The environment is again on the priority list in Brazil

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, widely known as Lula, was sworn in as Brazil’s new president yesterday, promising sweeping changes in the country, including reversing and ending deforestation in the Amazon – the rainforest the most important in the world. Lula’s third round for the presidency begins exactly 20 years after his first inauguration in 2003.

Image credit: Lula’s presidential office.

In his inauguration speech, Lula pledged to undo the harm caused by the previous government of former President Jair Bolsonaro, which he said was “inspired by fascism”. Bolsonaro left “terrible ruins” among Brazilian institutions and “destroyed environmental protection”, Lula said, arguing that Brazil would now be a climate leader.

This is great news for Brazil, but also for the world.

About two-thirds of the Amazon rainforest, which acts as a carbon sink and regulates the global climate, is in Brazilian territory. While in office, Bolsonaro encouraged the expansion of cattle ranching and suppressed law enforcement, causing a 60% increase in deforestation under his government compared to the previous four years.

After the swearing-in, Lula drove to the presidential residence, where he walked up the ramp with his wife and a diverse group of people – including an indigenous chief, a young black boy, a cook and a disabled man. . He was then presented with the presidential sash, a symbolic act Bolsonaro said he would not do, by Aline Sousa, a black garbage collector.

Tens of thousands of people gathered to celebrate as Lula wiped away tears. In his speech from the palace, he pledged to unite a polarized country and govern for all Brazilians. “There are not two Brazils. We are one country, one great nation,” Lula said. He pledged to reduce inequality, improve women’s rights, tackle racism and exercise fiscal prudence. However, the most striking change in direction has been the environment.

A strong environmental agenda

In his first presidential decrees, Lula restored the authority of the government environmental protection agency Ibama to fight illegal deforestation, which had been watered down by Bolsonaro. He also revoked a measure that encourages illegal mining on indigenous lands and released a $1 billion fund for Amazon’s sustainable projects.

Image credit: Lula’s presidential office.

Lula appointed environmental activist Marina Silva as environment minister and Sonia Guajajara, an indigenous leader, as Brazil’s first indigenous peoples minister. Silva served as Lula’s environment minister during his first term between 2003 and 2010. Back then, the government succeeded in drastically reducing deforestation.

Guajajara’s nomination is seen as key in protecting the Amazon, as much of the forest is in areas designated as indigenous lands but often preyed upon by criminal gangs who carry out illegal mining and logging activities. Giving more power to indigenous peoples would ensure better protection of forests, Lula said in his speech.

Two weeks after winning the October elections, and despite not yet being in power, Lula attended the UN COP27 climate summit in Egypt to reassure the world that Brazil would be a responsible environmental leader. He has also started informal talks with developed countries to fund new measures to protect the Amazon rainforest.

Lula also named Jean Paul Prates, a Brazilian senator and energy consultant, as the new head of state energy giant Petrobras. Since 2019, Petrobras has largely focused on offshore oil and gas activities. But the appointment of Prates, a renewable energy advocate, portends a possible shift in company policies.

Whether or not the promises will materialize remains to be seen. But at least the intention seems to be very different from the previous four years. For Brazil’s environment and for the world, this seems like good news.

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