Lula proposes a plan to end Amazon deforestation and position Brazil as a world leader on climate change

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the Brazilian President, introduced a comprehensive plan on Monday to put an end to illegal deforestation in the Amazon. This wide-ranging initiative constitutes a critical step in addressing the substantial carbon emissions generated by the region, as it provides a clear road map on how the nation can achieve its ambitious target of ending illegal deforestation by 2030.

This plan will be implemented over four years, and it remains to be seen whether it will be continued by Lula’s successor, given that his term ends on January 1, 2027.

Furthermore, Lula’s administration has pledged to achieve net zero deforestation by restoring native vegetation stocks as compensation for legal vegetation removal. Brazil currently sits as the fifth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, contributing almost 3% of global emissions, as per Climate Watch, an online platform managed by World Resources Institute.

Alarmingly, almost half of Brazil’s carbon emissions come from deforestation.

In addition to halting illegal deforestation and achieving a net zero deforestation target, Lula da Silva announced that his government would revise Brazil’s international commitments to reduce emissions, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), back to the levels promised under the Paris Agreement in 2015.

The Paris Agreement committed Brazil to reduce carbon emissions by 37% by 2025 and 43% by 2030. However, under the far-right presidency of Jair Bolsonaro, these commitments had been reduced.

As part of his plan, Lula da Silva increased the size of a conservation unit in the Amazon by 1,800 hectares (4,400 acres), a move that has caused frustration among some environmentalists. In addition, his administration has pledged to prioritize the allocation of 57 million hectares of public lands without special protection – an area that is roughly equivalent to the size of France.

During a speech, the Environment Minister Marina Silva announced that the federal government under Lula da Silva would create additional conservation units, subject to further studies and agreements with state governments.

These newly allocated public lands without special protection have experienced increased vulnerability to deforestation, as land invaders target traditional communities and clear land with the hope of gaining recognition of land ownership from the government.

Lula da Silva expressed his confidence that Brazil would become a global leader in sustainability once more, resolving to tackle climate change and achieve carbon emission reduction targets as well as zero deforestation.

During the event, a tribute was paid to British journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous affairs specialist Bruno Pereira, who were tragically killed a year ago during a trip to the Amazon region. The perpetrators of this heinous crime have since been identified and several people have been arrested in connection with the murders.

These new measures outlined by Lula da Silva mark the fifth phase of a comprehensive initiative known as the Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Deforestation in the Legal Amazon. Initially established 20 years ago, during Lula’s first term in office, the plan played a significant role in curtailing deforestation rates, leading to an 83% reduction between 2004 and 2012. However, the plan was suspended when Jair Bolsonaro took office.

A key objective of Lula da Silva’s plan is to promote the bio-economy, which includes initiatives such as the managed fishing of pirarucu, the Amazon’s largest fish, and the expansion of acai production. These measures aim to provide an alternative to cattle-raising, which is a leading cause of deforestation in the region. Additionally, the plan outlines strategies to improve monitoring and law enforcement efforts and promises to create new conservation units.

These measures put forth by Lula da Silva’s administration can also be seen as a response to the recent limitations Congress has placed on Environment Minister Silva. The limitations were largely influenced by the so-called beef caucus, which represents interests in agribusiness. These limitations have made it challenging for Silva to implement measures to address deforestation and promote sustainability in the Amazon region.

Additionally, Lula da Silva recently vetoed legislation passed by Congress that sought to permit the cutting of remaining areas of the Atlantic Forest, a coastal rainforest that has already experienced significant destruction.

Creomar de Souza, a political analyst and CEO at Dharma Politics consultancy, noted that the beef caucus is a powerful political group that promotes its interests in Congress, attracting support from many affiliated lawmakers. As a result, the beef caucus wields substantial influence in shaping the political agenda, leading to recent limitations on the authority of Environment Minister Silva and other measures that prioritize agribusiness interests over conservation efforts.

Suely Araújo, a senior policy advisor at the Climate Observatory, considers the action plan introduced by Lula da Silva’s administration to be critical in rebuilding Brazil’s environmental governance. According to Araújo, key aspects of the plan include the integration of data and systems for remote monitoring and accountability, aligning infrastructure projects with deforestation reduction targets, and linking rural credit policies to achieving zero deforestation. These measures hold promise for promoting sustainable development and restoring Brazil’s commitment to conservation efforts in the Amazon region.

Despite the optimism surrounding Lula da Silva’s action plan, uncertainties remain regarding how compensation for legal deforestation will be implemented, including the instruments and the level of responsibility of the private sector.

Additionally, Suely Araújo pointed out that it will be necessary to combat the significant challenges that remain in Congress’s political agenda, particularly looming setbacks that could undermine progress towards deforestation reduction targets. Therefore, efforts to promote sustainable development and protect the Amazon must be coupled with political action and support from policymakers to be truly effective.