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Unpacking Brazil's Leadership in the Global Biofuels Arena: Brazilian Ethanol Diplomacy in Africa

Afionis, S; Stringer, LC; Favretto, N; Tomei, J; Buckeridge, MS; (2016) Unpacking Brazil's Leadership in the Global Biofuels Arena: Brazilian Ethanol Diplomacy in Africa. Global Environmental Politics , 16 (3) pp. 127-150. 10.1162/GLEP_a_00369. Green open access

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Biofuels represent an opportunity for Brazil to exert global leadership by substantially scaling up the production, consumption, and international trade of bioethanol. Africa represents an ideal venue in which to do this, given its suitable agro-climatic conditions and extensive land area. Brazil has consequently sought to establish bilateral partnerships with African countries, as well as North-South-South trilateral partnerships involving the EU and US. However, empirically grounded assessments of how Brazil’s leadership aspirations have unfolded in practice through these partnerships are limited. In this article, we examine Brazil’s potential to exert global political leadership, by analyzing its policy-based, structural, and instrumental qualities in making bilateral and trilateral inroads regarding bioethanol production in Africa. Interviews in Brazil, Africa, and Europe suggest that both the bilateral and trilateral avenues have produced meager results. Lack of domestic strategy and vision, economic recession, and a fragmented alliance network have reduced Brazil’s capacity to achieve its ethanol diplomacy objectives. The rise of major emerging powers has elicited considerable debate, interest, and speculation in the field of global change. Brazil, India, and China are challenging the traditional dominance of the Global North, seeking to capitalize on their newly acquired strategic assets by undertaking political initiatives aimed at reforming global governance (Hopewell 2015). The formation of the trade and financial G20s indicates their growing presence in key decision-making fora like the World Trade Organization, while their deal-brokering role during the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference signaled their emergence as pivotal actors in global environmental negotiations. Despite the proliferating literature on the implications of their growing status, empirical assessments of emerging powers’ leadership strengths and weaknesses within specific issue areas remain scarce. Although studies have focused on their leadership potential, either individually or collectively, in relation to the climate change regime (Hochstetler and Viola 2012; Papa and Gleason 2012), similar investigations are largely lacking with respect to biofuels, which is a policy area in which Brazil is often portrayed as a global leader. However, empirically grounded assessments of Brazil’s leadership are limited, a lacuna that this study aims to address. Brazil has a long tradition in biofuels, based on the production of first-generation ethanol using sugarcane as feedstock.1 Consequently, over time, Brazil has developed substantial technological and scientific expertise for this specific crop and production technology, which it has explicitly sought to diffuse abroad through technical knowledge transfer, exchange of best practices, and private-sector investment, otherwise known as “ethanol diplomacy.” For Brazilian policy-makers, transforming the country into a world leader in bioenergy and creating a global biofuels market are central political objectives (Dalgaard 2012). The prerequisite for biofuels to develop into a globally traded commodity is a market with a constellation of countries not only consuming, but also producing, biofuels (Dalgaard 2012). The African continent is vital to Brazil’s ambitions. First, climatic parameters are important for the growth of energy crops. Sugarcane is a tropical crop, so sugarcane-based ethanol can only be produced in parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America—that is, in countries located in tropical climatic zones similar to those of Brazil. Environmental similarities between the agro-climatic conditions in the African savannahs and the Brazilian cerrado therefore provide a familiar agro-ecological context, which has prompted Brazilian policy-makers to explore the replication of their sugarcane-ethanol model in Africa’s savannahs (Amorim 2010). This idea was the driving force behind ethanol diplomacy in Africa during the administration of President Lula, whose prevailing view at the time was that African countries could meet part of their energy needs by imitating Brazil’s experience, albeit at a lesser scale.2 Second, geographical factors are pertinent, because Africa is perceived as endowed with vast tracts of land into which to expand biofuel production (Dalgaard 2012; White 2013)—in contrast to, for example, Central American and Caribbean countries, whose limited land availability effectively rules out investments of more than 20,000 hectares.3 Finally, Brazil and Africa share affinities due to Brazil’s close cultural, historical, and economic ties with a number of Lusophone African countries, such as Mozambique, Angola, and Cape Verde. Indeed, business, language, and the African roots of Brazilian black culture are considered key forces behind Brazil’s drive to deepen relations with the continent.4 Several benefits would ideally accrue from increased growth of the global biofuels market. For Brazil, it would provide a leadership opportunity linked to increased visibility, strategic positioning in an emerging global market, and expansion opportunities for its commercial sector. Africa is envisaged to benefit through reduced oil dependency and foreign debt, as well as stimulation of rural development and enhanced economic activities (Favretto et al. 2013). Except for South Africa, ethanol production in the African countries with the greatest potential for sugarcane cultivation exceeds domestic demands for blending, thereby creating export opportunities (Johnson and Batidzirai 2012). This article applies a leadership theoretical framework, alongside empirical evidence, to evaluate Brazil’s quest to exert global leadership within the biofuels arena, focusing specifically on its bilateral and trilateral partnerships involving African countries. It draws on secondary data from government documents, reports, and scientific studies, as well as on interviews with Brazilian, African, and EU stakeholders. Primary data were gathered through fifty-four semistructured interviews carried out across Brazil (March 2013, August–September 2014, and September 2015), EU headquarters (October 2013), and Africa (October 2013, July 2014, and May–June 2015) (see the Appendix for the full list). A purposive sample and snowballing approach were used to identify respondents.

Type: Article
Title: Unpacking Brazil's Leadership in the Global Biofuels Arena: Brazilian Ethanol Diplomacy in Africa
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1162/GLEP_a_00369
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1162/GLEP_a_00369
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © 2016 Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Published under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/).
Keywords: Science & Technology, Social Sciences, Life Sciences & Biomedicine, Environmental Studies, Political Science, Environmental Sciences & Ecology, Government & Law, Climate change, Cooperation, Regime, Policy
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment > Bartlett School Env, Energy and Resources
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1508224
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