On the first day of 2023, when Brazil’s newly elected (yet very familiar) President Lula da Silva took to the stage outside the Palácio do Planalto in Rio de Janeiro, delivering an inauguration speech overflowing with emotion, optimism, criticism and activism, a turning point in the country’s future materialised.
After three long years of social, political, and environmental warfare in Brazil under the government of former far-right leader, Jair Bolsanaro, this moment was a long-awaited win for the 215 million Brazilians who’ve suffered at the hands of the previous office’s “scorched-earth” approach to leadership.
But more than this, though Lula himself is by no means squeaky clean, the return of his liberal rule, and end to the turbulence of authoritarian leadership in Brazil, was also a much-needed win for every other human on this planet.
Why? Because Brazil is home to the most important tropical ecosystem on Earth: “the lung’s of the planet,” aka, the Amazon rainforest.
In the three years that Bolsonaro governed the Brazilian people and landscape, from 2019 to 2022, violence against indigenous people rose sharply, illegal activity and exploitation of the environment was encouraged, and deforestation of the Amazon increased by 60%.
In his inauguration speech, Lula labelled this manifesto of his predecessor’s government as being “inspired by fascism,” leaving Brazil in “terrible ruins,” and vowed he would undo the division, devastation and disharmony exacted on his country’s population, environment and economy under Bolsonaro’s regime.
Thankfully, so far it seems the clear-cut message of Lula’s incoming administration is that the world can rest assured that Brazil is once again committed to radical change, and that it actively wants to get back on track right away.
“Today, we begin a new stage in the history of Brazil,” said Lula.
Hoje começamos uma nova etapa na história do Brasil.
📸: @ricardostuckert pic.twitter.com/UuKghbZu6O
— Lula (@LulaOficial) January 1, 2023
Brazil is back
In a country ravaged by hunger, economic, environmental and social crises, Lula will face many hurdles in building back the solid foundation that will pave Brazil’s path to prosperity.
But even in the short time he’s been President so far, his show of resilient commitment has been impressive; signing scores of environmental decrees at the first opportunity, ameliorating international diplomatic ties with charm, and appointing a diverse panel of environmental advocates to join him in leading Brazil toward change.
Just two weeks after his election, without so much as an office to work from, at COP27 Lula told the world “Brazil is back,” and will “do whatever it takes to have zero deforestation and degradation of our biomes.”
Words which we can reasonably trust, given that Lula is no stranger to (environmentally-speaking) doing right by his country.
During his previous two back-to-back sessions in office, from 2003 to 2011, issues such as poverty and environmental protection were prioritised in Brazil, as were efforts to strengthen the country’s multilateral ties and earnt it respect within the international community.
Deforestation was actually shown to decrease by as much as 70%, and poverty by over 52% under Lula’s rule in the past.
“He made Brazil a significant player on the world scene … Brazil was a serious country – it helped create the G20, it established relations … with the Brics [Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa]. Brazilians were nominated to run the WTO and the FAO,” said Richard Bourne, Lula’s British biographer.
As a result of this positive political history, as well as his flying start this third time round, the many bilateral bridges previously formed between Brazil and other countries – many of which were frozen under Bolsonaro’s watch – are beginning to defrost once again.
This brings renewed hope that Brazil may once again take its place on the international stage as a leader in environmental preservation, a return that would most certainly be globally-celebrated given that, as Lula also said at COP27, “there is no climate security for the world without a protected Amazon.”
However, given the level of damage already sustained by the Amazon after years of Bolsonaro’s money-minded exploitation, some scientists now warn the world’s most important rainforest may have already been pushed past the brink.
What’s going on in the Amazon?
The Amazon rainforest – two-thirds of which are within Brazil’s borders, roughly equivalent to the size of the United States – is estimated to have shrunk in size by around 17% in the past 50 years due to human activity.
This level of deforestation is extremely concerning, given that the forest’s “tipping point” is estimated to be reached at around 20-25% deforestation – just a few years away if you do the math.
Once tipped over, the forest’s many ecosystems would begin deteriorating rapidly, eventually plunging into a self-perpetuating spiral of destruction, and likely triggering more of Earth’s vital climate-regulating components such as the Arctic and coral reefs, to tip over the edge as well.
Quantifying the exact level of deterioration going on in the Amazon is challenging, however some studies recently confirmed that instead of storing CO2 and helping cool the planet, the Amazon is possibly now contributing to its warming as a net emitter of GHGs. They warn that on the whole, the Amazon now produces more CO2 into our atmosphere than it removes.
What’s more, other studies now reveal that the climate-related changes we’re seeing in the Amazon could in fact be driving those witnessed in other vital earth components such as the snowy landscape of the Tibetan plateau – nearly 4,000 miles away.
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In light of this, some experts now believe that the Amazon’s tipping point may have already been reached. But how exactly did we get here?
Uncurbed agricultural expansion, illegal gold mining, illegal logging, expanding infrastructure, forest fires, and lack of governance are but a few of the leading drivers of deforestation, all of which were encouraged and increased in Brazil under Bolsonaro’s leadership.
Is there anything we can do about it?
Yes, thankfully, the general consensus amongst scientists is that there is still hope that the damage can be reversed with international backing and immediate changes to policy and human activity in the region.
The question is, are Lula and his administration up the task?
Dia 1 ❤️
🎥: @ricardostuckert pic.twitter.com/YKQQGjQhUn
— Lula (@LulaOficial) January 2, 2023
Can Lula save the Amazon, and by proxy, us all?
The challenges faced by Lula’s incoming administration should not be underestimated; under Bolsonaro’s corrupt leadership, the country was largely governed by criminal gangs who waged a violent and merciless war on the indigenous peoples and environment.
And it’s not like Lula earnt a landslide Presidential win either; the 2022 race was a tight one, with only 0.9% of the public’s vote swinging the result in Lula’s favour.
A nation divided in this way will of course need to be manoeurvered carefully as Lula tries to install change into national infrastructure and perspective, but the safety net that he can hopefully fall back on – one which Bolsonaro never came even close to being able to count on – is the backdrop of international support his efforts will be bolstered by.
At the end of the day, what happens in the Amazon, doesn’t stay in the Amazon – it greatly effects us all.
But just like how the tipping elements of Earth must be preserved individually in order to stabilise the global climate, Brazil’s social, economic, political and environmental elements must also be preserved in the same way if Lula is to succeed in protecting the Amazon, Brazil’s economy, his position, and the public’s wellbeing and opinion simultaneously.
If he is to ensure the preservation of his country’s best interests, as well as that of the international community, he is certainly going to have to tread carefully in reshaping Brazil’s national and international policy and practices. But, he seems like he’s off to a good start.
Me reuni hoje com o presidente da Alemanha, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Agradeci sua vinda ao Brasil para nossa posse e conversamos sobre ampliar as relações econômicas e parcerias entre o Brasil e Alemanha 🇧🇷🇩🇪
📸: @ricardostuckert pic.twitter.com/sCEHmsQOwV
— Lula (@LulaOficial) December 31, 2022
How is Lula going about this so far?
A good start
Staying true to his word, the decrees signed by Lula in his first days in office included several prominent environmental orders focused on protecting the Amazon, curbing deforestation, and drawing up new guidelines for the National Environment Council.
Furthermore, as well as his celebrated comeback at COP27, the many bilateral meetings he has held with various leaders so far have already garnered a global following of world powers in favour of supporting his success.
The dream team
Support has also largely been cultivated by his administration’s diverse “dream team,” of which 11 out of 16 are women, two are members of indigenous communities, and many have a long history of environmental and climate advocacy under their belt.
The appointment of an administration with such a strong interest in environmental issues should almost certainly be credited for the impressive initial decrees signed into legislation.
A focus on indigenous peoples
Lula’s administration is in fact the first in Brazil’s history to appoint an Indigenous Peoples Minister, and no less an indigenous woman herself, Sonia Guajajara, to the role.
Prioritising and granting more power to the indigenous people in this way is beneficial not only for the historical communities and culture they represent, but also to the forest itself, as protection of the rainforest populations will of course require protection of the landscape they live in.
International support for the Amazon
Lula has wisely already begun recruiting outside help to protect the Amazon. At COP27 he reopened dialogue with many nations including Germany, the UK, US, Norway and France on revamping the “Amazon Fund,” a global support program aimed at funding environmental protection efforts in the Amazon.
This fund had amassed nearly £500 million in donations when it was frozen under Bolsonaro’s leadership; capital which may soon be once again pumped into restoring the rainforest as it seems the initial talks have gotten off to a good start, with both Germany and Norway agreeing to unfreeze their cashflow into the fund.
The balancing act
One of the biggest and most sensitive topics Lula faces is navigating the duality between protecting the amazon whilst also protecting his country’s agricultural economy.
A path that will require costly and timely strengthening of police forces, as well as the reformation of policy that still largely favours agribusiness, criminality, and is supported by pro-Bolsonaro Brazilians.
This will require a stealthy balancing act, one that Lula can perhaps bolster through promotion of Brazil’s economic growth being contingent on their position in the international community and marketplace, a position which will only be maintained if protection of the Amazon is prioritised.
A manifestation of this rationale can possibly be seen within the reignition of trade deals such as the EU-Mercosur agreement; a pact between Europe and South America to increase bilateral trade and break down tariff barriers, in return for a commitment to climate action.
This of course also benefits the EU, which is seeking to diversify its supply chains in order to reduce dependency on unpredictable states such as Russia and China, especially in light of the energy crisis and urgent need to accelerate the green transition.
The green transition
The energy transition has also been highlighted as one of Lula’s possible presidential priorities, most notably due to his appointment of senator and well-known clean energy advocate, Jean Paul Prates, to the role of CEO of Brazil’s national energy company, Petrobras.
In his role as senator, Prates has been active in shaping energy policy and advocating for increased investments in renewable technologies, which is an encouraging nod towards Lula’s administrations intentions of shifting Brazil towards prioritising renewable sources of energy.
We all have a responsibility to protect the Amazon
In today’s global climate, it’s hard to trust the proclaimed good intentions of any prominent politician or leader, but given this is not Lula’s first rodeo, his pro-environment track-record should provide us with some comfort that protecting the Amazon will remain a top priority for Brazil.
Either way, in their bold but overdue endeavour to protect Brazil from a politically instilled national culture of corruption, criminality, greed and violence, it seems Lula’s government have got their work cut out for them.
The weight of not just Brazil, but the entire planet is on their shoulders, and for this reason, the rest of the world’s powers also have a responsibility to help.
Lula’s efforts must be bolstered by global support, and a joint effort must be made to help install the infrastructure required to preserve the Amazon rainforest, curb emissions and deforestation, and accelerate the country’s transition to a clean green economy.
Let’s hope Brazil and the international community can live up to these expectations, the habitable future of earth depends on it.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: The Amazon Rainforest. Featured Photo Credit: Ivars Utināns/Unsplash