In a victory speech Sunday, Brazil’s president-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva promised to reverse a surge in deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.
“We will once again monitor and do surveillance in the Amazon. In his speech at a hotel in downtown Sao Paulo, we will fight every illegal activity,” leftist da Silva said. “At the same time, we will promote sustainable development of communities in the Amazon.”
To achieve this in his third term, he will have to boost environmental law enforcement, face a hostile Congress and deal with state governors who have strong ties with the defeated far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.
If he is serious, the job will be immense. According to official figures, the area deforested in Brazil’s Amazon reached a 15-year high from August 2020 to July 2021. Satellite monitoring shows the trend in 2022 is on track to surpass the previous year.
The main challenge will be rebuilding environmental agencies and Brazil’s Indigenous bureau on the ground. Da Silva also promised to create a ministry of Indigenous affairs headed by an Indigenous person.
Under Bolsonaro, these have been led by appointees close to the agribusiness sector, which has long pushed for the legalization of land robbing and opposes the creation of protected areas such as Indigenous territories.
In 2023, the agribusiness sector, which backed Bolsonaro’s failed reelection bid, will control about half of the Congress. In recent years, the caucus advanced bills to ease environmental legislation.
At the state level, six out of nine Amazon governors are Bolsonaro allies, most with strong ties with agribusiness. One of them, Marcos Rocha, from Rondonia state, got reelected two days after he made a high-profile bid to burnish his anti-environment credentials by removing the protection on a conservation land roughly twice the size of two New York City.
Da Silva has to use his support at the ballot box to promote his environmental agenda, according to Caetano Scannavino, coordinator of Health & Happiness. This Amazon non-profit supports sustainable projects in the Tapajos basin.
“Most Brazilians have expressed opposition to deforestation and violation of Indigenous rights,” Scannavino told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “Da Silva has to seize this clamor and gather academics, nonprofits, and the more responsible agribusiness sector. The challenge is to make the environment a State policy, independent of left or right.”
On the international front, da Silva’s promises to preserve the world’s largest rainforest have already found supporters. The Norwegian government indicated it will resume its performance-based multi-million-dollar donations to finance anti-deforestation policies.
“Norway looks forward to revitalizing our extensive climate and forest partnership with Brazil,” the minister of Climate and Environment, Espen Barth Eide, wrote on his Twitter account.