Brazil is back as a climate leader, former environment minister says

SHARM el-SHEIKH, Egypt (AP) — Marina Silva, a former environment minister and potential candidate for the job again, brought a message to the U.N. climate summit Saturday: Brazil is back when it comes to protecting the rainforest of the Amazon, the largest in the world and crucial to limiting global warming.

The recent election of leftist President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva represents a potentially huge change in the way Brazil manages the forest compared to current President Jair Bolsonaro. Da Silva was expected next week to attend the conference known as COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

Brazil's president-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and former environment minister Marina Silva in September.
Brazil’s president-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and former environment minister Marina Silva in September.

Silva said the fact that da Silva was coming to the summit, months before he takes office on Jan. 1, was a sign of his government’s commitment to protecting forests and taking a leading role in fighting climate change. Da Silva was expected to meet with several heads of delegations.

“Brazil will return to the leading role it had before in terms of climate, biodiversity,” said Silva, who spoke to reporters at the Brazilian Climate Hub.

Brazil's Marina Silva, former environment minister, speaks during a session at the Brazil Pavilion at the UN Climate Summit COP27, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
Brazil’s Marina Silva, former environment minister, speaks during a session at the Brazil Pavilion at the UN Climate Summit COP27, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty

Bolsonaro, who was elected in 2018, has pushed Amazon development in both his actions and rhetoric. Environmental agencies were weakened and he appointed forest managers from the agribusiness sector. The industry opposes the creation of protected areas such as indigenous areas and pushes for the legalization of land grabbing. Deforested area in the Brazilian Amazon reached a 15-year high from August 2020 to July 2021, according to official figures. Satellite tracking shows this year’s trend is on track to surpass last year’s.

When he won the October election, da Silva, president between 2003 and 2010, promised to overhaul Bolsonaro’s policies and move toward a complete halt to deforestation, referred to as “Deforestation Zero.”

This will be a huge task. While much of the world celebrates policies that protect the rainforest in Brazil and other South American countries, there are myriad forces pushing for development, including many Amazonians. And da Silva, while much more focused on protecting the environment than Bolsonaro, has had a mixed record as president. Deforestation fell dramatically during the decade after da Silva took office, with Marina Silva as environment minister. But in his second term, da Silva began catering to agribusiness interests, and in 2008 Marina Silva resigned.

An area of ​​forest burning near a logging area in the area of ​​the Transamazonica highway, in the municipality of Humaita, Amazonas state, Brazil, September 17, 2022.
An area of ​​forest burning near a logging area in the area of ​​the Transamazonica highway, in the municipality of Humaita, Amazonas state, Brazil, September 17, 2022.

In recent weeks, the news in Brazil has focused on a possible alliance between Brazil, Congo and Indonesia, home to the world’s largest rainforests. Given the name “OPEC of the Forests”, in relation to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and the way they regulate oil production, the general idea would be for these three countries to coordinate their negotiating positions and practices on forest management and biodiversity protection. . The proposal was originally tabled during last year’s climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, according to reports.

When asked for details on any alliance, including whether it could be announced during the second week of the summit, Silva demurred, making it clear that any such announcement was not hers.

“We don’t want to be isolated in forest protection,” he said more generally, adding that Brazil wanted forest management to be coordinated among the “big forest countries” but would not try to impose its will.

Silva won a congressional seat in the October election. A former rubber boy who worked closely with murdered environmentalist Chico Mendes, he has a moral authority on environmental issues and is one of the few people being discussed as a possible minister in da Silva’s government.

While making it clear that she was not talking about the president-elect, Silva shared details of what she believed would be part of the next government. He said Brazil would not take the position that it “had to be paid” to protect its forests, a position taken by the Bolsonaro administration.

Brazil would not undertake the kind of major energy projects it did in the past under da Silva’s first terms, such as a large hydroelectric dam, but would instead focus on a shift to renewables such as solar. Along the same lines, he said there would be a push to transition state oil company Petrobras from a focus on oil to a focus on renewable energy.

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

Silva said Brazil would participate in carbon offset markets, but that it needed to have “strict” oversight, which is arguably not currently the case. Such carbon credits allow companies and countries to offset some of their carbon emissions by paying for activities that sequester carbon, such as planting trees.

Silva also said she had proposed a government body to focus on climate change, which would likely be in addition to the environment ministry. He said the idea would be to have close regulation of climate change so that things could be addressed in real time, such as greenhouse gas leaks or weaknesses in climate policy. He drew a comparison to how governments always keep a close eye on inflation.

“The idea is to avoid climate inflation,” he said.

Associated Press writer Diane Jeantet contributed to this story from Rio de Janeiro.

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