Brazilian President-Elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva recently spoke at the COP27 Climate Summit held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, about his proposed policy changes and goals for the restoration of the Amazon Rainforest.
Just last month, the world watched intently as the Brazilian presidential elections unfolded neck and neck. Caught between Brazil’s former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and current President, Jair Messias Bolsonaro, the country faced what some called “the most polemical elections of its history”. Popularly known as Lula, Silva won the election with 50.90% of the votes and is now being observed by a sceptical nation. World leaders and young Brazilian activists want to ensure Lula pulls his weight on his campaign promises – notably, the promised policy changes regarding the restoration of the Amazon rainforest and strengthening environmental laws and policies around the country.
It’s no news that the Brazilian Amazon is one of the world's most crucial ecologically wilderness regions. From releasing Carbon and Oxygen into the atmosphere to water and energy exchanges, protecting indigenous communities, and being one of the world’s most considerable resources for natural components of food and medicine, the Amazon Rainforest is indispensable in the global fight against climate change. However, in recent years, a feeling of neglect has settled over climate activists and political collaborators as deforestation rates and global warming levels skyrocketed. According to the Guardian, deforestation in the Amazon reached its highest level since 2006, climbing to an astonishing 22% in 2021.
Under President Jair Bolsonaro’s government, a decline in fiscal policies, increasing crime rates and high deforestation levels left world leaders particularly worried. In 2021, INPE, Brazil’s space research agency, recorded deforestation in the Amazon to be as wide as nearly seventeen times the size of New York City. Despite Bolsonaro’s assurances that his government would protect and restore the Amazon, wildfires, destruction, and lack of proper inspection and infrastructure consistently graced the front pages of Brazilian newspapers. Politically engaged youth and climate activists became forced to ask, what happened?
In September 2021, the Brazilian Government attended the UN Climate Summit in Glasgow and pledged to end illegal deforestation. Joaquim Alvaro Pereira Leite, the Brazilian Climate Minister, and Tereza Cristina Corrêa da Costa Dias, the Agriculture Minister, told the Guardian that Brazil is “a longtime champion of the environmental agenda”. Nevertheless, experts are worried that the efforts made only at the end of Bolsonaro’s first presidential term are not nearly enough to reverse the long-term effects of the climate change that has occurred under his government. Activists are particularly wary of Brazil’s local and national elected officials, given the general feeling of distrust that has resided over the nation as a result of long-lasting tumultuous governance and political instability.
Ernesto Araújo, Brazil’s former Foreign Minister, wrote a blog entry called ‘Against Globalism’, in which he claimed conspiracy and vilified political strides in the fight against climate change. Furthermore, the Brazilian magazine journal Época claims Araújo said, “I don’t believe in global warming. See, I went to Rome in May and there was a huge cold wave. This shows how global warming theories are wrong,” when attending a cabinet meeting. CNN writes that Araújo “has called efforts to combat climate change a conspiratorial power grab.” While only one example, Araújo represents a greater issue of distrust between Brazil’s vastly diverse and polarised population and their official government.
With Lula’s recent victory in the October 2022 presidential elections, a general hesitance to embrace and believe his promised efforts to reverse climate change is expected. One of Lula’s major campaign promises regarding the Brazilian economy has been an inclusive “Green New Deal,” to support the restoration and conservation of the “sustainable use of the biodiversity in all of Brazil’s biomes.” In an article on Lula’s ‘green’ proposal, Reuters writes:
“The big question [...] is whether the leftist former president can muster the political will to fund such ambitions.”
During his first run as Brazilian president from 2003 to 2010, efforts to reduce deforestation were successful – but they were accompanied by a vigorous championing of industrial development and a lack of focus on emissions. Under Lula’s first government, a state bank backed the beef industry's pervasion of the Amazon, and expansive new oil reserves were built, as reported by Reuters.
At COP27, Lula’s speech affirmed: “Brazil is back. Brazil is back to resume its ties with the world and to once again fight hunger in the world. To cooperate once again with the poorest countries – above all, Africa – to cooperate with technology transfers to build a better future for our people. We are back. We are back to help build a peaceful world order based on dialogue and multilateralism. The world of today is not the same as the world in 1945.”
Following Lula’s victory in last month’s close elections, presidents and national leaders from around the world, including Joe Biden, Emmanuel Macron, Justin Trudeau and Pedro Sanchez, tweeted out their recognition of his feat – and many of these statements seemed to fall in themes: fair elections, environmental protection (particularly, Brazilian support of the Paris Agreement), and rebuilding international relations.
Now, as Lula sees support from left-wing activists prioritising environmental policies and holds on his shoulders the expectations of world leaders, the question remains of whether these are vain promises or if this new chapter in Brazil’s political history can truly mean hope for the future – not just for Brazil.