RIO DE JANEIRO – The success of the new government of President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva depends on containing and reducing deforestation in the Amazon in Brazil, a key factor for his foreign policy and for his own economy.
This has led Lula to participate in the 27 Conference of the Parties (COP27) of the climate convention, in Sharm El Sheikh, a seaside resort in southern Egypt, this week, although he will only take up his third term on January 1, after having ruled the country from 2003-2010.
Contest, from Tuesday 15 to Thursday 17, as a hope for progress in the fight against global warming, in addition to having ensured the continuity of democracy in Brazil, by defeating President Jair Bolsonaro and his autocratic intentions.
Preserving the Amazon forests is essential for the goal of containing the increase in global temperature by 1.5 degrees Celsius until 2100.
This is because the Pan-Amazon, which comprises parts of eight countries and one territory, stores an amount of carbon equivalent to more than ten years of global emissions, according to scientists. Their release would be irreversible if deforestation continues and destroys the self-sustaining capacity of the forests.
The task sounds complex. It is about modifying the trend of increasing deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon since 2012, aggravated as of 2019 by Bolsonaro’s measures since the first day of that year his four-year term began.
“Eliminating the expectation that the invader of public lands can legalize their tenure is the decisive action”, evaluated the lawyer Brenda Brito, an investigator for the Institute of Man and the Environment of the Amazon (Imazon), a Brazilian non-governmental organization that monitors and studies ways to combat deforestation.
The land business
The quick profit that can be obtained with the property or the simple possession of properties, although illegal, is the great engine of the destruction and burning of forests. It is the action of the locally called “grilleros”, who take over other people’s lands.
The name is attributed to the crickets that use to “age” fake titles to make them look like old documents.
In the Brazilian Amazon, 29% of its territory, or 143 million hectares, remains unused. They are public lands but at risk of private occupation and “grillage”. Of that total, 57 million hectares can only be used for indigenous peoples, quilombolas (Afro-descendant communities) and forest conservation, according to Brito.
Territories demarcated for these purposes usually suffer a minimum of deforestation, because the legislation prohibits the possibility of their private appropriation, but the government is slow to do so.
Bolsonaro, for example, announced that he would not demarcate even “one centimeter” of indigenous lands, despite the constitutional provision that guarantees the right of the original population to “the lands they traditionally occupy” and despite the existence of hundreds of areas identified as indigenous, without demarcation.
And he fulfilled it.
A similar territory, of 56 million hectares, shows “signs of ancient occupation,” generally by the traditional Amazonian population, who by law have the right to possess it, Brito observed, in an interview with IPS from Belém, capital of the Amazonian state of Pará. , where Imazon is based.
But another part is “recently occupied, that is, grillage, which should not receive property or possession titles so as not to reward the invasion” and not encourage this illegal appropriation, he said.
But there is no consensus on how to distinguish the right of former occupants from recent and illegal occupation. There is no technical difficulty, since the new satellite image technologies make it possible to identify the period of occupation, the researcher pointed out.
Between 2009 and 2020 the authority in charge of rural real estate, the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform, denied nearly 5,000 land title requests. But the fate of public areas is not being promoted, he lamented.
To contain deforestation, there is a lack of measures that make it clear that invasions of public lands will not have the possibility of future legalization.
That, plus the demarcation of indigenous lands, quilombolas and conservation units, as a priority, and some “exemplary actions to recover public lands” and penalize invasions would be decisive facts for reducing Amazon deforestation, Brito opined.
Then a territorial reorganization could be promoted. This could meet the goal of “zero deforestation” by 2030, of the agreement that more than 100 countries, including Brazil, signed at COP26, held in the Scottish city of Glasgow, Scotland, in 2021.
But the Brazilian National Congress, with a strong “ruralist” representation, that is, landowners, threatens to approve laws that go in the opposite direction, legalizing “grilling”, warned the researcher and lawyer from Belem.
In any case, Lula will take office with a leadership strengthened by international support and a new perception that Brazil’s economic growth can be based on sustainable environmental and climate policies that attract investment and promote a new type of development.
Norway’s decision to resume its contributions to the Amazon Fundwhich had been suspended in 2019 due to the first measures of the Bolsonaro government’s anti-environmental policy, checks Lula’s external credibility and support for the fight against deforestation.
Norway promised to donate one billion dollars to the Fund created in 2008, during Lula’s second term. Germany contributed a smaller sum and is also preparing to resume cooperation.
Contrary to his previous term in the presidency, Lula now includes the environment as one of his priorities. For the Amazon, in addition to forest preservation, he announced the promotion of the bioeconomy, the sustainable use of local biodiversity, recommended by experts in the region.
The president-elect confirmed his conversion to environmentalism by reconciling with Marina Silva, his former Minister of the Environment (2003-2008), who resigned in May 2008 for disagreeing with various government decisions at the time.
She, now an elected deputy, is accompanying Lula at COP27 and should have a strong influence on his future government, possibly as minister again.
Deforestation grew again
Silva launched the most successful program to combat deforestation in the Amazon. From 27,772 square kilometers in 2004, the deforested area fell to 12,911 square kilometers in 2008 and to 4,571 in 2012.
From then on it grew again. It exceeded 10,000 square kilometers in 2019, the first year of the Bolsonaro government, and reached 13,025 square kilometers in 2021.
These are data from the Amazon Deforestation Calculation Program (Prodes), of the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe), which measures the affected area since 1988. Its annual period runs from August 1 to July 31.
The data for 2021-2022 is not yet known. The Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovations (MCTI) must disclose them between November 28 and December 2, reported Claudio Almeida, coordinator of the Monitoring Program for the Amazon and other Biomesfrom Inpe.
The date revives the suspicion among environmentalists that disclosure is delayed until after COP27, in order to avoid the repercussion of negative data. This was the case in 2021, when the report was published on November 18, six days after the closing of COP26, although dated October 27.
“The disclosure was always in November, it only happened twice in October,” Inpe transmits the data to the MCTI, to which it is linked, and which discloses it, in a political decision, Almeida explained to IPS from the city of Curitiba, in the south of the country, where he was participating in an event.
Inpe has already been the target of attacks by President Bolsonaro and is facing difficulties due to a limited budget. In five years, half of its staff will be able to retire, putting the future of the internationally respected institute at risk.