Bold talk, slow walk as Brazil’s Lula sets out to save Amazon

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva stands at a Global Climate Action podium
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When it comes to what some call his most important job – saving the Amazon rainforest – president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has been talking the talk, vowing “Brazil is back” in the fight against climate change.

Now, environmentalists say it is time for him to walk the walk. It’s also time for the international community to put its money where its mouth is by ramping up funding to protect the Amazon, a vital resource in the race to curb global warming.

Lula, who marks his 100th day in office on 10 April, has made a radical break with the environmental policies of far-right predecessor Jair Bolsonaro. The new president vowed to fight for zero deforestation in the Amazon after a surge of destruction over the past four years.

On his first day in office, Lula signed decrees to undo Bolsonaro’s environmental legacy. These created an inter-ministerial anti-deforestation task force and revived the suspended Amazon Fund, an internationally financed initiative to protect the rainforest.

However, environmentalists say they are still waiting for the next step from him and respected Environment Minister Marina Silva. Brazil needs concrete actions to stop the destruction of the Amazon by land-grabbers, cattle ranches, and illegal gold mines. Cristiane Mazzetti of Greenpeace Brasil told Agence France-Presse (AFP):

We’re finally back to having a quote-unquote ‘normal’ government.

Now we’re just waiting for it to enter the implementation phase.

Read on...

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Show me the money

Despite receiving a warm welcome on the world stage, Lula has struggled to get wealthy countries to fund the fight to protect the Amazon.

He came away from a high-profile White House visit with Joe Biden in February with a vague promise of US “intent” to support the Amazon Fund. However, the US provided no date or specific amount.

In January, Germany pledged 200m euros for the rainforest. This included 35m euros for the Amazon Fund, which was launched in 2008 with a $1 billion commitment from Norway.

But Brazil’s efforts to get the European Union, Britain, France, and Spain to contribute have yet to pan out.

Environmentalists say Lula’s cash-strapped government is in a bind. It needs more money to reduce deforestation, but needs to reduce deforestation to attract more money. Rodrigo Castro of environmental group Solidaridad said:

There are so many fronts where the government simply can’t do anything because it doesn’t have the resources.

There is, however, one notable exception. A massive police and army operation was launched in February to wrest back control of Brazil’s biggest Indigenous reservation, the Yanomami territory, from thousands of illegal gold miners who had invaded it. As the Canary previously reported:

A recent investigation by Forensic Architecture and the Climate Litigation Accelerator found a doubling of illegal gold mining activity in their [the Yanomami] region under Bolsonaro, leading to human rights violations and deforestation.

No time to spare

Years of impunity for destroying the forest mean that the problem’s roots run too deep for an instant fix. This became clear when Lula’s second month in office set a new record for February deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.

Activists say Lula’s government needs to fight all-out on multiple fronts. It must counter organised crime groups that profit from destroying the forest, invest in the “green economy”, and keep its promise to resume creating new Indigenous reservations.

They describe it as a government with good intentions, but overwhelmed by the magnitude of the mess it faces. Raul do Valle of the World Wildlife Fund-Brazil said:

The administration’s main mission so far has been just disarming the traps left by the Bolsonaro government.

But the issue is urgent, with a slate of recent studies showing the Amazon’s ability to absorb humans’ carbon emissions is flagging. As Vox reported:

About 17 percent of the Amazon rainforest is now gone, according to a report from 2021. Scientists estimate that if that number reaches 20 to 25 percent, parts of the tropical ecosystem could dry out, threatening the millions of people and animals that depend on it.

The largest rainforest on Earth, the Amazon is home to a truly remarkable assemblage of species, including 14 percent of the world’s birds and 18 percent of its vascular plants. Many of them are found nowhere else.

Losing organisms to deforestation erodes essential functions including the production of oxygen and storage of carbon, on which we all depend, and undermines scientific discovery. 

Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse

Featured image via Youtube/ El Pais

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