Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro skipped the COP climate change conference in Glasgow last year, opting to receive honorary citizenship from the small Italian town where his great-grandfather lived.
Brazil’s next president, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, has very different priorities.
Within hours of winning Sunday’s vote, Lula pledged to stop the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and restore Brazil as an international climate leader. He won’t take office until January next year, but will attend this year’s COP27 summit in Egypt.
The Bolsonaro government also pledged to stop deforestation last year, but with Amazon destruction reaching a 13-year record in 2021, he cut the budget for environmental protection.
Adding weight to Lula’s words is the inclusion of Marina Silva, the internationally renowned former environment minister who oversaw a dramatic reduction in deforestation in Lula’s first two terms, in the electoral coalition. .
Silva split with Lula in 2008 after losing battles with hydroelectric dams, genetically modified crops and control of the Amazon region. She is widely expected to reconcile with him this year after persuading him to step up his manifesto promises and return to key posts in the new administration.
“Climate change, forest protection, biodiversity and indigenous peoples issues will be paramount. [new] It’s a government priority list,” Silva told the Financial Times. “They will be priorities for the transport sector, energy sector, agriculture sector, everything.”
The daughter of a black rubber logger from the western state of Acre, Silva won an international environmental award for her lifelong struggle to protect the rainforest and its indigenous peoples from devastation by illegal loggers, miners and land grabbers. Awarded.
She agreed to support Lula in turn after he agreed to restate his pledge of “zero net deforestation”.
“Silva’s return to his post as environment minister will be a strong signal of the new government’s commitment to end large-scale deforestation, as will the president-elect’s decision to attend the COP summit. Asset management.
Silva has no illusions about the scale of the work after voters in vast rural areas emboldened to take the law into their own hands during President Bolsonaro’s tenure. According to one Amazon, rainforest the size of 2,000 football fields is cut down every day. Deforestation has accelerated in recent months as land grabbers seek to maximize profits before the new government cracks down.
“Things have changed and things are much worse than they were in 2003,” said Silva. “The Bolsonaro regime has not only weakened [environment] It has not only slashed budgets, but empowered sectors that are hurting indigenous peoples and forest conservation, giving more economic power to the least developed elements of agribusiness. ”
Raoni Rajão, professor of environmental management at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, said the goal of zero illegal deforestation is credible but “virtually impossible within the next decade.”
However, he added that there is room to tackle large-scale tree-cutting of 25 to 500 hectares.
“With the right policies, this deforestation can be dramatically reduced and even eliminated,” said Rajão. “We have to deliver [of lawbreaking] If it is greater than profit, it can be reversed. ”
Prosecuting illegal loggers and miners in the vast expanses of the Amazon is notoriously difficult. Only a minority of criminals serve prison terms, and the number of environmental fines imposed has plummeted under the Bolsonaro administration.
Last month’s parliamentary elections highlighted the political influence of Brazil’s agribusiness lobby groups and the hostility of Bolsonaro’s conservatives to environmental issues. In his taped speech at the United Nations in 2020, Bolsonaro accused indigenous peoples of burning the Amazon.
Bolsonaro’s resigned environment minister, Ricardo Salles, recently took control of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest state, after he illegally trafficked timber from the Amazon and proposed using the coronavirus pandemic to loosen environmental rules. Elected to Congress with over 640,000 votes.
This was about three times Silva’s 236,000, but she gained enough support to be elected as one of the state’s 70 legislators.
“Brazilian society is divided between forward and backward, democracy and authoritarianism, racism and respect for diversity, macho and respect for women,” Silva said of the election results.
Like many progressives in Brazil, Silva believes that Brazil can sustainably grow its economy if we increase productivity from existing agricultural land and harness its potential without destroying natural resources. I believe.
“We need . . . we need to create new value chains, new products, new materials and bet big on the bioeconomy,” she said. “We have a lot of opportunities because we can have a clean energy matrix and because of that we can use clean energy to produce electric cars and we can produce green hydrogen . There is a possibility.”
Additional reporting by Brian Harris
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