Brazilian Lula returns with Amazon’s dream team aiming to save the rainforest – POLITICO
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was due to be sworn in as Brazil’s president on Sunday, a moment he claimed would help reverse a wave of destruction engulfing the Amazon rainforest.
The new leader, widely known as Lula, has vowed to reverse and eventually end the deforestation of the world’s largest rainforest, which accelerated under his predecessor Jair Bolsonaro. Lula’s second stint in the presidency begins 20 years after his first inauguration.
Nearly two-thirds of the rainforest, which helps regulate the global climate, is within Brazil’s borders. Bolsonaro has suppressed law enforcement, attacked indigenous landowners and encouraged industry, leading to a devastating 60% increase in deforestation during his tenure compared to the previous four years. Parts of the forest have become sources of carbon emissions rather than sinks of CO2.
In response, the EU delayed the conclusion of an interim 2019 trade deal with the Mercosur bloc made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Lula’s election has put the deal back on the EU agenda, with Sweden’s future EU Council presidency indicating it wants the deal to be completed within the next six months.
Lula appointed Amazon activist Marina Silva as environment and climate change minister and chose Sonia Guajajara, an indigenous woman, to be Brazil’s first indigenous peoples minister.
Silva served as Lula’s environment minister during his first term, from 2003 to 2010, and has been widely credited with a huge drop in deforestation, which was at a higher rate when he took office in 2003 than today. She quit after falling out with Lula, whom she considered too close to agribusiness. But more than a decade later, she supported Lula’s presidential campaign.
“With our society mobilized, we face the great challenge of rescuing and updating the lost socio-environmental agenda,” she said last week.
If they are to succeed, Brazilian officials will need to curb endemic crime and lawlessness across a vast landscape.
Rebuilding depleted police forces will be expensive and take time, said Marcio Astrini, executive secretary of the NGO Observatório do clima. “In some areas, crime has become one of the main sources of the local economy.”
Astrini said Lula will also have to contend with a legislature still largely pro-agribusiness and with a large pro-Bolsonaro faction.
“The challenges are enormous, but at the same time this government can count on enormous international and local support,” he said.
The new administration is already seeking outside help. Just two weeks after his October election victory – and despite not yet being in power – Lula appeared at the COP27 climate talks in Egypt to reassure the world that Brazil would be a steward responsible for the environment. His team has also opened informal talks with Germany for a new funding package to help the South American country’s transition to a cleaner economy.
Norway and Germany have both indicated they are ready to unfreeze their contributions to Brazil through the Amazon Fund – a program Silva helped design that rewards efforts to reduce deforestation. Bolsonaro suspended the fund. The Norwegian embassy in Brasilia told The Associated Press that the fund “could be opened quickly to support the government’s action plan once the Brazilian government restores the fund’s governance structure.”
At COP27, Silva lobbied Britain, France, the United States and others to contribute to the fund, which already contains more than half a billion dollars in unspent funding. .
Guajajara’s appointment gives tribal groups in Brazil a government ministry for the first time. This is also seen as a key factor in protecting the Amazon, as much of the forest is in areas designated as indigenous lands, but which are often prey to criminal gangs who run mining and logging operations or open the forest to pasture.
US President Joe Biden sent a delegation to the inauguration led by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, herself an Indigenous woman.
Lula also tapped Jean Paul Prates to run state-owned energy company Petrobras, a move that Reuters said was seen as an indication that the company would slowly shift away from deep-sea oil and gas exploration towards sources of renewable energy.
Lula will attempt to preserve the Amazon amid intense political division in Brazil. He defeated Bolsonaro in a close second round and his inauguration came amid heightened security, after a foiled bomb threat from a man who was said to be a Bolsonaro supporter.
Bolsonaro left the country and landed in the US state of Florida on Friday.