(c) Thomas Bauer (CPT/H3000)

Brazil is rapidly expanding renewable energies, especially wind and solar power. They are low-cost, low-carbon sources of electricity and are essential to reduce the national dependence on hydropower. However, the transition to renewables requires a significant land footprint, with various - potentially negative - social-ecological impacts. This is particularly urgent in Brazil’s Northeast, where on the one hand the geophysical conditions of permanent, strong trade winds and above-average solar radiation are prime. On the other hand, land ownership and land access conditions are subject to great insecurity and conflict.

As part of the European Research Council (ERC) research project reFUEL (https://refuel.world/) at BOKU Vienna, Michael Klingler and Johannes Schmidt, together with colleagues Nadia Ameli and Jamie Rickman from University College London, have investigated why the development of wind and solar energy in Brazil is a critical matter of green grabbing. "The capital-intensive, large-scale appropriation and privatisation of land and resources in Brazil is frequently associated with cattle ranching and soy production in the Amazon. We have identified similar land grabbing processes for wind and solar energy and included global data on investment and ownership in the analysis," says Michael Klingler from the Institute of Sustainable Economic Development at BOKU Vienna.

The concept of green grabbing emphasises the role of environmental and climate change mitigation measures in this context: in its name, a comprehensive restructuring of land access and use is set in motion. In particular, the privatisation of public land and commons is facilitated by large-scale investments from both national and international actors of the green economy. This is particularly problematic in the case of Brazil, as the land issue is characterised by historical inequities in land ownership, and cases of illegal land appropriation and violent land conflicts are commonplace. Smallholders, indigenous and traditional communities that have historically used this land are particularly affected, but their land ownership is often not recognized due to insufficient regulation and a lack of legal security. The sharp rise in demand for renewable energies therefore poses the risk that competition for land will intensify further and that land concentration will continue to grow in favour of local elites and transnational companies.


The results of the study show that global investors and owners are strongly represented in Brazil's energy sector. They are directly or indirectly involved in an overwhelming 78% stake in wind parks and 96% share in solar PV parks during the observation period 2001-2021. A total of 2,148 square kilometres of land is used for the generation of wind energy and 102 square kilometres  for solar power from photovoltaics. The majority of wind parks (89%) are owned by Brazilian companies, with 68% under foreign parent companies’ control. They are therefore subsidiaries of international - predominantly European - conglomerates. In detail, more than half of the total wind park area is associated with European parent companies, with giants such as Enel SpA (Italy) and Engie SA (France) playing a central role. In the case of solar PV parks, the proportion of international participation is even higher: 90% of the areas are allocated to non-Brazilian parent companies, 66% of which are European. Enel Green Power SpA (Italy) dominantes the sector, holding a 30% stake in the area occupied by solar PV parks.

"We have also found that land privatization is the most important mechanism for securing access to and control over land. This indicates significant shifts in land ownership and land access conditions, particularly at the expense of legal recognition of rural commons and traditional community land use rights. In other cases, wind parks are built directly on land with unclear ownership: 7% are located on legally undesignated public land, 28% are only registered in the environmental cadastre without a valid land title," explains Klingler.

With Brazil's ambitions to increase the production of green hydrogen, synthetic fuels and gases for export, the pressure on competition for land will intensify. "A member of a traditional community in northeast Brazil put it this way in a workshop: 'Clean energies with dirty methods'. Since European companies are so heavily involved in Brazilian renewable energy production, and since Brazil has ambitions to produce and ship green hydrogen to Europe, dirty methods are not just a national issue, but also affect us here in Europe," says co-author Johannes Schmidt. 

Green grabbing for renewable energies therefore remains a persistent, critical phenomenon demanding transparency and ongoing scrutiny of land claims and tenure adjustments to limit impacts, especially on traditional communities such as the Comunidades de Fundo e Fecho de Pasto or Quilombola. In this context, Klingler continues: "The land issue is central to driving effective climate action and promoting 'just' low-carbon energy pathways. The necessity for the energy transition must not be questioned, but rather the way in which these projects are implemented. The collaboration with affected rural communities, NGOs and scientists in the Brazilian state of Bahia showed that traditional and marginalised population groups are confronted with 'new' land conflicts due to the expansion of renewable energies. However, these are increasingly being legitimised by the climate change mitigation imperative. The situation is similar in Norway, for example, where the expansion of wind power is in conflict with the traditional reindeer husbandry of the indigenous Sámi."