SHARM el-SHEIKH, Egypt (AP) — Six weeks before Brazilian President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva came to power, he told a packed crowd at the UN climate summit in Egypt on Wednesday that his government would crack down on illegal deforestation and Latin America’s largest and most populous nation at the forefront of climate leadership.
When Da Silva arrived at a pavilion, hundreds of people gathered, many cheering and chanting in Portuguese “Lula,” the name commonly used by Brazilians to refer to him. The performance of da Silva, who made an extraordinary political comeback last year after being convicted of corruption and imprisoned a few years ago, was easily one of the events that generated the most energy at the conference known as COP27. That’s because da Silva, who as president between 2003 and 2010 oversaw a major reduction in deforestation in Brazil’s rainforest, has pledged to do so again.
After meeting with several Brazilian governors, including from key rainforest states such as Amazonia and Para, da Silva addressed the crowd in a short speech.
“You all know that we are going to have a big fight against deforestation,” da Silva cheered.
Da Silva said he would recommend that the UN hold the 2025 climate conference in the Amazon, adding that it was about time “people who defend the Amazon and defend the climate get to know the region closely.”
During his speech, da Silva took several swipes at President Jair Bolsonaro for pushing development in the Amazon region, both in his pro-business rhetoric and in how his administration managed the forests. Da Silva defeated Bolsonaro in October elections and will take power on January 1.
“Brazil cannot remain isolated as it has been for the past four years. (Officials from Brazil) have not traveled to other countries and no other countries have traveled to Brazil,” da Silva said.
Da Silva has scheduled several other meetings with ministers from different countries in the coming days.
On Tuesday night, da Silva met with U.S. climate envoy John Kerry, who told reporters on Wednesday he was pleased that da Silva “talked once and for all about doing the right thing, bringing people together to preserve the Amazon.”
Under Bolsonaro, elected in 2018, environmental agencies that regulate the Amazon have been weakened. The former army captain also appointed forest managers from agribusiness, which opposes the creation of protected areas such as indigenous areas and pushes for the legalization of land grabbing. According to official figures, from August 2020 to July 2021, the deforested area in the Brazilian Amazon reached a 15-year high. Satellite monitoring shows that the trend this year is on track to outperform last year.
The Amazon rainforest, which overlaps several countries in South America, is seen as critical to combating climate change because of the large amounts of carbon dioxide it absorbs.
Da Silva did not comment on news reports in Brazil that focused on a possible alliance between Brazil, Congo and Indonesia, home to the world’s largest tropical forests. Given the nickname “OPEC of the Forests”, referring to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and the way they regulate oil production, the general idea would be that these three countries should improve their negotiating positions and practices in forest management and conservation. coordinating biodiversity. . According to the reports, the proposal was initially floated at last year’s climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland.
Despite da Silva’s lofty promises, the task ahead of his incoming administration is enormous. While many people, especially environmentalists and officials, celebrate pledges to protect the Amazon at a climate conference like this, Brazilian leaders have traditionally faced tremendous pressure to develop. That pressure comes from sectors such as agriculture and mining, along with many people who live in the Amazon who feel it is up to them to decide how the vast area is managed.
There is also the reality that Da Silva’s environmental record as president has been mixed. Deforestation dropped dramatically in the decade after da Silva came to power, with Marina Silva, a former childhood rubber tapper who worked closely with slain environmentalist Chico Mendes, as environment minister. But in his second term, da Silva began to focus on agribusiness interests, and in 2008 Marina Silva resigned. Marina Silva is also taking part in COP27 and is once again a contender for the top environmental job.
Simone Karipuna, an Amazonian activist who traveled to COP27 and attended da Silva’s speech, was one of many indigenous women who traveled to Egypt to participate in the summit. In between chants with several other women, Karipuna spoke of her hope that challenges can be overcome as indigenous communities living in the forest can work with the incoming government.
“We have had no dialogue at all with the current government,” she said.
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