World Environment Day: As Brazil mobilizes to overcome challenges caused by unprecedented flooding, attention turns to driving global climate action

The sheep farmer and entrepreneur Bernardo Barbosa Ibargoyen (44) was prepared for the peak season for his business. The arrival of winter in the South Region of Brazil usually sees his business bloom as residents and tourists flock to restaurants in the state of Rio Grande do Sul looking for a taste of regional cuisine. His father is currently in charge of their farm, located in Santana do Livramento, a town on the border between Brazil and Uruguay, while Bernardo oversees the sale of meat cuts to restaurants in the state. The family has farmed livestock for four generations.

“I’ve had my own company for eight years. It is a small-scale business with extremely high-quality meat. Our animals are pasture-raised, helping to preserve the pampas”, says Bernardo, referring to the local biome, defined by low grasslands.

What Bernardo was not ready for was the heavy rainfall and widespread flooding that would leave hundreds of towns in Rio Grande do Sul under water for weeks. According to official figures released on Monday, the worst flooding in state history, which started at the end of April, affected 475 cities, displacing around 600 thousand residents and killing at least 172 people, with hundreds more injured. Rising river levels destroyed houses, shops, factories and vital infrastructure. The biggest airport in the state was closed indefinitely. People faced power cuts and internet outages. The total cost of reconstruction for the state is still being calculated by economists and the government, but initial estimates indicate it could exceed 20 billion US dollars.

Heavy rains - shutterstock_2459042469_0

Heavy rains and flooding disrupted life in Rio Grande do Sul. Photo: Cid Guedes / Shutterstock

“Our business had an 80% drop in revenue in May”, says Bernardo. “From one moment to the next, restaurants had to close and there was no one to buy our meat. About 20% of our meat stock spoiled due to the five-day power outage. We could not plant legumes to supplement our animals’ feed. Some of our lambs will likely die due to fungi caused by humidity in their hooves. They may also lose weight due to this unnecessary stress in wintertime.”

Bernardo lives in the state capital Porto Alegre, 500km from their farm in Santana do Livramento. The damaged roads and other infrastructure mean he cannot help his parents as often as before on the farm.

Confronted with this situation, Bernardo’s wife had an idea.

“Instead of using the little savings we had to pay the bills, she mobilized family members and friends to organize a movement to help small business owners like us.” This movement became an online platform, called “United Gaucho Producers”, through which food and beverage producers in Rio Grande do Sul can sell their products to restaurants outside the state.”

The road to climate resilience

United Gaucho Producers is part of the many national and international efforts mobilized to help the southern state. Local institutions, such as the Brazilian Support Service for Micro and Small Businesses in Rio Grande do Sul (Sebrae-RS), have set up direct contact channels to offer useful information to small companies during this time. The United Nations (UN) sent hundreds of temporary houses to shelter those affected by the flooding.

But looking beyond the immediate priority to provide relief to the flood’s victims, the catastrophic event serves as another reminder of the need to pursue bold action to counter the devastating impacts of climate change, such as sustainable industrial development initiatives supported by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

Rising global temperatures due to climate change have increased the frequency of extreme weather events. The WMO’s most recent State of Global Climate Report confirmed that 2023 was by far the warmest year on record.

Whether it’s flooding, drought, wildfires or extreme heatwaves, nearly half of the world’s population is highly vulnerable to climate impacts. World Environment Day, celebrated annually on 5 June and this year focusing on desertification, land degradation and drought resilience, serves as a reminder of the urgent need to act to ensure resilience against future climate disasters.

Reducing emissions and environmental degradation requires a radical change in production processes. Industry is responsible for about a third of greenhouse gas emissions but, at the same time, can become a leading provider of technological solutions, business models and green jobs. With new technologies and innovation, emissions can fall without slowing economic growth. The green transformation of industry is thus essential to accelerate the achievement of climate and sustainable development goals.


Source: IDR 2024 – Overview

Fighting climate change with technology and innovation

Technological solutions like energy from renewable sources can help cut greenhouse gas emissions and reduce carbon footprint. A great example is the UNIDO-implemented GEF Biogas Brazil project, which brings together the collective effort of international organizations, the private sector, industry associations and the Federal Government to climate-proof Brazil’s energy mix by turning agro-industrial and municipal solid waste into sustainable biogas, a renewable source of electricity, thermal energy, fuel, biofertilizer and other byproducts.

The GEF Biogas Brazil project is led by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation of Brazil (MCTI), implemented by UNIDO, funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and with CIBiogás as the main executing entity.

The project helps Brazil unlock its full economic and environmental potential and accelerate its energy transition by promoting sustainable business models, technological innovation, policy development as well as knowledge sharing and capacity building.

While planning the post-flooding reconstruction and also future growth, Brazil should prioritize low carbon materials and aim at creating incentives for industry to make that shift. Brazil can leverage low carbon innovations in heavy industries and tap into its competitive advantage to produce green steel and cement. These vital construction materials account for the majority of carbon emissions from the country’s industrial sector today, and their demand is expected to increase as Brazil, like other countries around the world, continue to industrialize, populations grow and living standards rise.

Brazil can benefit from its membership of the UNIDO-coordinated Industrial Deep Decarbonization Initiative and the Industrial Decarbonization Accelerator network, which promote collaboration to accelerate the deployment of low and near zero emissions technologies and enable Brazilian industries to shift to cleaner and more efficient processes. Moreover, Brazil and the United Kingdom have recently established a unique partnership to create an Industrial Decarbonization Hub to support the country’s ambitions for industrial decarbonization and green industrialization. These and other like-minded initiatives will cultivate Brazil’s potential to become a front-runner in global industry decarbonization efforts.

The country’s leadership in the Group of Twenty Leaders’ Summit (G20) in 2024, the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 30) in 2025 and the BRICS, the alliance of major developing countries, in 2026 provides a unique window of opportunity for Brazil to drive forward the climate agenda and lead a just and equitable energy transition.

The recent flooding will serve as a reminder that the time to act is now.

If you are a business owner and would like to join meaningful action towards creating a more sustainable future, contact UNIDO to get involved through projects, events, programmes and partnerships.

World Environment Day is one of the largest global platforms for public outreach regarding environmental challenges. Celebrated annually on 5 June and established by the UN General Assembly in 1972, the date is led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and serves a great opportunity to discuss what governments, citizens and the private sector can do to reduce the risks of extreme weather events in the future.

This article was originally posted on 05 June 2024 by UNIDO.