I meet Helena Branco and Graziella Albuquerque virtually during the COP27, the 27th United Nations Conference of the Parties on Climate Change. They are two very young Brazilian activists and journalists who arrived in Sharm el-Sheikh to cover the climate summit.
Helena Branca she’s 20 years old, she’s been an activist for five, she’s in charge of gender equality for Girl Up Brazilan association he wants to form female leader between 13 and 20 years old. For her, coming to the Cop means combining a gender perspective with the fight for environmental justice.
“Women, especially women in a vulnerable position, are the most affected by climate change. Mitigation and adaptation must look to them. What can we do to prevent the suffering of these women?”. IS the first thing she says to me when I ask her why she decided to go to Sharm el-Sheikh.
Grace Albuquerque is a journalist from Average Ninjas and runs an environmental education program. This is his first climate summit in attendance but he has already covered COP26 virtually and he has no doubts about going to Dubai for COP28 next year.
Very little space for civil society
The two activists are quite critical of the protest space within COP27: “Together with other activists from all over the world, ate have seen how difficult it was to get here and how small the space is for civil society. We cannot protest here. Protests are very small and we are really afraid of retaliation. We are also afraid of surveillance. You can not relax for a moment because you never know what can happen, especially when it comes to organizing, mobilizing. We know we’re safe on the inside, but what about the outside? We don’t know how to move. It’s a really difficult situation.”
In fact, protest demonstrations are not allowed outside the Cop so, for the first time, activists crowd inside trying to make their voices heard as they can, with the resulting images of small groups of people dissonant from the hasty mass of delegates. The Bolsonaro government has even denied accreditation for Cop27 to activists who have turned outside to gain access to the Summit. “While Chile handled the accreditations some time ago, the Brazilian government denied us any passes. We have asked international organizations to give us their accreditations, in our case we have to thank them A Sud Onlus“.
But if the presence of civil society has been prevented in every way, that of fossil companies seems to have been almost encouraged. “We have seen a long line of fossil industries represent the decarbonization of Brazil: MyCarbon, General Motors, GWEC, Toyota, Vale do rio Doce“. The latter in particular was the protagonist of an announced environmental disaster: In 2015, the Fundão Iron Mine’s retaining dam burst, spewing 50 million tons of mud and toxic waste into Brazil’s Rio Doce, killing 19 people, polluting the river, contaminating cropland, devastating fish and life wildlife and polluting drinking water with toxic sludge along the 650km waterway.
Branco is indignant: “I asked to Marcelo Freiresecretary for the Amazon and for Environmental Services of the Ministry of the Environment of Brazil, why he had brought all these fossil energy industries to COP27 and he replied that we are going through an energy crisis because of the war and we have to guarantee the country’s energy security. Not a word about deforestation. Not a word about indigenous peoples“.
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Brazil is back
But the arrival of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva at Cop27 gives hope, especially since Jair Bolsonaro he never showed up at any climate summit. “With Lula’s elections we are seeing that many countries are trying to create diplomatic relations and closeness with Brazil, while the only relations that Bolsonaro maintained were with the United States. All this gives us hope. We want to discuss adaptation and mitigation with those countries that will be hit hardest by climate change, with those countries that care about the future of the Amazon. In Latin America and the Caribbean, natural disasters already unfolding will reduce an estimated 2 million people into poverty. We know for sure that this will happen and I believe that the Brazilian government is giving us very strong signals that climate change and the protection of the Amazon will be at the forefront of public policies and government actions.”.
The OPEC of forests
Lula’s recent election as president represents a potentially huge change for Brazil in terms of environmental prospects: he will not take office before January, but according to Reuterswho interviewed three Brazilian diplomats under anonymity, his presence at the summit greatly increased the country’s credibility in the eyes of the United Nations.
“No one is safe. Climate change will affect everyone.” he declared during his speech at COP27. “Inequalities between rich and poor are even manifested in efforts to reduce the effects of climate change. For this I promise that the fight against climate change will be at the top of my priorities as president“.
During his time at the Summit, Lula also met with the two key figures of this summit, the climate envoys of the only two countries who can move the negotiations forward John Kerry (United States) e Xie Zhenhua (China). The new president-elect presented himself as one of the leaders of the global South and of all its battles, with the ambition of becoming a point of reference for the blockade of the most vulnerable countries.
Da Silva promises to make Brazil a greener country, bolstering enforcement of environmental laws dismantled by climate change skeptic Bolsonaro, and create jobs greens in sectors that do not threaten the Amazon. And while the president-elect went to Sharm el-Sheikh, The agreement against deforestation between Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo was also announced on Mondaya strategic alliance defined as the Opec of forests. The agreement would in fact create a structure similar to the organization of oil-producing countries, which coordinates production levels and the price of fossil fuels. The three countries, home to more than half of the world’s tropical rainforests, pledge to work together to establish a “financing mechanism” that could help preserve forests and restore critical ecosystems.
As reported by Global Forest WatchBrazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Indonesia were among the top five countries for primary forest loss in 2021, with 11.1 million hectares of tree cover lost last year.
Before being elected, Lula stated that the alliance could be extended to other nations such as Peru and Cambodia.
Branco continues: “In 2004, when Lula was president, deforestation in the Amazon was down 83%, an incredible figure that tells us one thing: we know how to improve. We just have to implement the right policies”. The deforested area in the Brazilian Amazon reached a 15-year high from August 2020 to July 2021, according to official data. A constantly growing trend under Bolsonaro.
At Cop27 the symbols of Brazilian environmentalism
Another element that bodes well, this time according to Albuquerque, is the presence of symbols of Brazilian environmentalism. At the climate summit the two activists met Marina Silvaformer and probably next Minister of the Environment, e Sonia Guajajaraleader of indigenous peoples and future federal deputy for the state of São Paulo. During the Cop Silva assured that the country will act with its own means in the fight against deforestation, but she said she was happy that Norway and Germany announced, after Lula’s victory, that they were ready to resume their financial support, cut in 2019 shortly after Bolsonaro came to power, and said Brazil would look for other partners. For Marina Silva, international aid can also be useful for promoting the so-called bioeconomy. According to the former minister, one of the ways is to strengthen family agriculture in the Amazon for increase the productivity of existing farms through the most modern technologies.
Sonia Guajajara is another story. Your application it was pushed by the indigenous movement as an alternative to the regression of rights during the mandate of Bolsonaro, who proved to be the greatest enemy of indigenous peoples.
“Sonia is a woman who is a symbol of the indigenous struggle. We come from a government that has perpetrated a real genocide against indigenous peoples and she represents the transition from the past to the future. One of Lula’s campaign promises was to create a Minister of Indigenous Peoples. She will fill the role”, sfold Albuquerque. “We need representatives of indigenous and original peoples in places of power, in institutional places, where decisions are made”.
During his speech, the future president confirmed the creation of a ministry for indigenous peoples which would also be entrusted with the protection of Amazonian biodiversity. But most of all asked the secretary-general of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, to host the COP30 right in the Amazon, which will be held in 2025.
But Bolsonaro’s final days could prove difficult for Brazil. The fear of many is that the president still in office could accuse Lula of having won only thanks to alleged fraud. It is feared that between now and Lula’s inauguration, military-backed Bolsonaro supporters could create unrest in the country and try to violently impede a legitimate victory. Furthermore, new mining concessions are still at stake in indigenous territories, where the news of the killing of the British journalist caused a sensation last June Dom Phillips and of the Brazilian indigenista Bruno Pereira disappeared in the Javari Valley.
The hope of activists, including Branco and Albuquerque, is that January 1 will arrive quickly and that social and environmental movements can finally celebrate a collective victory.
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