With Lula ready to take over, what role can Brazil play on climate? | Environment news

Minas Gerais, Brazil – A few hours after the Brazilians elected Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as the country’s next president, the first signs of international enthusiasm and hope for the country’s return to the climate action game were already visible.

International leaders said they are looking forward to working with Lula’s government, especially on the environment; Norway and Germany have announced the opening to renewal of the Amazon Fund, a multilateral mechanism to help safeguard the rainforest; and Lula himself has pledged to do more to combat climate change.

“In her first speech, Lula made it clear that the climate agenda will be central to her government,” Izabella Teixeira, who was Brazil’s environment minister from 2010 to 2016, told Al Jazeera in a short telephone interview.

The president-elect, who will take office in January, has promised to create an indigenous ministry and a special secretariat for the climate emergency and to end Amazon deforestation in Brazil. This week he will also travel to Egypt to attend the UN COP27 climate summit.

But after four years of environmental degradation during the administration of Lula’s predecessor, the journey ahead will be anything but easy. Under far-right leader, President Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions have risen to the highest level in nearly two decades, deforestation in the Amazon it also hit a record high and illegal invasions of indigenous lands tripled.

“These elections have brought Brazil back to multilateralism. There are high expectations that the country will once again be a prestigious player in global climate negotiations, “said Stela Herschmann, a climate policy expert at the Brazilian Climate Observatory, a network of civil society groups.

“But if we are to gain that prestige, we will have to do our homework,” he told Al Jazeera.

Why is Brazil important?

Home to the world’s largest tropical rainforest and the fifth largest greenhouse gas producer, Brazil has a key role to play in controlling climate change.

If deforestation in the Amazon, for example, reaches 25% of its original coverage, changes in the rainfall regime will permanently affect its ability to regenerate, a tipping point where the forest will produce more carbon dioxide than it can absorb. .

“Without the Amazon, it is impossible to keep alive the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 ° C above pre-industrial levels,” said Marcio Santilli, founding member of the Instituto Socioambiental, a civil society group dedicated to defense. of Brazilian socio-environmental diversity.

How Brazil chooses to address environmental issues internally has a global impact, but the country also has a diplomatic role to play, environmentalists say. “Today, the climate agenda plays a more central role worldwide than it did during Lula’s two terms. [from 2003 to 2010] – when Brazil has already acted as an international intermediary, ”said Herschmann.

At COP27, Brazil will be present in three different spaces: the official government pavilion, an Amazonian pavilion created by the state governors of the region, and the Brazil Climate Action Hub, a space dedicated to civil society.

Herschmann said Brazil is in a prime position to hold talks with powerful economies, particularly on issues such as climate finance and a push for richer countries to compensate for the losses and damage caused by the crisis to those on the way. development, because the country has a deep understanding of the reality experienced by developing countries.

He added that Brazil, which managed to reduce deforestation rates by 70 percent during Lula’s two terms and has one of the greenest energy matrices in the world, should “lead by example”.

“The research we have conducted … shows that Brazil could become carbon negative by 2045. We have the potential to become a large, decarbonised economy,” he said.

Challenges coming

But according to Santilli, the situation today in Brazil, particularly in the Amazon, is very different from what it was when Lula first took office nearly 20 years ago.

According to Human Rights Watch’s 2022 presentation (PDF) to the Universal Periodic Review of the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Bolsonaro government has debilitated environmental agencies, giving the green light to the actions of criminal networks and increasing the destruction of the forest. Violence has skyrocketed, particularly in the sprawling Amazon.

Santilli said the region has seen a growing presence of organized criminal groups, including drug gangs from other states, using the logistics and infrastructure put in place by illegal miners. “[The] 2022 Amazon is not the same as [the] 2002 Amazon, “he said.

Lula’s ruling coalition will also face obstacles in adopting tougher environmental policies and reversing some of its predecessor’s policies. With 247 pro-Bolsonaro MPs elected, Congress will be a challenge, especially as the House uses the last days of the current government to expedite pending bills intended to hinder the demarcation of indigenous lands and allow mining.

Last week, the Brazilian branch of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) also warned that a “frenzied rush” of destruction was underway in the Amazon in anticipation of a change of government in Brasilia. “The new government will have a lot of work to do to get the country back on track, to put an end to the perception that the Amazon is a lawless land,” Raul do Valle from WWF-Brazil said in a statement.

Natalie Unterstell, president and co-founder of Talanoa, a Brazilian think tank dedicated to climate policy, told Al Jazeera that in this context, relaunching old plans will not be enough.

“In the past, the main pillars of environmental policies were monitoring and control, which will have to be resumed, as well as the demarcation of indigenous and protected lands,” he told Al Jazeera.

But, according to her, fomenting a sustainable economy, which has never been a priority, will have to become so quickly. “It will be crucial to prevent people on the ground from being held hostage to illegal exploitation activities,” Unterstell said.

For Herschmann, Lula’s administration will have to act vigorously from day one if it is to show seriousness, and this begins by updating the country’s nationally determined contribution (NDC) to greenhouse gas reduction. The NDC was modified under Bolsonaro in a way that actually allows for more emissions than when it was first unveiled in 2016, attracting condemnation from environmental activists.

“Right now, the international community is showing leniency towards Brazil. But their patience won’t last forever, ”Herschmann said. “The world has no time to waste on empty promises.”

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