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Brazil’s Lula headed to UN climate talks with vow to save Amazon

By AFP
14 November 2022   |   10:18 am
Brazilian president-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is expected this week at the UN climate summit in Egypt to pledge to reverse the environmental policies of his right-wing predecessor and protect the Amazon rainforest.

Brazilian President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva delivers a speech during a meeting with politicians from the transition teams at the Centro Cultural do Banco do Brasil in Brasilia, on November 10, 2022. – To lay the groundwork for the changeover of government on January 1, Lula da Silva is meeting with politicians from the transition teams in Brasilia to discuss budget issues as he looks to implement his campaign promises of increased social spending, while grappling with a struggling economy. (Photo by Sergio Lima / AFP)

Brazilian president-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is expected this week at the UN climate summit in Egypt to pledge to reverse the environmental policies of his right-wing predecessor and protect the Amazon rainforest.

Lula’s trip Monday to the COP27 talks in Sharm el-Sheikh will be his first international visit since beating Brazil’s far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in the October 30 runoff election.

The 77-year-old, who promised on the campaign trail to work towards zero deforestation, will address the conference on Wednesday, his press team said.

In a nod to Lula’s victory speech, in which he pledged to end Brazil’s “pariah” status, his team said he had wanted to hold “more talks with world leaders in a single day than Bolsonaro had in four years.”

But according to the Brazilian newspaper O Globo, the incoming president has not been able to line up most of the dozen or so high-level meetings he had requested.

Lula might, however, meet with US climate czar John Kerry and announce that Brazil is willing to host the COP30 summit in 2025, the newspaper said.

Latin America’s most populous country grew more isolated under Bolsonaro, analysts say, in part due to his permissive policies towards deforestation and exploitation of the Amazon, the preservation of which is seen as critical to fighting global warming.

If Lula — who served as president from 2003 to 2010 — manages to curb deforestation and illegal mining, he would make a major contribution to the global fight against climate change, said Francisco Eliseu Aquino, a climate expert at Rio Grande do Sul University.

“Lula knows the COP talks well. He was always proactive in international discussions and kept a high international profile” during his first two terms, said Aquino.

– Deeper cooperation –
To meet the environmental challenge, the former steelworker who begins his third term on January 1, hopes to get help from the international community.

Lula’s former and likely future environment minister, Marina Silva, has already been holding meetings at the UN summit and has said that Brazil will lead “by example” on combatting climate change.

She said Lula plans to fight the destruction of the Amazon and pursue a reforestation target of 12 million hectares, with or without international aid.

But she welcomed announcements from Norway and Germany that they would resume financial support to the Amazon Fund. Both countries withdrew aid in 2019 shortly after Bolsonaro came to power.

“With Lula’s weight and influence, and due to worries all over the world for the Amazon, it is possible that some bilateral agreements might be reached,” said Daniela Costa, a spokesperson for Greenpeace Brazil.

Silva said the US government was “prepared to deepen cooperation” with Brazil after she met with Kerry last week.

She also said in an interview with Brazilian broadcaster Globonews that she had invited the United States to contribute to the Amazon Fund.

– ‘Much more daring’ –
Deforestation was at a high level at the start of Lula’s first term in 2003, before falling sharply under Silva as minister. But she resigned in 2008, the saying was not getting the money she needed to take her efforts even further.

Aquino said the policies of Lula’s next government need to be “much more daring” than during his first two terms in power.

At COP27, Lula could announce the creation of a high-level body to coordinate the work of different ministries active in climate work.

Since Bolsonaro — a staunch ally of agribusiness — took office in January 2019, average annual deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon increased by 75 percent compared to the previous decade.

The fight against global warming is not just about protecting precious areas like the Amazon, he said. “It also involves the economy, health and agriculture.”

“We welcome the arrival of Lula with much hope,” said Dinaman Tuxa, coordinator of the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil.