A Breath of Fresh Air in Brazil
On October 30th, Brazilians chose their President for the 2023-2026 term. We can’t say that a new President was elected because the winning candidate was Luis Inacio Lula da Silva who is returning for a third (non-consecutive) term.
He took office on January 1st, 2023, in a historical celebration of inclusion and representation of the rich diversity of the Brazilian population. When Jair Bolsonaro, inspired by Donald Trump, decided not to follow the democratic protocol of the outgoing President bestowing the Presidential sash on the new one, the sash was given to the President-elect by representatives of different sectors of the population, including the Indigenous leader and environmentalist Chief Raoni, aged 93. Aline Souza, a black woman, was the one to place the Sash on the President. She is the third generation of a family of recyclable waste collectors and the Director of their professional association in the Federal District. These are all important signs of the kind of commitment to the environment and indigenous peoples we can expect from Lula’s third term as President.
The average annual amount of the Amazon Forest located in the Brazilian territory that we lost during Bolsonaro’s government was slightly larger than Denmark. The previous administration strategically reduced the number of people and the funding of the successful IBAMA (Brazilian Institute of Environment and Natural Resources), making it virtually impossible to monitor and punish illegal wood extraction and other environmental crimes. The remaining IBAMA officers were ordered not to talk to the press. The forest supporter Amazon Fund was closed and significant financial contributions from European countries were interrupted. The renowned physicist Ricardo Galvao was fired as head of the National Institute for Space Research. The real-time satellite deforestation data provided by the reputable institute was decried as a lie by Bolsonaro. The result of these actions, among others, was an increase in deforestation by 60%, as compared to the previous four-year term.
Lula got 50.9% of the votes, while 49.1% of the votes went to Bolsonaro. One of the main challenges faced by the new administration will be governing all Brazilians, including the close to 50% of the population dissatisfied with, or even disputing the legitimacy of the results.
It’s important to acknowledge that the election was full of controversies on both sides and that neither candidate is without fault. Nevertheless, in only a few days of leadership, many environmental actions have been taken, and here are some of the most promising:
The Amazon Fund was re-established and funding has resumed. The first contribution made comes from Germany starting at 35 million Euros.
The Ministry of Environment has been renamed to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. The minister is Marina Silva, a respected environmentalist and politician who has been fighting for her native Amazon for decades.
The Ministry of the Indigenous Peoples was created. Congress Elect Sonia Guajajara took office as the first-ever indigenous person as minister. Sonia was on the Time Magazine 100 Most Influential People of 2022 list.
IBAMA operations to monitor and punish deforestation have resumed.
Decrees that incentivize illegal mining in indigenous and protected lands were revoked.
The Environment National Council was re-established. It had been dismantled by the former President in 2019.
The National Foundation of the Indians was renamed to National Foundation of the Indigenous Peoples.
The Commission for Deforestation Prevention and Control, covering all biomes in the country (the Atlantic Rain Forest, Cerrado, Caatinga, Southern Prairies and Pantanal) was established.
The government started chasing 18 billion Reais (3.5 billion USD) of unpaid fines for environmental crimes. 93% of the fines issued during the past 4 years were not paid.
These actions are not only important for the people in Brazil, but for the protection of the environment. They send an important message of the priority that climate change and environmental protection will have in the current government. It also tries to re-establish the role Brazil has led since the first COP in 1992 on the global stage.
We will see how things unfold and there remains unquestionably much work to be done but hopes are high that we may be at last moving in the right direction.
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