By Hope Steadman (she/her)
Luiz Inacio da Silva, known as Lula, became the President of Brazil in October 2022. Sworn into office in January 2023, he replaced Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right politician whose policies supporting large-scale afforestation and mining gained international concern. Lula narrowly won, securing 50.9% of the vote with pledges to improve environmental protections, protect indigenous peoples' rights and improve equality laws (Howse, 2023). At COP27 in November, Lula prompted cheers by claiming "Brazil is back", committing to preserving the Brazilian Amazon rainforest and reducing emissions to achieve net zero by 2030 (Rodrigues, 2023). Considering deforestation hit a 15-year high under Bolsonaro, this pledge is vital for the global climate agenda, but will likely face a series of challenges (Maisonnave, 2023a). In an interview with Nature, researchers described Lula's goals as an uphill battle, needing a range of innovative and fast-acting initiatives to see Lula hit his pledges (Rodrigues, 2023). This article will briefly discuss some of the challenges Lula will face in the coming months.
Bolsonaro's legacy will prove difficult to overcome. Politically, many of his close allies remain in Brazilian Congress, many of whom may prove to become blockers to passing effective climate legislation, should Lula not be able to form his own allegiances (ibid.). There is also a significant number of policies that will need to be rethought, particularly those that have favoured agribusiness and mining. Court decisions have historically favoured land-grabbers, with illegal loggers, fishers and miners frequently going unpunished under Bolsonaro (Maisonnave, 2023b). The newly appointed Environment Minister Marina Silva has called the period under Bolsonaro an "overall policy blackout", resulting in the Amazon turning from a hopeful carbon sequester, to a site of high emissions, violence and a threat to climate goals (Rodrigues, 2023). Lula will need to act fast to re-regulate environmental protections, whilst scaling back on policy supporting highly degrading business.
All this comes at a time of political unrest and distrust in Lula's government. Bolsonaro has been accused of convincing his supporters that the voting system used to elect Lula was fraudulent, although this has never been proven (Howse, 2023). The accusation comes years after Lula spent time in jail thanks to an investigation into government bribes, when he last served as president 2003-2010 (ibid.). The convictions were later overturned, and he was released claiming the charges were levied falsely to keep him out of power. However, many of Bolsonaro's supporters still find his past to be distrustful. On January 8th, this culminated in a number of supporters storming Brazil's presidential palace, Congress and Supreme Court, seen waving Brazilian flags in opposition to Lula's presidency (BBC News, 2023). In the Amazon, angry protestors have been reported blocking roads, felling protected species of trees and attacking police cars to protest protected areas (Maisonnave, 2023a). Brazil has come to be recognised internationally for this type of violence, named as one of the countries with the highest number of murders of people defending the environment (Brum, 2022). Some cities have come to rely on illegal activities such as mining to support their economy, meaning Lula's tightening of regulation will potentially cause more violent unrest. Not only this, but he will need to consider a range of economic incentives to support the incomes of those who could be pushed out of jobs, and strategies to get the buy-in of locals who are already opposed.
To keep his campaign pledges, Lula will also need funding, and likely vast sums of it. Under Bolsonaro, Nature reports Brazil's environment agencies received their lowest levels of funding in 17 years (Rodrigues, 2023). Funding from environmental fines, such as from logging, dropped significantly, putting on further pressure (Maisonnave, 2023a). During Bolsonaro's presidency, he dissolved the committee responsible for selecting which sustainable projects to finance with the Amazon Fund, an international pot of money made available to preserve the Amazon rainforest (Maisonnave, 2023a). Norway and Germany in return froze their donations (The Telegraph, 2023). Lula will therefore need to work on restoring both international support and streams of finance to get Brazil to net zero.
And yet, his first month in office seems to have been a successful one. For example, Germany bid $222 million to fund environmental policy in Brazil in January, with $38 million of this made directly available for the Amazon Fund (Maisonnave, 2023a). German Development Minister Svenja Schulze was quoted saying:
“With the new government and the team of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and (environment) minister Marina Silva, we have a great chance to protect the forest and to offer a new perspective to the people who live there” (in Maisonnave, 2023a)
Marina Silva has created a National Authority for Climate Security in order to manage the implementation of new environmental policy, while revoking previous measures which supported mining on indigenous land (Rodrigues, 2023; The Telegraph, 2023). Lula has further restored Ibama, the country's environmental protection agency tasked with reducing illegal deforestation (The Telegraph, 2023). So far, so good.
Whilst Lula faces many challenges to hitting net zero by 2030, he seems confident and passionate about hitting that goal. He has officially launched a bid for Brazil to host the COP30 climate summit in 2025, an act which shows his commitment to reversing the damage done to the environment during Bolsonaro's time in office (Euronews, 2023). It definitely won't be an easy ride, with social, political and economic factors all expected to bring bumps in the road. Although it may be hard to see the change Lula wants, the new government is certainly a reason to be more optimistic about the global climate agenda.
BBC News (2023) ‘Inside Brazil's stormed presidential palace’, BBC News, 8 January [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/world-latin-america-64206283 (Accessed 5 February 2023)
Brum, E. (2022) ‘This year, I only needed to open my window in Brazil to witness the climate crisis’, The Guardian, 29 December [online] Available at: This year, I only neededres to open my window in Brazil to witness the climate crisis | Eliane Brum | The Guardian (Accessed 5 February 2
Euronews (2023) ‘Brazil makes official bid for Amazonian city to host UN climate conference in 2025’, Euronews, 16 January [online] Available at: Brazil makes official bid for Amazonian city to host UN climate conference in 2025 (msn.com) (Accessed 5 February 2023)
Howse, I. (2023) ‘Brazil: who is president Lula da Silva? Controversies, history, leftist policies and conflict with Bolsonaro’, Edinburgh News, 9 January [online] Available at: Brazil 2023: who is president Lula da Silva? | Edinburgh News (scotsman.com) (Accessed 5 February 2023)
Maisonnave, F. (2023a) ‘Brazil authorities probe Amazon ties to capital attacks’, The Independent, 2 February [online] Available at: Brazil authorities probe Amazon ties to capital attacks | The Independent (Accessed 5 February 2023)
Maisonnave, F. (2023a) ‘Germany pledges $222 million for Brazil environment, Amazon’, The Independent, 31 January [online] Available at: Germany pledges $222 million for Brazil environment, Amazon | The Independent (Accessed 5 February 2023)
Rodrigues, M. (2023) ‘Will Brazil’s President Lula keep his climate promises?’, Nature, 6 January [online] Available at: Will Brazil’s President Lula keep his climate promises? (nature.com) (Accessed 5 February 2023).
The Telegraph (2023) ‘Lula vows to fight for environment and equality as he becomes Brazi’s president – again', The Telegraph, 2 January [online] Available at Lula vows to fight for environment and equality as he becomes Brazil's president – again (telegraph.co.uk) (Accessed 5 February 2023)
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