brazil is still evolving, and in developing countries like ours there are a number of other problems to solve, such as education, so it is natural that the focus of philanthropy is on other issues.

iCS: How do philanthropic institutions come together, at this time, to work on issues, such as climate change policy and economics? How do they collaborate internationally and how can this process gain momentum in Brazil?

AY: I think it can work in two ways. First, if they have a common agenda. For example, the energy efficiency agenda of iCS is synergistic with that of a sister organization, one that is much larger and older – the European Climate Foundation (ECF) . In that case, programmatic collaboration can occur and iCS can learn from what the ECF has been doing in the energy field.

The second possible way of collaboration is through tactics, such as campaigns, for example. The model is transferable in the case of various themes, such as urban issues, deforestation, among others.

And I think iCS can teach how to connect the climate narrative with that of the development. The big question we have today is how to talk about climate without talking about climate? For me, Brazil has much greater potential to learn how to construct this narrative than other countries.

iCS: In your view, how can more players be added to a debate as important as this one in Brazil?

AY: One of the things we learned in Paris is that the debate turned very technical, and not very accessible. One of the improvements that we need to make, and I’m talking about a climate movement, is how to translate the climate issue into issues that matter to the general population, and especially to Brazil, to the voters? If you talk about opportunities for mitigation in the urban context, you have already lost the battle. Now if you talk about how to think of a more livable city, or how to imagine the city of the future, your chances of mobilizing people increase a lot. This is because this debate generates discussion about the type of energy we have, the type of public transport, and it is much more interesting for the population. This is our challenge: to get out of the technical discussion and into the discussion of issues that are dear to people’s hearts.

For example, we have several projects in China. We never went in to talk to the government about climate. We talked about air quality. Since political stability depends on Chinese people’s perception that they live in healthy cities, the issue of air quality has become a topic that pervades many others, from consumption to the energy matrix. And all without ever talking about the climate. It is necessary to find a topic of interest for the Brazilian cities. Addressing cultural and identity issues is much more powerful.

iCS: Between June 19 and 22, the “Brazil Deep Dive” meeting took place in Rio de Janeiro. Such event brought together fifteen philanthropic organizations from Brazil, the United States and Europe to discuss the directions of climate change and funding for theme. This meeting was organized by the ClimateWorks Foundation, with major collaboration from iCS and other institutions. Could you describe how was your experience, and what was the importance of this meeting?

AY: I liked a lot, and even talked, at the end of one of the sessions, that I was deeply grateful to the people that had invested their time to share ideas, to sit and listen. I left simultaneously optimistic and pessimistic in the short term. I had the feeling that there is a group of people thinking about how the Brazil of tomorrow should be, and we share this vision.

iCS brought very relevant partners to the debate, including specialists in land use, energy, urban agenda, among others. This is very important, especially in Brazil, where urban activities have an impact on land use because of the ethanol, the model of electricity generation has the same impact due to hydroelectric plants and so on.

What we could not do was the trade off talks. If we want a cleaner energy matrix, we may need to have a certain number of hydroelectric plants. But part of the environmental movement does not want that. There is a negative standing that we must overcome, with a conversation based on data. I have the feeling that things are very polarized and iCS has a key role of acting as an intermediary, bringing all the parties to the same table.

We have a lot of homework to do, but there is hope.

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