Will new Brazilian leader Lula be able to ‘battle’ opposition to protect the Amazon forest, keep ‘green promises’?


Recently, the new Brazilian president was sworn in. Greens, particularly climate activists watched to see if the so-called, “Bulldozer of the Amazon”, President Jair Bolsonaro would be defeated. In fact, he was but some of his supporters were so irate with this outcome that they recently stormed major government buildings. However, despite the large opposition to the new President, Lula da Silva, many are still hoping this election result will herald in a more positive approach to the environment, including better protecting the evermore ravaged Amazon Forest, a huge sink for C02, a major climate warming gas.  So large is its area, that it is equal to the continental US plus Alaska, together. And one representing about 40% of the world’s remaining rainforests. The election result comes as good news for those worried about climate change as da Silva, according to euronews.green, has promised “… to end deforestation in the Amazon…”  But is this rather simplistic and overly wishful thinking that Lula will be a new green savior. Might opposition forces that sabotaged the presidential palace and Bolsonaro’s allies in the Brazilian Congress, sabotage Lula’s green promises, too. Might additional major changes be needed beyond having this new Brazilian president? And dramatic ones to prevent the increased ravaging of the likes of Amazonia that heightens the risk for global collapse, war and mass refugee movements.  But one view is that preventing the development of such areas as the Amazon can be detrimental to poorer or emerging countries’ advancement. Some even argue that part of the reason Europe and America were able to move ahead and become well-off was due to their conversion of large forest areas into agriculture and other types of development. In 2007 according to the Guardian (UK), “Nor Mohamed Yakcop, Malaysia’s deputy finance minister, told a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum on East Asia,” that the West was exercising a green imperialism. As the former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamed well implied, such an approach could prevent his country from developing its full agricultural potential. And he believes the West could use it to keep developing or emerging countries in their place, enabling richer countries to continue to overly dominate them. Thus, the recently defeated President Bolsonaro and his many additional “friends” in Brasilia (the capital) who pride on his push for development of the Amazonia may have similar thinking. But the problem is unlike the 1960s or before, a period of a hyper-development mindset in the world. Then, there was limited interest in ecology. But now the world is very seriously threatened by climate change.  As well, according to the World Bank, the Amazon holds “25% of its (world’s) terrestrial biodiversity, and more fish species than in any other river system”. And vast areas of biodiversity rich Amazonia are disappearing at lightning speed. Such trends, discussed at the recent Montreal UN biodiversity conference were on how to slow down the alarming disappearance of many species.  Importantly, lowering the extent of debilitating floods such as in India’s neighbors, as well as within itself in the future and even the spreading and intensifying storms around the world may be dependent on areas like the Amazon not being deforested. So,  back to the question, will the incoming Brazilian president really be able to slow down deforestation enough? It should be further emphasized that the Brazilian Congress will remain dominated by right wing deputies who generally have a pro-Amazon development perspective. What is the extent? According to Reuters news, “His (Bolsanaro’s) right-wing Liberal Party (PL), won 99 seats in the 513-member lower house, up from 77, and right-leaning parties allied with Bolsonaro now control half the chamber.” Therefore, in order for Lula to get any environmental game changing legislation on the Amazon through, he needs the cooperation of conservatives not conducive enough to supporting environmentalists from achieving their goals.  The level of polarization is indeed, large with Lula even accusing the former president of instigating the riots in Brasilia, the nation›s capital. So, what to do to save this last remaining huge rainforest and river basin so vital to humanity? One way to prevent this global threat is to enlarge greatly forest set asides into biodiversity reserves to parks and beyond. It will take many 10s of billions of dollars to protect vast tracts given the resistance to such by pro-development forces. And the training of park wardens and the provision of logistics to monitor and prevent further mass deforestation would also require major sums of money on a sustainable basis. Brazil does not have the money nor enough collective political will to do so? But rich countries like Norway that have previously been involved in paying for set asides to Gulf countries in the Middle East could make a major contribution, as well as Australia, Japan, Singapore and the US and the overall EU to ensure much better conservation.  As I have stated already in an opinion piece in this newspaper, there needs to be a transfer to the South of reparation money to make up for the vast amounts of money extracted from the days of colonization. Also, for the fact that the centuries of industrialization in the North largely provided the foundation for the current day climate catastrophe. But waiting for Lula, to battle domestic opposition forces to save the Amazon, so critical to offsetting negative climatic pressures for everyone, including for India may not be enough. As the above shows he is certainly far from having a magic «green wand». He will also need tangible international support to fulfill his promise to save this critical part of the world›s ecology and for climate protection. In this way, India as chair of the G20 can ensure this issue of the Amazon and protecting the climate get the serious additional attention they deserve  Waiting is not an option as the world’s climate crisis accelerates with worrying outcomes as the recent massive flooding disaster in Pakistan warns us all.  

Peter Dash is an educator. He graduated from the University of British Columbia’s forestry faculty whose former dean was part of a UN panel that received a Nobel Prize for work on climate change.