Brazil to become climate leader, says ex-minister Marina Silva

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SHARM el-SHEIKH, Egypt (TBEN) — Marina Silva, former environment minister and again a potential candidate for the job, brought a message to the UN climate summit on Saturday: Brazil is back when it comes to protecting the Amazon rainforest, the largest in the world and crucial to limit global warming.

The recent election of left-wing president-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva represents a potentially massive shift in the way Brazil manages the forest compared to current president Jair Bolsonaro. Da Silva was due to attend the conference known as COP27 next week in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

Silva said the fact that da Silva would come to the top, months before he came to power on Jan. 1, was an indication of his government’s commitment to protecting forests and taking a leading role in combating climate change. Da Silva would meet several heads of delegation.

“Brazil will return to the lead it had before when it comes to climate, biodiversity,” said Silva, speaking to reporters from Brazil’s Climate Hub.

Bolsonaro, who was elected in 2018, has stimulated the development of the Amazon, both in his actions and in his rhetoric. Environmental agencies were watered down and he appointed agribusiness forest managers. The sector opposes the creation of protected areas such as indigenous lands and is pushing for the legalization of land grabs. According to official figures, the deforested area in Brazil’s Amazon region reached a 15-year peak from August 2020 to July 2021. Satellite monitoring shows that the trend this year is on track to surpass last year.

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In winning the October elections, da Silva, president between 2003 and 2010, pledged to review Bolsonaro’s policies and end deforestation completely, also known as “Deforestation Zero”.

That will be a huge task. While much of the world celebrates rainforest protection policies in Brazil and other countries in South America, there are countless forces pushing for development, including among many Amazon residents. And Da Silva, while much more focused on environmental protection compared to Bolsonaro, had a mixed record as president. Deforestation fell dramatically in the decade after Da Silva came to power, with Marina Silva as environment minister. But in his second term, Da Silva began to focus on agribusiness interests, and in 2008 Marina Silva resigned.

In recent weeks, news reports in Brazil have focused on a possible alliance between Brazil, Congo and Indonesia, home to the largest tropical forests in the world. Given the nickname “OPEC of the forests”, referring to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and the way they regulate oil production, the general idea would be that these three countries change their negotiating positions and practices in forest management and protection of the coordinate biodiversity. The proposal was initially suggested at last year’s climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, according to reports.

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When Silva was asked for details about an alliance, including whether it could be announced during the second week of the summit, Silva protested and made it clear that no such announcement was hers.

“We don’t want to be isolated in our protection of forests,” she said more broadly, adding that Brazil wanted forest management to be coordinated between “mega forest countries” but would not try to impose its will.

Silva won a seat in Congress in the October election. A former rubber tapper from her childhood who worked closely with murdered environmentalist Chico Mendes, she has moral authority when it comes to environmental issues and is one of the few people talked about as a possible minister in da Silva’s government.

While making it clear that she was not speaking on behalf of the president-elect, Silva shared details about what she thought would be part of the next administration. She said Brazil would not take the position that it “should be paid” to protect its forests, a position the Bolsonaro government has taken.

Brazil would not undertake the kinds of major energy projects it did in the past under Da Silva’s first terms, such as a major hydroelectric dam, but would instead focus on shifting to renewables such as solar. Along the same lines, she said there would be pressure to shift state oil company Petrobras from a focus on oil to a focus on renewables.

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“We need to use those (oil) resources, which are still needed, to switch to other forms of energy and not perpetuate the model” of an oil-focused company, she said.

Silva said Brazil would participate in carbon offsetting markets but would have to have “rigorous” oversight, which is arguably not the case at the moment. Such carbon credits allow companies and countries to offset some of their carbon emissions by paying for activities that capture carbon, such as planting trees.

Silva also said she had proposed a government agency to focus on climate change, which would presumably complement the Ministry of the Environment. She said the idea would be to closely regulate climate change so that things can be addressed in real time, such as greenhouse gas leaks or weaknesses in climate policy. She compared the way governments always keep a close eye on inflation.

“The idea is to prevent climate inflation,” she said.

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The Bharat Express News writer Diane Jeantet contributed to this story from Rio de Janeiro.

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Peter Prengaman, TBEN’s climate and environment news director, served as Brazil’s news director from 2016 to 2019. Follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/peterprengaman

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The Bharat Express News climate and environmental awareness receives support from several private foundations. Read more about TBEN’s climate initiative here. The TBEN is solely responsible for all content.