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Why Brazil Matters

by Michael Levi
July 13, 2011

A new Council on Foreign Relations task force report always gets my attention. Task forces are painstaking efforts (trust me, I’ve directed one) spanning about a year each that bring together a couple dozen diverse figures to form consensus on a particular area of critical policy importance. The latest installment, released yesterday, is entitled Global Brazil and U.S.-Brazil Relations. It’s interesting in its own right, but it’s particularly relevant to those who focus on energy and environment.

Why? If you’re like me, you often tend to wonder where energy and environment really rank in the foreign policy hierarchy. Sure, people pay them lip service, but when push comes to shove, it’s not clear how much attention they’re paid. That’s why it’s striking to read this judgment from the task force:

“Energy and environmental issues provide Brazil with its most substantial platform for international influence.”

Indeed the report spends a full chapter on energy and environment, looking into everything from oil to biofuels to hydroelectricity to climate negotiations. Remember, this isn’t a bunch of energy experts saying this – it’s a host of foreign policy heavyweights (along with a few energy and environment experts too).

The other theme that stands out is the importance of Brazil’s global role. David Rothkopf, a task force member, captures it well on his blog:

“While it should hardly be seen as revolutionary that a country that is the fifth most populous in the world, encompasses the fifth-largest land mass of any nation, and, at expected rates of growth, will within a few years be home to the fifth-largest economy in the world should be seen not just as a leading regional power but as a vitally important global player, historical habits and old policy frameworks are hard to undo.”

That sounds about right. Brazil is going to play a big role in the future, including on energy and environment issues. Those who want to get smart about it now should read the report.

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