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Is President Lula good news for the Amazon?
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Blog...Is President Lula good news for the Amazon?

Is President Lula good news for the Amazon?

Ecology News
Policy
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In this article we’ll explore why the Amazon is under threat - including Jair Bolsanor’s devastating legacy. We’ll also examine President Lula’s pledge to protect the Amazon, his environmental track record, and what he has achieved in his first six months as president.
Ecology News
2023-07-07T00:00:00.000Z
en-us
monkeys sitting in trees in a jungle

The destruction of the Amazon rainforest reached unprecedented levels during the tenure of Brazil's former president, Jair Bolsonaro, causing grave concern among experts who warned of a potential collapse of this vital ecosystem if he were to secure a second term.

Fortunately, Jair Bolsonaro lost the election in 2022 to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Lula's campaign revolved around a steadfast commitment to safeguarding the Amazon rainforest and halting the relentless deforestation that has destroyed it. 

👉 In this article we’ll explore why the Amazon is under threat - including Jair Bolsanor’s devastating legacy. We’ll also examine President Lula’s pledge to protect the Amazon, his environmental track record, and what he has achieved in his first six months as president.

Why is the Amazon under threat?

The rainforest is often referred to as the lungs of the Earth, however, scientists believe that this may no longer be the case and that years of deforestation and over-exploitation are pushing the invaluable rainforest from carbon sink to carbon source.

In order to understand the precarious situation that the Amazon rainforest is now in and the monumental task that President Lula faces in saving it, let’s first take a closer look at the main issues threatening its future.

Deforestation

The main threat to the Amazon rainforest is unarguably deforestation, which involves the clearing of large areas of forest for various purposes. These include logging (both legal and illegal), agriculture (such as cattle ranching and soybean farming), mining, and infrastructure development. The cleared land is often used for short-term economic gain, but the long-term consequences are the loss of biodiversity, disruption of ecosystems, and the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Agricultural expansion

The demand for agricultural products, particularly soybeans and beef, has led to the expansion of agricultural activities into the Amazon rainforest. Large-scale farms, such as soybean plantations and cattle ranches, contribute to deforestation as forests are cleared to make way for new farmland.

Illegal activities

Illegal activities, such as logging, mining, and land grabbing, pose a significant threat to the Amazon rainforest. These activities often operate outside the boundaries of the law, leading to uncontrolled deforestation and environmental damage. 

For example, farmers have been known to start illegal fires in an attempt to clear the Amazon to make way for farming activities. However, these fires often burn out of control, leading to large scale wildfires that can burn huge areas of the Amazon rainforest.

Climate change 

The Amazon rainforest plays a vital role in regulating the global climate and up until recently it was believed to be a carbon sink. However, climate change is affecting the region, leading to increased droughts, higher temperatures, and more frequent wildfires. These impacts, alongside the devastating effects of deforestation and other human activities, mean that researchers now believe that some areas of the Amazon rainforest are no longer functioning as a carbon sink, but instead are a source of carbon.

Infrastructure development

The construction of roads, dams, and other infrastructure projects in the Amazon region can fragment and degrade the forest. Infrastructure development opens up previously inaccessible areas, making them more vulnerable to deforestation, illegal activities, and habitat fragmentation.

Indigenous rights and land conflicts

Indigenous communities in the Amazon rainforest have long been the custodians of the land and have played a crucial role in preserving its biodiversity. However, their rights and territories are often threatened by illegal activities, land grabbing, and insufficient legal protection, leading to conflicts and further degradation of the forest.

👉 The preservation of the Amazon rainforest is essential for maintaining global climate stability, preserving biodiversity, and supporting the livelihoods of local communities. To learn more about the threats facing the Amazon rainforest, read Greenly’s article on the topic.

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The devastating impact of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro

Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's time in office is considered to have been devastating for the Amazon rainforest. Bolsonaro's presidency was characterized by a weakening of environmental regulations and protections, a sharp increase in deforestation, and the expansion of destructive activities. 

Between 2019 and 2021 (a period that largely overlaps with Jair Bolsonaro’s term as president) over 34,000 square kilometers of the Amazon rainforest was destroyed - an area larger than the whole of Belgium! Deforestation in the Amazon rose by around 75% during the time that Bolsonaro was in power.

Jair Bolsonaro’s dismissive stance towards climate change, along with his undermining of indigenous rights and the weakening of environmental enforcement mechanisms, exacerbated the threats facing the world's largest tropical rainforest. This combination of factors led to heightened global scrutiny and criticism of Bolsonaro's approach to the Amazon, with far-reaching implications for both the region's ecological integrity and the global climate.

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Weakening environmental protections

Ex-president Bolsonaro actively pursued policies that weakened environmental regulations and protections, including those related to the Amazon rainforest. During his time in office, he pushed for deregulation and encouraged industrial activities, such as mining, logging, and agribusiness, in the region. These policies have made it easier for destructive activities to take place without sufficient oversight or consequences.

Encouraging deforestation

Jair Bolsonaro's rhetoric and actions have often been seen as encouraging deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. His pro-business stance and support for extractive industries, such as mining, have emboldened illegal loggers, land grabbers, and ranchers to exploit the forest for economic gains. His administration also cut funding to environmental agencies responsible for enforcing regulations and combating deforestation.

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Dismissing climate change concerns

Ex-president Bolsonaro has been dismissive of climate change, often downplaying its significance and questioning the scientific consensus. His lack of commitment to addressing climate change has hindered international efforts to combat global warming, as the Amazon rainforest plays a crucial role in regulating the Earth's climate by absorbing carbon dioxide.

Undermining indigenous rights

Indigenous communities play a crucial role in protecting the Amazon rainforest, as they have deep connections to the land and rely on it for their livelihoods. However, Bolsonaro has shown little regard for indigenous rights and has attempted to roll back land rights protections. His administration has also pursued policies that threaten the autonomy and cultural heritage of indigenous communities, making them more vulnerable to encroachments and exploitation.

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Weakening environmental enforcement

Bolsonaro's administration has weakened environmental enforcement mechanisms, reducing the capacity of agencies to monitor and prevent illegal activities in the Amazon. There have been reports of decreased inspections, removal of key personnel, and cuts in funding for environmental agencies, which has made it easier for deforestation and other environmentally harmful practices to go unchecked.

👉 These factors, among others, contributed to a significant increase in deforestation rates and environmental degradation in the Amazon rainforest during Bolsonaro's presidency, leading to concerns about the long-term ecological and global consequences.

The election of President Lula

Much to the relief of environmentalists, Jair Bolsonaro lost the 2022 general election to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (commonly referred to as Lula).

Lula is an icon of the left, and has pledged to protect the Amazon rainforest and to end illegal deforestation. But before we examine these promises in more detail, let’s first take a look at Lula’s track record when it comes to the Amazon rainforest. Lula already served two terms as Brazil's President from 2003 through to 2010, so it’s possible to get an idea of what to expect by examining his policies and actions during this time.

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Lula’s track record

During his tenure, Lula implemented several policies and initiatives that had both positive and negative consequences for the Amazon rainforest. Let’s take a closer look at these impacts:

Positive initiatives

Decreased deforestation rates

When Lula came to power back in 2003, deforestation in the Amazon rainforest was at an eight year high. Lula's administration succeeded in reducing deforestation rates through the implementation of environmental policies, increased monitoring, and enforcement efforts. Deforestation rates in the Amazon dropped significantly during his first two terms.

👉 Figures show that by the end of Lula’s second term, deforestation was at its lowest rate for 22 years. Lula’s Action Plan for the prevention and control of Deforestation in the Legal Amazon is attributed with curbing deforestation by 83% between 2004 and 2012. Sadly the plan was suspended by Bolsonaro. 

Strengthening of environmental agencies 

Lula's government made efforts to strengthen environmental agencies such as the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) and the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI). These agencies played crucial roles in enforcing environmental laws and protecting indigenous territories.

Indigenous Land Demarcation

Lula's government supported the demarcation of indigenous lands, leading to the recognition and protection of several territories. This helped indigenous communities maintain their traditional ways of life and preserved important forested areas.

jungle scenery

Negative effects

Deforestation in Later Years

Despite the initial success in reducing deforestation rates, the latter part of Lula's presidency saw a tapering off, due to factors such as expanding agricultural frontiers, logging, and infrastructure projects. 

Agribusiness Expansion 

During Lula's second term as president, his administration pursued policies promoting agricultural expansion and development. The growth of agribusiness, particularly soybean production and cattle ranching, led to increased pressure on the Amazon as land was cleared for these activities.

Infrastructure Development 

Lula's government prioritized infrastructure development, including the construction of highways and hydroelectric dams. While these projects aimed to foster economic growth, they also opened up remote areas of the Amazon to exploitation and deforestation.

The construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric project is considered by many to be the largest blot on President Lula’s environmental record. Lula helped to push the project through during his first two terms in office, promising clean energy and the creation of new jobs. However, the result has been to rapidly accelerate deforestation in the region.

Studies also found that the dam project significantly reduced fish numbers, and richness and functional biodiversity in the area.

forest burning

While Lula's impact on the Amazon rainforest during his presidency can ultimately be considered to be a generally positive one given the measures he introduced to protect the rainforest and strengthen indigenous rights, there were also challenges and conflicting priorities that led to a slight increase in deforestation in later years.

However, nothing compares to the exploitation of the rainforest under Jair Bolsonaro. The situation was becoming so perilous by the end of his first term as President, that experts warned that the rainforest would collapse if Jair Bolsenaro was to remain in office.  

This is why the health of the Amazon rainforest became a central issue and a focal talking point during the presidential election. And Lula seized this opportunity, promising to save the Amazon rainforest if he were to be elected.

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President Lula’s pledge to save the Amazon

A cornerstone of Lula’s presidential election campaign centered around his promises to protect and restore the Amazon rainforest, and he made some bold pledges in line with this, the most notable being to the reduction of deforestation levels in the Amazon to zero. 

At the COP27 climate conference in 2022, President Lula promised to tackle illegal deforestation, build and grow relationships with countries that finance forest protection efforts, and laid out a plan (Plan for the Prevention and Control of Deforestation in the Amazon) to manage the world’s largest rainforest. 

Lula’s plan includes stepping up the documentation and tracking of illegal deforestation through the use of satellite imagery. The use of government financial intelligence to track the flow of money used to finance unsanctioned operations in the Amazon rainforest. The plan also laid out the creation of a new system that will allow wood and agricultural products to be certified in order to track their origin. 

Efforts to tackle illegal deforestation also include the creation of land titles, and incentives for sustainable agriculture and green development. Lula has pledged to increase the size of Amazon conservation areas and to stimulate bio-economy in the region - this means that fishing will be strictly managed, and acai production pushed as an alternative to cattle farming.

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There is no climate security for the world without a protected Amazon. We will do whatever it takes to have zero deforestation and degradation of our biomes by 2030.” - President Luiz Lula da Silva.

But just how realistic are President Lula’s goals? And what challenges will his administration face?

Challenges

One of the primary obstacles that President Lula faces is that he lacks the political backing that he did during his first two terms as president between 2003 and 2010. Lula only won by a small margin in 2022, and so he’s unable to muster the support of Congress in the same way that he could before. And that’s not all, Congress is now much more right leaning than before, which means that they often vote against Lula instead of with him on matters. 

The other big concern for Lula when it comes to passing environmental laws and ultimately protecting the Amazon rainforest, is the strength of the agri-business lobby. The agri-business lobby commands 347 out of 594 seats in Congress. The lobby rallied behind Jair Bolsonaro, who was much more lenient to their activities, and strongly supported an expansion of the agricultural sector in Brazil. As a result they’ve been reluctant to lend any support to Lula. 

The third biggest challenge that Lula now faces stems from Brazil’s state oil firm - Petrobras. Lula was highly supportive of the oil and gas firm during his first two terms as president after they discovered a large offshore oil field, allowing the country to become the world’s 8th largest producer of oil. 

Aside from the harmful greenhouse gasses that the burning of fossil fuels creates, Petrobras is also trying to win a license to drill just offshore the Amazon basin, which environmentalists believe could be incredibly harmful for the region. 

Lula however, seems to be supportive of the project and has stated that he finds it difficult to believe that drilling could result in any harm to the region. 

👉 Brazil is on track to approving the highest number of oil and gas projects in 2022 and 2023 after Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

One final point for concern is Lula’s promise to create more prosperity - something that may come at the expense of the environment. The Northern states of Brazil contain around three quarters of the country’s poor, even though they only account for around a third of Brazil’s population. Understandably people in this region want more development, and more opportunities. In response to this, Lula has stated that he would support a highway being developed that would connect the soya growing regions with the Northern coastal ports. The problem? This highway would run through the Amazon rainforest. 

Another potential development project is the creation of a railway line that would also link the centre of Brazil with the northern coast. This has worried researchers and environmentalists - one study suggests that around 230,000 hectares of rainforest on indigenous land could be destroyed by 2035 in order to make way for the railway.

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What progress has been made by President Lula so far?

Now that the first six months of Lula’s presidency have passed, we can turn our attention to evaluate the real life actions that Lula’s administration has taken so far in an effort to protect the Amazon rainforest. 

The good news is that according to satellite data, deforestation rates dropped by a third (34%) during Lula’s first six months as president. This is a very encouraging sign and is the lowest level of clearing since 2019 (the year that Bolsenaro started his presidency). 

However, the real test will be in coming months as the annual peak of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest is from July to September. 

Lula’s administration links this drop in deforestation to efforts to ramp up environmental enforcement efforts. In fact, on Lula’s very first day in office, he signed a package of seven new executive orders aimed at controlling deforestation and rebuilding environmental protection bodies. 

The package also reinstated the Amazon Fund - a 1.2 billion USD fund that was previously financed by Norway and Germany. The countries temporarily suspended the fund during Bolsenaro’s presidency after he suspended the Fund’s technical committee and board of directors. The fund supports conservation projects and helps to prevent illegal deforestation. 

More recently on June 5th, President Lula announced another series of new measures, designed to strengthen the protection of the Amazon rainforest. In front of an assembled crowd, Lula signed eight new decrees and promised that Brazil would once again become a leader in sustainability and tackling climate change. 

The decrees include measures such as the creation of the National Public Security Force’s Environmental Operations Company (Companhia de Operações Ambientais da Força Nacional de Segurança Pública), the creation of new bases in the Amazon region to strengthen security services, and the upgrade of police barracks within the Amazon rainforest.

President Lula has promised to get tough on loggers, telling those assembled that “if they [loggers] want to cut trees down, they have to plant them first. A 300 year old tree cannot be felled.”
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The future of the Amazon

President Lula’s election was a huge relief for environmentalists, and his track record, combined with the measures that he’s sought to enact in the first six months of his presidency do offer hope in terms of preserving the Amazon rainforest and undoing some of the harm inflicted by Bolsonaro. 

However, there are barriers to the effectiveness of Lula’s efforts. Political difficulties this time around mean that the challenge is much greater than during his first two terms as president. 

There’s also the challenge of creating economic opportunity and growth in the Northern regions - regions that are traditionally much poorer and rely on industries such as agriculture, mining and logging for income. President Lula also has an obligation to these regions and their populations, and so he must balance economic development with environmental considerations. 

For this reason, some believe that the key to saving the Amazon rainforest lies in harnessing its value and promoting economic development without resorting to activities and development that damage the rainforest in the process.

The World Bank estimates that the Amazon rainforest is worth around 317 USD a year as a carbon store - this is between 3 and 7 times more than the amount which could be made through farming, mining and logging. If Lula can successfully convert this value into real life economic opportunity and development, he has a much better chance of achieving meaningful and lost lasting protection for the rainforest.

The good news is that President Lula seems to recognise this opportunity, and has assigned a committee to work on the creation of a carbon market, allowing Brazil to make money through the sale of carbon credits linked to the Amazon rainforest. 

Other countries around the world have also sought to support Lula’s efforts to protect the Amazon rainforest. The EU for example passed a law banning the import of any products that contribute to deforestation. They are also currently nearing the end of nearly two decades worth of negotiations establishing a trade deal between Europe and the Mercosur bloc of South American Countries (which includes Brazil). 

The EU has sought to include protections for the Amazon rainforest within the trade deal itself - these environmental guarantees would expand Brazil’s obligations and make them punishable by sanctions in the case of non-compliance.

For these reasons, the future of Amazon looks more promising than it has in a long time. Lula’s renewed commitment to protect the Amazon, combined with international support and a willingness to fund measures and projects that preserve the rainforest, offer hope that President Lula’s pledge to eliminate deforestation of the Amazon by 2030 could become a reality.

What about Greenly? 

At Greenly we can help you to assess your company’s carbon footprint, and then give you the tools you need to cut down on emissions. Why not request a free demo with one of our experts - no obligation or commitment required. 

If reading this article has inspired you to consider your company’s own carbon footprint, Greenly can help. Learn more about Greenly’s carbon management platform here.

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