Undoing the controversial policies of Bolsonaro will pose the biggest challenge to the new government, warn experts.
“There is no climate security for the world without a protected Amazon,” Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva announced at the UN Climate Change Conference COP27 in Egypt in October.
During his speech, Brazil’s president-elect pledged to undo his predecessor Jair Bolsonaro’s controversial environmental policies by safeguarding the Amazon’s biomass, strengthening inspection bodies and monitoring systems, clamping down hard on ecological crimes and establishing an indigenous ministry.
Lula, Brazil’s president from 2003-2010, also called for local communities in the Amazon to become “beneficiaries” of sustainable development in the region. He will return for a third term in office on January 1.
However, he faces tough challenges ahead as he sets out to reverse the devastation caused by Bolsonaro, who rolled back environmental protections and pushed for more mining and commercial farming in the region.
“Science warns us that the Amazon is approaching the point of no return,” says Dr Marcelo Dutra da Silva, researcher and ecology professor at the Federal University of Rio Grande
“Deforestation advances at very high rates, and if nothing is done to stop the destruction of the forest, we could lose environmental services that operate at different scales: water production, extractive economic base, biodiversity, carbon sequestration,” he tells TRT World.
According to Dutra da Silva, the biggest political challenges to Lula will be the “resistance of local governments, businessmen with interests in land for agricultural exploitation, invaders and even local groups of indigenous peoples who defend the exploitation of the forest, to the detriment of their cultures. Therefore, it will take a great effort to get closer to saving Amazon.”
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Since Bolsonaro assumed office four years ago, he dismantled most environmental protections. And it resulted in the loss of nearly 46,000 sq km of rainforest, considered the lung of the world.
Researcher and ecologist Lucas Ferrante says that Bolsonaro weakened the rights of indigenous peoples, stymied environmental legislation and militarised environmental and indigenous agencies.
“Bolsonaro’s actions favoured land grabbers, illegal gold miners and loggers who have increased deforestation in the Amazon at alarming rates. This is the scenario inherited by Lula, where there is no environmental governance,” he tells TRT World.
Dutra da Silva also feels that besides strengthening environmental institutions and policies, Lula will have to “reestablish the budget for environmental protection and strengthen inspection and control effort”.
At the end of Lula’s second term in 2010, Amazonian deforestation fell by 67 per cent. However, he was strongly condemned in 2007 when hundreds of indigenous people camped close to Congress to denounce development projects. Again, in 2010, he faced criticism when some 40,000 people were displaced for constructing a hydroelectric dam in Para, impacting indigenous and local communities reliant on a local river system that dried up as a food source.
“In previous mandates, Lula’s administration committed several violations of the rights of indigenous peoples. Lula needs to demonstrate that he will be different now. A test case for this will be whether Lula will stop large infrastructure projects in the Amazon that have been violating the rights of indigenous peoples, such as the BR-319 highway,” says Ferrante. Lula must also prohibit the cultivation of crops used in the production of biofuels that are “extremely harmful to the forest and generate new cycles of deforestation”.
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Dutra da Silva said Lula’s tenure represents an opportunity not to be squandered in policy-making, insisting that “we show the world the consequences of a bad government that doesn’t care about the environment. As a result, we lost international respect and became pariahs. We are divided between those who preserve and those who accept the destruction of nature.
Shortly after Lula’s election victory in late October, Norway announced that it would resume Amazon protection subsidies – worth around $33 million that had been frozen during Bolsonaro’s tenure.
Following Lula’s announcement that “Brazil is back” on the international stage at COP27, Ferrante says the international community must help “finance forest conservation research and invest in projects that favour the production chains of traditional communities, ensuring the conservation of the Amazon while guaranteeing income for the Amazonian population.”
Some markets like Asia are “interested in natural products such as cosmetics, and the Amazon bio-economy can encourage these production chains while ensuring forest conservation.
According to Dutra da Silva, “the international community needs to keep remembering Brazil and how important we are in the world, either because of our ability to produce food, supply minerals and other resources or because of our vocation to be the largest green economy on the planet.”
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