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Lula faces a daunting challenge to fulfill his vow to reverse Amazon deforestation in Brazil | Brazil

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Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s narrow victory over President Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil’s October elections has been hailed as the Amazon’s potential salvation, after four years of rampant destruction that has brought the rainforest one step closer tipping point, threatening the very survival of the indigenous populations whose lives depend on it.

Lula pledged to reverse the environmental destruction caused by his far-right predecessor and to work for zero deforestation by fighting crime in the Amazon and ensuring the protection of indigenous rights. But the president-elect, who takes office on January 1, 2023, will face an uphill battle to deliver on those great promises he made to the Brazilian people and the international community.

“Lula is going to take on the challenge of how to be ambitious on climate issues, and at the same time be effective, deliver on the promises that are made,” said Natalie Unterstell, chairwoman of climate policy think tank Instituto Talanoa. “Brazil’s climate leadership will have to be rebuilt based on results, not just rhetoric.”

Priorities for the new government will be to rebuild and strengthen the environmental institutions of the state, which were gutted under Bolsonaro, and to recognize the vital conservation role played by indigenous Brazilians, whose rights have come under unprecedented attack. There is talk of creating a department of Aboriginal peoples.

Lula’s government will also have to deal with increasingly violent and diverse crime in the Amazon, with loggers, land grabbers, illegal miners and other criminals emboldened by Bolsonaro’s laissez-faire attitude.

“Deforestation is just the tip of the iceberg, there are many illicit economies and many actors with a level of organization, sophistication and violence far greater than when previous Lula administrations experienced great success in reducing deforestation,” said Ilona Szabó of Instituto Igarapé, a think tank focused on public and climate safety.

The environmental task force of Lula’s transition team – which includes Marina Silva, the environment minister who oversaw a sharp drop in deforestation during Lula’s first term and who may have to return to her old role – indicated that environmental law enforcement will be a priority and talked about combating deforestation in Brazil’s other biomes.

“The apathy, the impunity are over,” said Aloizio Mercadante, coordinator of the transition team, during a recent press conference.

Amazon deforestation totaled 11,568 km2 in the year from August 2021 to July 2022, according to national space agency INPE’s recent annual deforestation report – an 11% decrease from the previous year. previous year, but still the second highest figure since 2008. In the four years spanning Bolsonaro’s tenure, an area more than twice the size of Wales (over 45,000 km2) has been cleared in the Amazon.

Deforestation and land use change are the main contributors to Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions, which increased by 12.2% in total last year according to the Climate Observatory. The destruction of the country’s biomes accounted for 1.19 billion tons of the total 2.16 billion tons of CO2 the equivalent of the South American giant issued in 2021.

Reducing deforestation levels is therefore of paramount importance if Brazil is to reduce its overall emissions and meet internationally agreed targets.

Charred tree trunks are seen on a stretch of Amazon jungle, which was recently burned by loggers and farmers, in Porto Velho, Brazil, in 2019.
Charred tree trunks are seen on a stretch of Amazon jungle, which was recently burned by loggers and farmers, in Porto Velho, Brazil, in 2019. Photograph: Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters

All of this will require funds – another major challenge for the new government as Brazil’s mandatory spending and tax rules leave it very little room to increase environmental budgets. The transition team is currently in talks with Congress to exclude certain spending — including foreign donations for the environmental agenda — from a constitutionally mandated spending cap.

Although the task at hand is immense, Lula will benefit from a positive scenario at the international level, said Márcio Astrini, director general of the Climate Observatory.

The president-elect was greeted as a hero at the Cop27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh in November, where he announced that “Brazil is back” in the fight against the climate crisis. Germany and Norway have indicated they will restart donations to the Amazon Fund, an important tool to fight deforestation that was crippled under the Bolsonaro government, after the Supreme Court ordered the fund to be reactivated soon after the election. .

Lula’s victory would also have spurred talks with Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo – the other two major rainforest nations – on coordinating conservation efforts.

Both Unterstell and Szabó said continued international support will depend on how quickly the new Lula government delivers results and is transparent about its policies and the obstacles it encounters along the way.

“Lula won’t work miracles in the Amazon,” Astrini conceded, adding that there was unlikely to be a significant decrease in deforestation in Lula’s first year – partly because the next set of Annual data will include the last five months of Bolsonaro’s government, during which deforestation looks set to hit new records.

But, Astrini said, after Bolsonaro’s “environmental hell” Lula represents “concrete hope” that the Amazon can be protected and that Brazil will return to the international fight against the climate crisis.

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