Brazil will be a leader in climate, says former minister Marina Silva

SHARM EL SHEIKH – Marina Silva, former Minister of the Environment and possible candidate again for the post, brought a message to the UN climate summit on Saturday: Brazil is back in terms of protecting the Amazon rainforest, the largest in the world and which complies a crucial role in curbing climate change.

The recent election of leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to the presidency represents a potentially huge shift in Brazil’s forest management from that of outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro. Lula’s presence is expected at the COP27 conference in Sharm el-Sheikh next week.

Marina Silva said that Lula’s presence at the summit months before he was sworn in on January 1 reveals his government’s commitment to protecting the forest and playing a leading role in the fight against climate change. Lula plans to meet with the heads of various delegations.

“Brazil will recover the leading role it had in terms of climate, biodiversity,” Silva told reporters at the Brazilian Climate Center.

Bolsonaro, elected in 2018, promoted the economic development of the Amazon in both words and deeds. He weakened environmental agencies and appointed administrators from agribusiness. This sector opposes the creation of indigenous territories and other protected areas and promotes the legalization of land theft. Amazon deforestation reached the highest level in 15 years between August 2020 and July 2021, according to official figures. Satellite monitoring indicates that the trend will increase further this year.

Winning the elections in October, Lula, who was president from 2003 to 2010, promised to reverse Bolsonaro’s measures and adopt a “zero deforestation” policy.

It will be a colossal task. While much of the world celebrates the measures to protect the rainforest in Brazil and other South American countries, multiple forces are driving development, including many Amazonians. And Lula, while much more committed than Bolsonaro to environmental protection, had a mixed track record as president. Deforestation fell dramatically during Lula’s first term, with Marina Silva as environment minister. But in his second term, Lula began to respond to agribusiness interests, and Marina Silva resigned in 2008.

Recently in Brazil news reports mention a possible alliance with the Congo and Indonesia, where the largest tropical forests in the world are located. Under the slogan “OPEC of the Jungles”, alluding to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and how it regulates crude oil production, the general idea would be for the three countries to coordinate their negotiating positions and their measures for the administration of the jungle and the protection of biodiversity. The proposal was initially put forward at last year’s climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, according to reports.

Asked for details on such an alliance and whether it would be announced during the second week of the summit, Silva said he could not discuss the matter.

“We do not want to be isolated in the protection of forests,” he said, adding that Brazil wants forest management to be coordinated among “mega-jungle countries,” but would not try to impose its will.

Silva won a congressional seat in the October elections. A childhood rubber tapper, a close associate of murdered environmentalist Chico Mendes, she has moral authority on environmental issues and is among a handful of people mentioned as possible ministers for Lula.

After clarifying that he was not speaking on behalf of the president-elect, Silva gave some details of what he thinks the next government’s policy would be. He argued that he would not take Bolsonaro’s position that Brazil should be “paid” to protect its forests.

Brazil would not undertake large energy projects of the first Lula government, such as a large hydroelectric dam, but would instead focus on the transition to renewable energy such as solar. In this sense, he said, the transition of the state oil company Petrobras towards renewable energies would be promoted.

“We must use those (oil) resources that are still needed, to transition to other forms of energy and not perpetuate the model” of the oil-focused company, he said.

Silva said that Brazil would participate in the offshore coal markets, but under “rigorous” surveillance, as is apparently not the case today. Those credits allow companies to offset part of their carbon emissions by paying for activities to trap them, such as planting trees.

Silva added that he proposed the creation of a government agency to deal with climate change, presumably separate from the environment ministry. It would be about closely monitoring climate changes to respond in real time to problems such as greenhouse gas losses or weaknesses in the measurements. He said it is somewhat similar to the way governments monitor inflation.

“This is about avoiding climate inflation,” he said.

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Brazil will be a leader in climate, says former minister Marina Silva