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Development of Policy-Relevant Dialogues on Barriers and Enablers for the Transition to Low-Carbon Mobility in Brazil

Daniel Neves Schmitz Gonçalves
George Vasconcelos Goes
Márcio de Almeida D’Agosto
1 and
Emilio Lebre La Rovere
Program of Transportation Engineering, Technology Center, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (URFJ/COPPE), Rio de Janeiro 21941-909, Brazil
Energy Planning Program, Technology Center, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (URFJ/COPPE), Rio de Janeiro 21941-909, Brazil
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2022, 14(24), 16405;
Submission received: 22 September 2022 / Revised: 4 November 2022 / Accepted: 5 December 2022 / Published: 8 December 2022
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Effects of CO2 Emissions Control on Transportation and Its Energy Use)


Establishing viable targets and pathways to achieve low-carbon mobility is proving to be a growing challenge, especially in emerging economies. Brazil has faced persistent economic and political crises, impacting current and future climate policies. The acceleration of resource exploitation and environmental degradation has increased the role of the transport sector in mitigating Brazilian emissions. Despite advances in instruments aimed at high-capacity infrastructure and the biodiesel and ethanol markets, electric mobility and other advanced biofuels, such as biokerosene and green diesel, are moving slowly. Part of this stems from severe technical, policy, and financial barriers that need to be addressed. This paper identifies the main barriers faced and the instruments needed to accelerate decarbonization in the Brazilian transport sector. To this purpose, a stakeholder-oriented approach is developed and applied to distill low-carbon opportunities and enablers over the next decade. This article reveals the important relationship between climate commitments, the different obstacles faced, and the possible consequences, taking different perspectives on appropriate reference points. By 2025, instruments aimed at electric mobility and public transport, although still scarce in current policies, will have greater potential for implementation. This contrasts with other advanced biofuels, which are not expected until the end of the decade.

1. Introduction

Brazil is one of the world’s largest producers of biofuels. Specifically, it is the second-largest producer of ethanol and the third-largest producer of biodiesel [1]. Nonetheless, Brazil is still heavily dependent on mineral diesel. Since 1980, the share of diesel in the total energy demand for transport has fluctuated between 34% and 53% [2]. In addition, the modal split is still concentrated in road transport. This is especially worrying given the history of manifestations and trucker strikes in Brazil, which, for example, severely impacted freight activity in 2018, with shortages of food, medical supplies, and fuels [3].
The increase in the percentage of biodiesel blending since 2005, as a mechanism to improve energy security, as well as to balance the modal split, was not enough to reduce the demand for mineral diesel. The RenovaBio program, launched in 2016, was developed to meet NDC’s goals by certifying producers to obtain decarbonization credits to be acquired by fuel distributors, considering annual mandatory quotas, or negotiated in the market. However, recent decisions made by the Brazilian government have reduced the potential of the program.
In 2020, the government updated the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), removing sectoral targets and reducing its ambition [4]. In the same year, the government exempted the volume of 750 million liters per year of anhydrous ethanol from import duties during negotiations with the United States [5]. Unlike hydrous ethanol, anhydrous ethanol is sold mixed with gasoline. This measure not only stimulated gasoline consumption but also reduced the competitiveness of local producers. More recently, the government approved for the first time a reduction in the content of biodiesel in diesel blends from 13% to 10% [6]. Finally, the government has reduced the federal and state tax burden on fossil fuels [6,7].
To date, Brazil has announced two climate commitments: the Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMA) and the NDC. The first, submitted to the Climate Convention in 2010, establishes legal commitments to reduce carbon emissions by 2020, while the other, ratified in 2016 but revised in 2020 and 2022, focuses on 2030. In their initial versions, both commitments are based on the intensive use of biofuels and energy efficiency gains as the main strategy to mitigate transport emissions.
While progress has been made in tackling greenhouse gas emissions, the decisions mentioned show that the biofuels market should not be seen as the only alternative for a low-carbon development path in the Brazilian transport sector. Moreover, biofuel-based technologies need to deal with the increasingly dominant position of electric vehicles (EV) on the international stage. In addition, instruments (as an effect of national programs such as Rota 2030, based on tax incentives for research and development, and the Brazilian Vehicle Labelling Program (PBEV), to benchmark and improve competitiveness in the sector) based on energy efficiency gains were not efficient in promoting electric mobility, as they have focused on internal combustion engines. In addition, large infrastructure projects (mainly linked to the Investment Partnerships (PPI) program, launched in 2016) associated with high-capacity modes of transport must deal with persistent economic crises in Brazil [8].
As in other economies, the commitments made, and actions launched, focus on technological and infrastructural measures. Hence, the incorporation of demand-side measures emerges as an important task for Brazilian decision makers. Possible options in this regard include avoidance of travel (teleactivities, changes in lifestyles, social norms, etc.), technology and energy choices, as well as changes in service provision and associated socio-technical transitions [9].
The Brazilian Forum on Climate Change (FBMC) has historically been one of the main instruments for debating barriers and enablers for low-emission strategies in Brazil. However, since 2019, events related to the transport sector have been suspended. In the same period, irregularities such as deforestation and mining in protected areas increased emissions from Agriculture, Forestry, and other land uses (AFOLU), the most emitting sector. These actions have reduced the potential to reach the climate commitments made and increase the role of the transport sector in future mitigation. This condition may also influence other Latin American countries, such as Colombia and Peru, whose future policy instruments tend to focus on a combination of energy supply and demand and AFOLU emissions.
Considering the issues raised, investigating the barriers and obstacles to the decarbonization of the Brazilian transport sector, as well as proposing feasible instruments, has become an urgent political need. This study seeks to resume discussions on barriers and enablers for transport-related mitigation actions and propose a roadmap to address the policy instruments needed to accelerate decarbonization. To this purpose, a stakeholder-oriented approach is developed, aiming to diagnose the main problems that impact the fulfillment of the environmental commitments assumed and to propose contour instruments.
After this introduction, the remainder of this paper is organized as follows. In Section 2, the background of the Brazilian transport sector is presented. In Section 3, the materials methods are detailed. Section 4 presents the results after two rounds of stakeholder interviews. Conclusions and policy implications are presented in Section 5.

2. Background

The transport sector is the world’s largest consumer of petroleum-based fuels, accounting for 60% of global oil demand [10]. About 23% of the world’s final energy use and 14% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions originate from transport activities [11]. Likewise, the Brazilian transport sector is responsible for 33% of national energy use and 13% of GHG emissions [12].
As seen in Figure 1, road transport represented 91% of passenger transport activity and 54% of freight transport activity in 2019. This mode has historically been used to transport goods over continental distances, reflecting its high participation in the Brazilian modal split. Massive investments in the automobile industry from the 1950s onwards, in contrast to the lack of incentives for high-capacity transport modes, can explain the current situation [13]. Brazil has approximately 30 thousand kilometers of railways, but less than a third are used [14]. Lastly, approximately 40 thousand kilometers of waterways are viable for inland navigation, although only a quarter is used [15].
Public transport is continuously losing passengers to other modes of transport. Although the proportion of the urban population in the country has increased from 78% to 86% between 1996 and 2016, the annual number of passengers transported by urban public transport by bus has evolved differently [16,17]. In 1996, 461 million passengers were transported by urban buses in Brazil, dropping to 324 million 20 years later, a reduction of approximately 30% [18]. This may be associated, among other reasons, with a history of public policies aimed at the individual use of motorized passenger transport. For instance, on two occasions between 2008 and 2012, the Brazilian government approved the reduction of the Tax on Industrialized Products (IPI) on motor vehicles, substantially increasing their commercialization [19].
The continuous reduction in the number of users directly impacts the fare revenue for public bus transport services in Brazil, leading to further fare increases. Between 1996 and 2016, the average fare increased by 848%, more than twice the inflation index for the period (387%) [18]. This tariff adjustment can be explained by the concession model prevalent in Brazilian cities, where the cost of the system is covered by the tariff revenue. Therefore, the negative impacts on demand tend to be converted into tariff increases. This, combined with a fleet of buses that does not meet international standards of comfort, further reduces the attractiveness of this mode of transport, encouraging migration to other means, such as private cars and motorcycles.
New services promoted by emerging technologies such as ride-hailing applications are offered as low-cost options for users, competing with collective modes of transport, such as metro or bus systems, mainly on profitable short-distance trips. Therefore, public bus transport also had part of its demand captured by these types of services. As operating costs are not optimized, the reduction in passenger demand leads to an increase in fares, intensifying passenger evasion. The crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the demand and supply of public bus transport, aggravating the vicious circle already mentioned. Sixty days after the start of emergency containment measures, demand reached 29% of the level before the pandemic and the supply of buses decreased by 32%, resulting in a total loss of approximately 400 million dollars [20].
An effect coming from the COVID-19 pandemic is an unexpected increase in teleactivities, especially telecommuting, which reached 10% in 2020 among employed workers in Brazil [21]. However, the participation of teleactivities is quite uneven in its coverage. For example, telecommuting reached 13% in the southeast region and only 4% in the northern region. Furthermore, a broad instrument to stimulate teleactivities had not yet been formulated.

3. Materials and Methods

The developed method for identifying mitigation measures, barriers, and policy instruments aimed at environmental commitments is illustrated in Figure 2. Fundamentally, it covers four phases: (i) a literature review; (ii) a sector description; (iii) interviews; and (iv) a roadmap.
Phase 1 establishes a conceptual basis for the study, identifying potential mitigation measures, barriers, and policy instruments that may be related to Brazilian NDCs. This step consists of literature reviews on ongoing Brazilian programs and transport mitigation measures. Scientific articles and technical reports are then analyzed based on keywords to be defined in the planning phase. From this process, a wide range of government strategies are addressed, as well as possible barriers.
Phase 2, carried out concurrently with Phase 1, describes the Brazilian transport sector. In this process, all modes of transport and their data sources are detailed, considering the activity, energy use, and emission profile. Subsequently, it is possible to map the main stakeholders who can contribute to the scope of the study. The mapping process includes grouping stakeholders in specific areas, such as governmental bodies, the business sector, the scientific community, and non-governmental organizations. The importance of this procedure is to understand the interrelationships between the factors that affect the climate response of the transport sector, helping to answer the following research question: “What are the barriers related to the identified mitigation measures and how to overcome them?”.
Hence, in Phase 3, structured and semi-structured interviews with the identified stakeholders are conducted to structure and refine the most important mitigation options, barriers, and policy instruments collected in Phase 1. The research instrument adopted in the development of the structured interview is a questionnaire, applied through electronic forms. To guide the interviews, respondents are asked to assign the degree of importance on a five-point Likert scale (1 equivalent to not important and 5 to very important) and the order of priority for each of them. In addition, open-ended questions are designed so that stakeholders can mention other motivations and barriers not covered in the previous questions. Possible policy instruments to overcome barriers are also questioned, as well as including success cases and suggestions for the next steps from the point of view of each stakeholder group.
The collected data are tabulated and analyzed, verifying the consistency of the responses with parameters collected in Phases 1 and 2. After evaluating the results, stakeholders with the most consistent responses are selected for the semi-structured interview. The selection criteria include critical analysis of the problem, interest in participating, availability of time, experience in the area, and technical knowledge.
The semi-structured interviews, lasting approximately one hour and conducted by videoconference, follow a script previously made available to the interviewee. This script consists of five stages. The first of which is the presentation of the study and the research team; the second focuses on the motivations for implementing a particular mitigation measure; in the third stage, the related barriers are discussed; in the fourth, possible policy instruments are collected; and the fifth step is reserved for outlining an implementation roadmap.
A content analysis technique is then used to analyze all information collected (Phase 4). The protocol considers frequency counts with summarization by means of cross-tabulation and graphs [22]. Priority barriers and instruments to be implemented in the country, as well as their inclusion in a roadmap, are established at this stage.

4. Results and Discussion

As previously stated, the transport mitigation measures presented in the Brazilian NAMA and NDC focused on the intensive use of bioenergy and gains in energy efficiency, without further consideration of how to achieve these goals. Table 1 shows the commitments made by Brazil to the UNFCCC.
An effort was made to translate the general targets into mitigation measures at the technological and infrastructure level, based on the local background, to better represent the transformations necessary to meet or even exceed the commitments assumed. Along these lines, the following mitigation measures were considered in this analysis: vehicle fleet electrification, energy efficiency gains, urban public transport improvements, electrification of transport networks, redesign of transport networks, and increased use of biofuels. Up to this point, they have been considered only to outline the scope of each barrier.
Sixty-three stakeholders from the business sector, governmental bodies, the scientific community, and non-governmental organizations were interviewed. The list of stakeholders consulted by category and affiliation is provided in Appendix A. The main mitigation measures, instruments, and their related barriers, considering the conducted literature reviews and interviews, are summarized in Appendix B. Mitigation actions, enablers and corresponding barriers marked in bold are currently the most indicated to be addressed. This is a result of the structured interviews conducted.

4.1. Barriers

The lack of balance between modes of transport is a problem that arises from economic and political barriers. For instance, there is a lack of alternative corridors between the main import/export and production/consumption zones. The low connectivity between the waterway and rail networks, coupled with successive cost overruns in infrastructure works, hampers the development of these modes. Part of this is due to the lack of assertive technical studies and poorly designed concession models [16]. In addition to having low availability of ships in cabotage, water transport still faces long queues at ports and costs with pilotage well above the global average [13]. Essentially, there are higher levels of bureaucracy in rail and water activities compared to road transport [23]. However, some efforts are being made to expand these networks, mainly through the BR do Mar Program and the Investment Partnership Program (PPI), along with the completion of infrastructure works under the Growth Acceleration Program (PAC) and the Avançar Program [15].
This is also the case for the increased use of biofuels. Although alternative energy sources to ethanol and biodiesel such as Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) and biokerosene face difficulties in establishing a competitive market, the consumption of biofuels has grown significantly in Brazil because of financial incentives and political mobilization. For instance, the biodiesel blend increased from 2% (B2) in 2008 to 10% (B10) in 2022. Other than that, alternative biofuels still face high costs in research and development, production, distribution, and storage in an industry dedicated to ethanol and biodiesel [24].
Regarding technological improvements, automakers are not meeting their goals under the Rota 2030 program. The current national eco-labeling program is not accurate, providing information on fuel economy not adhering to the real operating condition of the local vehicles. Moreover, there is a lack of programs with specific energy efficiency targets for heavy-duty vehicles.
Despite being one of the mitigation measures that could provide the best ratio of carbon abatement potential per dollar spent on heavy vehicles in Brazil [25], the electrification of the vehicle fleet still faces several barriers that hinder its development. This emerging market is restricted due to the lack of standards and regulations, new business models, infrastructure, access to credit, and the general knowledge of the population about the economic benefits of electrification. The problem is compounded by the lack of awareness, interest, and involvement of local authorities, not providing policies such as tax incentives, easy access to parking spaces, and city tolls in metropolitan areas.
In addition, the influence of conventional market lobbying activities against the EV market is a strong barrier. Due to the absence of a national EV industry, battery-powered EVs cost up to three times more than fossil-fueled variations. In addition, the Brazilian Real (BRL) has suffered one of the biggest devaluations among global currencies. The same applies to the increase in the unemployment rate and the drop in the average income of the population and foreign direct investment in industry observed in recent years. These phenomena have real consequences on the price of EV and their components, as well as on local purchasing power, delaying market penetration.
Part of the barriers to the electrification of the vehicle fleet is also related to public transport, especially those related to the presence of basic buses, poorly designed concession models, which are not adapted to new technologies such as electric buses and face legal uncertainty, lack of specific credit line for new technologies, and the high acquisition cost of electric buses. Indeed, this latter barrier is also present in most countries (Sclar et al., 2019). In a joint analysis, these barriers help to explain why public transport is losing passengers to individual motorized transport in Brazil.

4.2. Policy-Related Instruments

The main proposed policy and financial instruments, grouped by mitigation measures, are detailed below.
  • Vehicle fleet electrification.
  • ‘Adoption of Bonus/Malus systems’ and ‘Financial incentives for new business models and charging infrastructure’.
Bonus/Malus systems could be launched as a means of reducing the attractiveness of conventional vehicles equipped with internal combustion engines (ICE), and repurposing carbon-intensive subsidies to support the energy transition. In this line, the incentive mechanism would be based on the reduction of EV prices concurrently with the increase in the tax burden on ICE vehicles.
Most battery charges in Brazil are expected to be conducted at home, as in the case of the USA, where 80% of the charges are concentrated in residential areas [26,27]. This is also the case for Urban Freight Transport (UFT), considering the operators’ garages, since most daily operations are covered by the battery range. Therefore, these types of activities in urban areas would not have great investment needs beyond the acquisition of technology. Still, long-distance transport and bus services would require interventions, whether in charging infrastructure or in the service’s business model.
The investments needed to improve business models aimed at electric mobility are closely related to technical studies and the training of urban planners and operators. In turn, investments in charging infrastructure may come from interested private entities, including energy utilities and fuel distributors, the government, or public–private partnerships. Recent experiences point to a change in the strategy of conventional energy suppliers, aiming to provide the charging infrastructure in this new market.
  • Investments in research and development focused on electric mobility.
Investments by public and private entities in research and training are needed to improve performance and reduce the costs of technological resources such as EV charging demand management, power grid performance, battery life cycle, and energy storage devices. Federally funded research and development on EVs at universities can provide qualified professionals to meet market needs. However, this funding should focus on transformational research and development of batteries and fuel cells that would not be sponsored by private companies [28].
The battery industry in Brazil has a great predominance of companies with national capital, which represent 75% of the market. Despite this, the domestic industry focuses on the production of lead–acid batteries used in ICE vehicles. There are still opportunities to develop skills focused on lithium-ion battery cells (or alternative materials) and their components [29].
In this sense, strategies that mix national plans (top-down) with local initiatives (bottom-up) seem to be an interesting path. For example, China has invested heavily in the domestic battery and EV industry through central planning and decentralized initiatives (in pilot cities). Government incentives for domestic EV production have also attracted industries from countries such as Japan and South Korea [30].
Unlike bus transport services, there is a lack of relevant studies focusing on electric mobility in UFT. Therefore, studies must be developed to encourage the electrification of this segment. Cost parity of electric trucks with diesel alternatives is an important acceptance factor, which should only occur when the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of an EV is lower and perceived by the operator. In the short term, the EV TCO is advantageous for last-mile applications, performed by batteries with a range of up to 100 km.
  • Development and enforcement of standards and regulations for electric mobility.
Launched in 2012, the National Urban Mobility Policy (Federal Law No. 12587) does not stress the need to reduce the dependence on mineral diesel in freight and passenger transport, a critical problem in the sector. Furthermore, the guidelines do not suggest a change in the technology conventionally adopted in Brazilian cities (“basic” buses), nor do they express the conditions for the introduction of emerging technologies, such as electric buses and trucks. Mentions related to GHG or pollutants are limited to monitoring emission levels and creating restricted areas.
In addition to the review of the national policy, dealing with deficiencies in the legal and judiciary systems, electric mobility still faces some gaps regarding the standardization of components, products, and processes. Nearly twenty variations of EV charging connectors are currently available in the global market. Locally, the most adopted plugs are Type 2, CCS Combo 2, J-1772, Wall, and CHAdeMO. Among them, Type 2 (AC) and CCS Combo 2 (DC) connectors are the most representative in Brazil, equipping more than 80% of electric and hybrid vehicle models.
To accelerate market penetration, a common architecture for the EV charging system should be defined, including operational and dimensional requirements for the corresponding vehicle input connectors. This is the case of technical standards implemented in the United States (SAE J1772/2009) and France (NF EN 62196-2/2017). In 2020, the National Electric Mobility Platform (PNME) proposed that AC charging stations must have at least Type 2 connectors. In turn, DC charging stations must have at least three types of connectors, but necessarily one of them must be the CCS Combo 2 [27]. To be valid, such recommendations must be accepted and implemented by appropriate institutions such as the Brazilian Association of Technical Standards (ABNT).
Regarding interoperability, the requirement for internet communication at public and private charging points is fundamental. One of the objectives is to make data available to the public for studies on energy security, urban planning, etc. Communication between the charging stations and the central management system must operate through an open protocol. Thus, the user can experience the flexibility of using charging stations from different providers. Also noteworthy is the need to standardize the billing model as a function of time spent or energy consumption. Lastly, eRoaming platforms would be an important advance in interoperability, which would include a mix of payment options (including manual and electronic payment systems).
In relation to model approval, a greater level of detail in national databases is needed to improve the accuracy of energy balances, emission inventories, and other economic and environmental analyses. Regulators must, for example, proceed with the inclusion of the energy source (gasoline, diesel, etc.) in the hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) registry.
  • Education and awareness campaigns for electric mobility.
The National Climate Change Plan, as an instrument of the National Policy on Climate Change (PNMC), defines actions and measures to face the effects of climate change. One of the goals is to promote education, training, and communication on climate policies (Brazil, 2021). Although increasing attention has been given in recent years, the capabilities and innovation in Brazil regarding electric mobility are still at an early stage [29].
Studies and awareness campaigns must overcome barriers to EV market acceptance by users and decision makers [31]. Along these lines, strategies must be provided to overcome insecurities related to (i) long-term battery performance, maintenance requirements, and residual value; (ii) market uncertainties in emerging countries, whose economies have not yet reached the scale of production of batteries and other elements necessary to reduce the cost of the powertrain; and (iii) geopolitical and economic issues related to battery distribution and the concentration of EV production in a few countries.
Brazil can learn from the main global initiatives and supply the South American market with the development of a domestic EV industry [32]. As road transport is dominant in the modal division, Brazil has one of the largest fleets of buses and trucks in the world. Possessing the intellectual and production capacity of the powertrain is a strategic task for Brazil.
  • Energy efficiency gains.
Policy-related instruments to improve the energy efficiency of engine vehicles cover vehicle inspection and vehicle scrapping programs as well as improvement of the national eco-labeling program, which should also consider heavy vehicles (buses and trucks). Vehicle inspection and scrapping programs can lead to the renewal of the vehicle fleet, preferably offering credit for purchasing energy-efficient technology and associated infrastructure.
  • Urban public transport improvements.
  • ‘Investments in public transport infrastructure and priority measures’ and ‘Development of new concession models’.
As aforementioned, public transport is continually losing passengers to other modes of transport. Although the proportion of the urban population in the country increased from 78% to 86% between 1996 and 2016, the annual number of passengers transported by urban public transport by bus dropped by 30% [16,17,18]. This may be associated, among other reasons, with a history of public policies aimed at the individual use of motorized passenger transport in Brazil.
The literature and previous consultations with key stakeholders indicate that the existing business model is a critical barrier to reversing this trend, especially when the market demands electric mobility, modal integration, and priority measures. Thus, a better balance between demand, supply, and quality of service, with tariff equity and a focus on customer service, is needed to increase the attractiveness of bus transport services.
Changing the conventionally adopted business model is an important policy instrument, especially in terms of bus ownership and tariff policy. In the conventional business model, the responsibility for investing in new vehicles and infrastructure rests with the operator. However, the risk factor arising from the financial insolvency of operators and constant judicialization of contracts significantly reduces the offer of credit by financial institutions. This situation leaves little scope for investments in emerging technologies, which demand a higher acquisition cost.
In an alternative model, among several others, to be considered, the municipality/government assumes the responsibility for acquiring the bus fleet and the charging infrastructure (prompted by a specific tender call), lending them to bus operators. In turn, the operators are paid for the provision of the service under concession and pay the rent for the usage of the bus and the charging infrastructure. This would be linked to priority measures (exclusive bus lanes, tariff equity, etc.) and restrictions on the use of cars (urban tolls, fewer parking spaces, etc.).
  • Revision of tariff modalities and current contracts.
In Brazil, public transport fares commonly cover all costs and expenses, with little scope for operational improvements or subsidies. However, when the number of users drops, as seen in recent years, the negative impacts on revenue tend to convert into tariff adjustments. This vicious cycle of demand declines and fare increases (above inflation) continually reduces the attractiveness of bus transport services in Brazil.
At this juncture, an opportunity emerges for new business models that rethink fare calculation methods. One possibility is to reduce the role of bus operators in managing all service costs by transferring the responsibility for some assets to an entity with greater bargaining power. Another possibility is to impose contractual clauses that condition benefits or tariff adjustments to gains in operational efficiency. Still, these possibilities should be covered by a wide-ranging study on the subject, preferably led and disseminated by the federal government.
  • Access to financial instruments for green investments.
Two Brazilian banks, the Federal Savings Bank (through the Refrota Program) and the National Bank for Economic and Social Development (through the Special Agency for Industrial Financing, FINAME), are the main creditors that bus operators consider when renewing their fleets. Nonetheless, a better appreciation of low- or zero-emission technologies would help to reduce energy dependence on fossil fuels and the common perception of greater risks involving alternative technologies. This is especially true in the case of the Refrota Program, as the rates offered are the same for electric and basic buses.
In addition, credit could come from specific international sources dedicated to projects that promote mitigation and adaptation to climate change such as green funds and commercial papers issued by financial institutions or corporates. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) promotes financing for sustainable projects in Latin American and Caribbean countries through international green funds such as the GCF and GEF.
Domestically, creditors could also implement mechanisms based on international best practices such as the Pay as You Save (PAYS), the Cleaner Transport Facility (CTF), and the Zero Emission Urban Bus System (ZeEUS). Each financing mechanism seeks to leverage investments in sustainable transport, with some differences. PAYS represents a structured financing operation in which the energy utility or the municipality invests in batteries and charging stations, recovering costs by charging the bus service operator for the use of assets. The CTF focuses on life cycle costing models, which involve risk-sharing instruments, while also leveraging private sector funds, rather than traditional models that require greater capital investment. Lastly, ZeEUS obtains funds from the European Investment Bank (EIB) through the Cleaner Transport Facility (CTF). The EIB provides long-term financing in partnership with the private sector, while also supporting investments outside the EU. The financing models are different for each member country.
  • Electrification of transport networks.
  • Investments and financing of research and development.
One of the reasons for the still low penetration of fully electric locomotives in Brazilian freight transport is the high costs involved. In this case, in addition to the financing mechanisms listed in the previous topic, interested companies with credibility and reputation can issue green bonds or Sustainability-Linked Debenture (SLD) to raise capital. Recently, a Brazilian railway company as well as a telecommunications company raised capital from SLD. However, the railway company did not link the capital raised to the electrification of railways, but to other sustainability measures [33].
Therefore, the development of studies on the implementation of electric railways in Brazil should increase the frequency of this measure of sustainability among the companies’ options. This includes strategies for supplying high-voltage electricity (and maintenance depots) over long distances and replacing current diesel–electric locomotives with fully electric ones.
  • Redesign of transport networks.
  • Regulatory framework for rail and water concessions.
The greater use of rail transport depends on the solution of urban conflicts, for example, a high number of level crossings and right-of-way encroachments. A regulatory framework that covers these impedances (for example, by reducing barriers to infrastructure sharing between different companies) is needed to reduce legal uncertainty in current concessions and increase interest in new railroads.
In the case of water transport, a regulatory framework that encourages the development of the Brazilian naval industry is necessary, especially linked to an increase in supply, regularity, and lower bureaucracy. Regarding the latter point, despite being a local transport, cabotage requires a volume of documents and port procedures like those of long-haul shipping [13]. This increases the cost of the service, reducing its attractiveness compared to road transport.
  • Increased use of biofuels.
  • Improvement of the RenovaBio Program, introducing advanced and alternative biofuels.
This decade represents an opportunity to advance the technical and political conditions that support the biokerosene and bio-oil domestic markets. The lack of public policies to adopt advanced drop-in biofuel blends, associated with the increase in the maintenance cost of light commercial vehicles, trucks, and buses fueled with high biodiesel blends (above 10%), are important barriers to the market. Thus, incentives for drop-in biofuels are needed, mainly with a focus on complementing biodiesel blends (from 10% onwards).
The investment opportunities in advanced biofuels involve gaps left by current policies that could strengthen Brazil’s position as an important global supplier of drop-in biofuels, especially respecting biokerosene. By regulating the specifications and market for biokerosene and HVO in Brazil, a substantial increase in the supply of these biofuels can be achieved, as they share the same production route. These investments also enable the introduction of HVO contents to the existing biodiesel–diesel mixtures.
Local decision makers must be aware of the next steps of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), seeking to expand trade opportunities and strengthen Brazil’s position as an important producer of new advanced biofuels. An improvement of the RenovaBio Program should then be considered.

4.3. Roadmap

Strategies to overcome barriers to mitigation measures must consider the Brazilian potential to implement instruments in the short, medium, and long term. In other words, due to limited resources and political concerns, an effort was made to arrange the implementation of the instruments over time. In the short term (2023–2025), priority strategies or instruments that are in the process of implementation are considered. In the 2026–2030 horizon, relevant but not urgent strategies were considered, as well as instruments in the process of implementation. In turn, in the long term (2031+), the strategies that need greater technological and political maturity are listed. Based on the semi-structured interviews conducted, Table 2 summarizes the policy and financial instruments that are currently more viable to be addressed in Brazil, indicating the target area, and enabling entities. The period in which each of these strategies should be effectively implemented is also suggested.
In the first stage (2023–2025), efforts should be made to mitigate legal uncertainty related to the adoption of emerging technologies and new business models. The elaboration of a guideline on tenders for bus transport services that address the specific needs related to the acquisition and operation of EVs is a fundamental step to making electric mobility viable in Brazilian cities. The private sector, especially energy utilities, should also act directly in the implementation and expansion of the charging infrastructure, with an emphasis on smart grid systems. Then, new financial instruments to support these policies must be negotiated and made available. The capital involved in this process could come from local (BRDE, BDMG, BNDES, etc.) and international (IDB, KfW, GEF, GCF, GTF, etc.) sources. Although the TCO of electric trucks and buses shows the feasibility of these technologies, some companies will need capital to acquire them. To expand the capabilities and acceptance of the instruments, training and education campaigns are needed for decision makers and potential users.
The transition process to electric mobility in Brazil should start with the bus transport service and the UFT. After that, instruments should also cover intensively used vehicles such as business use, renting, or captive fleets. Despite representing a small portion of the Brazilian fleet, buses and UFT have great potential to transform urban mobility. The same is true for heavily used vehicles. As society sees the benefits of electrifying essential services, the potential market for EVs is likely to grow. When combined with priority instruments, the electrification of the bus fleet increases the attractiveness of the service, which can reduce the use of cars and, consequently, increase energy efficiency in urban mobility.
Therefore, a large part of the barriers to electromobility in Brazil can be overcome by 2025 if the political interest in the topic serves to boost the necessary instruments. São Paulo is the Brazilian city that has advanced the most in the matter, imposing emission limits for local buses (Municipal Law nº 16.802/2018). The regulation forced adjustments to existing and future concession contracts to incorporate zero-emission technologies. The existence of ongoing initiatives also justifies the allocation of these strategies in this period.
Communication strategies with society, operators, and public managers started in the first stage should be continued and reinforced in the subsequent planning period (2026–2030). This aims to report the progress of actions, as well as reinforce their direct and indirect impacts. Progress should be made in the regulatory frameworks for rail and water transport and in an improvement in the national policy on biofuels. In the latter case, there is an opportunity to strengthen drop-in biofuels within the RenovaBio program, which could transform Brazil into a major exporter of such commodities. Examples of enabling entities in this process are the MME, MMA, and ANP.
In addition, inter-ministerial integration must be enhanced to promote energy security. This could involve different ministries that promote or may promote actions in this regard, such as the MME, MMA, MInfra, MDR, and ME. The objective would be to develop a common strategy aimed at ensuring energy security in transport, by increasing the number of alternative energy sources to petroleum derivatives. In the third stage (from 2031), the electrification of railroads may no longer be a disruptive idea, becoming a reality in certain cases. This instrument can also be a vector for economic development, providing high-voltage electricity in remote areas, which can also contribute to the EV charging infrastructure in these locations. Examples of enabling entities in this process are the MDR, ME, MInfra, CNT, PLVB, and ANEEL.
As the process of electrification of high-intensity vehicles and buses reaches maturity, ICE vehicle taxation policies (e.g., bonus/malus systems) could then be launched. Entities such as ABNT, ANATEL, ANEEL, EPE, INMETRO, and ME should be involved in the formulation of this policy. It is noteworthy that investment in public transport infrastructure and efficient technology should be considered a long-term policy, seeking to continuously reduce dependence on the automobile.

5. Conclusions and Policy Implications

The process of implementing mitigation actions based on climate commitments made by countries has often faced critical barriers and obstacles that delay their achievement. In addition, as in the case of Brazil, energy-related sectors should increase their ambitions to reduce the effects of accelerating deforestation in protected areas in recent years. This condition is also present in other Latin American countries, such as Colombia and Peru [34].
Thus, a diagnosis of the problems that impact the commitments assumed, as well as the identification of enablers that effectively accelerate decarbonization becomes urgent. This study developed and applied a comprehensive stakeholder-oriented approach to identifying barriers and enabling instruments and entities to the decarbonization of the Brazilian transport sector. The method is based on literature reviews and rounds of structured and semi-structured stakeholder interviews.
The analysis of the problem points to the existence of a continuous drop in the activity of bus public transport systems. Part of this drop is due to the historical priority granted to individual motorized transport, while the current business model itself jeopardizes the efficiency of bus services. In addition, dependence on diesel oil is a crucial problem for energy security, especially in freight transport, overly sensitive to changes in its prices. Although current national programs indicate a viable path for more intensive use of biofuels in long-distance transport, urban transport does not take advantage of the electric mobility potential.
Despite the lack of policies on the subject, the results show that electric mobility should be seen as the main Brazilian mitigation measure in the transport sector. Eighty percent of the instruments needed to overcome barriers to electrical mobility can be addressed in the next two years, led mainly by the Ministries of Regional Development and Infrastructure, as well as development banks (see Table 2). Concurrently, all public transport improvements identified and refined by stakeholders can also be addressed in the short term. While these two main measures should focus on metropolitan areas, regional transport should benefit from existing biofuels and high-capacity infrastructure policies. These findings contrast with the commitments assumed by the Brazilian NAMA and NDC, based almost exclusively on the intensive use of biofuels and may influence the process of setting new targets in future NDC revisions. It is worth mentioning that exogenous barriers to the sector, such as exchange rate fluctuation, unemployment, wealth, and foreign investment can exert a strong influence on the penetration and impacts of the proposed instruments.
In future research, the incorporation of the proposed instruments into marginal abatement cost curves is suggested to demonstrate how much abatement an economy can afford and the area of focus. Finally, the results can be considered in energy-climatic models to provide accurate prospective scenarios.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, D.N.S.G. and G.V.G.; methodology, D.N.S.G. and G.V.G.; formal analysis, D.N.S.G. and G.V.G.; investigation, D.N.S.G. and G.V.G.; writing—original draft preparation, G.V.G.; review and editing, D.N.S.G.; visualization, M.d.A.D. and E.L.L.R.; project administration, E.L.L.R. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This research received no external funding.

Institutional Review Board Statement

A cross-check by the team confirmed that the article does not contain information which would make the participants identifiable. Ethical review and ap-proval were waived.

Informed Consent Statement

Informed consent was obtained from all subjects involved in the study.

Data Availability Statement

The data are not publicly available due to the confidentiality of research projects in which the author participates.


The authors acknowledge the support of SouthSouthNorth Africa (SSN) and the International Climate Initiative (IKI)—Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU).

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Appendix A

Table A1. Categories of stakeholders and shares.
Table A1. Categories of stakeholders and shares.
CategoryConsulted StakeholdersShare
Governmental Bodies2844%
Business Sector1625%
Scientific Community1625%
Non-Governmental Organizations35%

Appendix B

Table A2. Mitigation actions, barriers, and instruments identified.
Table A2. Mitigation actions, barriers, and instruments identified.
MeasuresBarriersInstruments and Enablers
Vehicle fleet electrificationUncertainties related to infrastructure and operationalization Benefits of plug-in EVs, such as easy access to parking spaces, bus lanes, and city tolls
Adoption of Bonus/Malus systems
Logistics and infrastructure for recycling and reusing components
Lack of technological maturity and infrastructureFinancial incentives for new business models and charging infrastructure
Lack of specific credit lines
Outdated vehicle fleet
Strong currency fluctuationFinancial incentives to attract or develop domestic EV industries
High acquisition cost
High tax burden on investmentsTax exemption for investors and operators
Lack of local suppliers and manufacturers
Lack of support for research and developmentInvestments in research and development on electric mobility
The influence of conventional market lobbying activities against the new marketDeadline for ending sales of fossil-fuel-powered vehicles
Lack of standards and regulationsDevelopment and enforcement of standards and regulations
New items to the National Urban Mobility Policy
Acceptance of new technologies in the marketEducation and awareness campaigns for electric mobility
Lack of knowledge about the economic benefits of electrification
Lack of awareness, interest, or involvement of local authorities
Lack of measurement, verification, and reporting toolsDevelopment and application of measurement, verification, and reporting tools at the federal and sub-national level
Energy efficiency gainsOutdated vehicle fleetVehicle inspection and scrapping programs
Lack of programs with specific targets for heavy-duty vehicles Improvement of the national eco-labeling program, also considering heavy-duty vehicles
Urban public transport improvementsPrioritization of individual motorized transportInvestments in public transport infrastructure and priority measures
Government subsidies and tax exemptions for public transport
Adoption of Bonus/Malus systems or end of tax incentives for private cars
Education and awareness campaigns for long-term and sustainable investments and changes in population behavior
Decisions based solely on the economic aspect
Lack of specific credit linesAccess to financial instruments for green investments
Financing line for zero-emission buses
Massive presence of basic busesInvestment and financing of more efficient technologies
Lack of assertive technical, economic, and environmental studiesInvestments in research and development focused on urban mobility
Support to smaller municipalities in structuring urban mobility plans
Cost overruns in infrastructure projectsBureaucracy simplification, digitalization, and transparency of processes
Concession models are poorly designed and adapted to new technologiesDevelopment of new concession models
Legal uncertainty in concession contractsRevision of tariff modalities and current contracts
Electrification of transport networksLack of local railway builders and providersDevelopment of a national industry
High presence of inactive or underutilized railwaysConcession reallocations for unproductive lines
Recovery and electrification of underused and inactive railways
Lack of studies and political commitmentInvestments and financing of research and development
Lack of knowledge about the economic benefits of electrificationEducation and awareness campaigns for long-term and sustainable investments
Redesign of transport networksLack of alternative corridors between the main import/export and production zonesInvestments in intermodal terminals, expanding access to ports and railways
Lack of assertive technical, economic, and environmental studiesInvestments in research and development with a focus on eco-efficiency of infrastructure projects
Cost overruns and unfinished worksBureaucracy simplification, digitalization, and transparency of processes
Lack of supervision and control of works in progressProvide technical, administrative, and financial autonomy to regulatory agencies
Low availability of ships in cabotagePromotion of the Brazilian naval industry. Tax cuts for shipyards and fuel consumption. Increase in the supply of pilots, in addition to stimulating market competition among them
Higher pilotage and operating costs
Low connectivity between water and rail networksSpecific studies to stimulate rail and waterway transport, including paving, qualification, and creation of road accesses, as well as licensing of port works, and dredging
Long queues of ships waiting to be loaded/unloaded in the main portsPort operation 24 h a day, 7 days a week
Decisions based solely on the economic aspectEducation and awareness campaigns for long-term and sustainable investments
Regulatory framework for rail and water concessions
Concession models are poorly designedDevelopment of new concession models and revision of unproductive contracts
Increased use of biofuelsHigh costs in research and development, production, distribution, and storage of alternative biofuelsMedium- and long-term investments aiming at meeting the national and international demands
Development and enforcement of standards and regulations
Government policies restricted to biodiesel and ethanolRegulated blends of biokerosene, in aviation, and green diesel in freight transport
Financial incentives to develop a national advanced biofuels industry
Improvement of the RenovaBio Program, introducing advanced and alternative biofuels


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Figure 1. Brazilian modal split in 2019.
Figure 1. Brazilian modal split in 2019.
Sustainability 14 16405 g001
Figure 2. Procedure for identifying mitigation measures, barriers, and policy instruments.
Figure 2. Procedure for identifying mitigation measures, barriers, and policy instruments.
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Table 1. Commitments made by Brazil to the UNFCCC and related programs launched.
Table 1. Commitments made by Brazil to the UNFCCC and related programs launched.
CommitmentObjectiveTransport-Related Instruments
NAMATo increase the supply of anhydrous and hydrous ethanol, as well as biodiesel to replace fossil fuels.
  • RenovaBio (2018-ongoing)
  • Increased biofuel blend limits
  • Increased supply of hydrous ethanol
To reduce the use of fossil fuels and electricity by increasing energy efficiency in different sectors.
  • Rota 2030 (2018-ongoing)
  • Inovar-Auto (2012–2017)
  • PBEV (2008-ongoing)
NDCThe review submitted in 2020 removed all targets possibly applicable to transport. However, the first version focused on increasing the use of biofuels, improving energy efficiency, and expanding infrastructure.
Table 2. Roadmap and enabling entities.
Table 2. Roadmap and enabling entities.
MeasuresInstrumentsModesEnabling EntitiesTime Horizon
Vehicle fleet electrificationAdoption of Bonus/Malus systemsCars (road)ABNT, ANATEL, ANEEL, EPE, INMETRO, ME
Financial incentives for new business models and infrastructureAllMDR, BNDES, CEF, ME, MInfra
Investments in research and development focused on electric mobilityMainly UTFMDR, MInfra, GIZ, IDB, KFW, GEF, WBG, AFD, CNPq, PNME
Development and enforcement of standards and regulations for electric mobilityAllABNT, AEA, ANEEL, EPE, INMETRO, SAE Brasil, CTAV/Senatran, CONAMA/IBAMA
Education and awareness campaigns for electric mobilityAllMDR, MEC, CNPq, GIZ
Urban public transport improvementsInvestments in public transport infrastructure and priority measuresBus servicesMDR, ME, NTU, MInfra, ANTP
Access to financial instruments for green investmentsBRDE, BDMG, KFW, BNDES, IDB, GEF, GCF, GTF
Investment and financing of more efficient technologiesCEF, BNDES, ME, BRDE, BDMG
Development of new concession modelsMDR, ME (Ipea), ANTP, Governments/C40 cities
Revision of tariff modalities and current contracts
Electrification of transport networksInvestments and financing of research and developmentFreight railwaysMDR, ME, MInfra, CNT, PLVB, ANEEL
Redesign of transport networksRegulatory framework for rail and water concessionsRail and water transportME, MInfra, Research Institutes
Increased use of biofuelsRegulated blends of biokerosene and green dieselAir and road transportMME, MMA, ANP
Improvement of the RenovaBio ProgramAll
Acronyms: Agence Française de Développement (AFD); Brazilian Association of Automotive Engineering (AEA); Brazilian Association of Technical Standards (ABNT); Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA); Climate Technology Fund (GTF); Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ); Energy research company (EPE); Federal Savings Bank (CEF); Green Brazil Logistics Program (PLVB); Green Climate Fund (GCF), Green Environmental Facility (GEF); Institute of Applied Economic Research (Ipea); Inter-American Development Bank (IDB); Ministry of Economy (ME); Ministry of Education (MEC); Ministry of the Environment (MMA); Minas Gerais Development Bank (BDMG); Ministry of Infrastructure (MInfra); Ministry of Regional Development (MDR); National Agency for Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuels (ANP); National Association of Public Transport (ANTP); National Association of Urban Transport Companies (NTU); National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES); National Confederation of Transport (CNT); National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq); National Council for the Environment (CONAMA); National Electric Energy Agency (ANEEL); National Electric Mobility Platform (PNME); National Institute of Metrology, Quality and Technology (INMETRO); National Telecommunications Agency (ANATEL); National Traffic Secretariat (Senatran); Regional Development Bank of the Far South (BRDE); Society of Mobility Engineers (SAE Brasil); Thematic Chamber of Vehicle and Environmental Affairs (CTAV); World Bank Group (WBG).
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Gonçalves, D.N.S.; Goes, G.V.; D’Agosto, M.d.A.; La Rovere, E.L. Development of Policy-Relevant Dialogues on Barriers and Enablers for the Transition to Low-Carbon Mobility in Brazil. Sustainability 2022, 14, 16405.

AMA Style

Gonçalves DNS, Goes GV, D’Agosto MdA, La Rovere EL. Development of Policy-Relevant Dialogues on Barriers and Enablers for the Transition to Low-Carbon Mobility in Brazil. Sustainability. 2022; 14(24):16405.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Gonçalves, Daniel Neves Schmitz, George Vasconcelos Goes, Márcio de Almeida D’Agosto, and Emilio Lebre La Rovere. 2022. "Development of Policy-Relevant Dialogues on Barriers and Enablers for the Transition to Low-Carbon Mobility in Brazil" Sustainability 14, no. 24: 16405.

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