RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — In a victory speech Sunday, Brazil’s President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva pledged to end a surge in deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.
“We will be watching Amazon again. We will fight any illegal activity,” the leftist da Silva said in a speech at a hotel in downtown Sao Paulo. “At the same time, we will promote the sustainable development of communities in the Amazon.”
To do so in his third term, he will have to strengthen enforcement of environmental laws, face a hostile Congress and deal with state governors with strong ties to defeated far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.
If he is serious, the work will be enormous. The area of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon reached a 15-year high between August 2020 and July 2021, according to official data. Satellite monitoring shows that the trend in 2022 will surpass the previous year’s figures.
The main task on the ground will be to restore the environmental agencies and the Bureau of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil. Da Silva also promised to create a ministry of indigenous affairs to be headed by a representative of the indigenous population.
Under Bolsonaro, they were run by individuals close to agribusiness, which has long pushed for the legalization of land grabbing and opposed the creation of protected areas such as indigenous territories.
In 2023, the agribusiness sector that backed Bolsonaro’s failed re-election bid will control about half of Congress. In recent years, the assembly has put forward bills to soften environmental legislation.
At the state level, six of Amazon’s nine governors are allies of Bolsonaro, most of whom have strong ties to agribusiness. One of them, Marcos Rocha of Rondônia state, was re-elected two days after he made a major bid to improve his anti-environmental credentials by removing protections from a protected area roughly twice the size of two New Yorks.
According to Caetano Scannavino, coordinator of Amazon Health & Happinos, a nonprofit organization that supports sustainable projects in the Tapahoz River Basin, da Silva should use his support at the ballot box to advance his environmental agenda.
“The majority of Brazilians have spoken out against deforestation and the violation of indigenous people’s rights,” Scannavino told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “Da Silva needs to capture this buzz and bring together academics, non-profits and a more responsible agribusiness sector. The challenge is to make the environment a public policy independent of left and right.”
On the international front, Silva’s pledge to save the world’s largest rainforest has already found supporters. Norway’s government has said it will restore multimillion-dollar donations to fund anti-deforestation policies.
“Norway looks forward to intensifying our extensive climate and forest partnership with Brazil,” Climate and Environment Minister Espen Bart Eide wrote on his Twitter account.
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