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Brazil’s Lula and the Amazon

In sweeping moves, President Lula reestablishes Amazon Fund and signs executive orders to rebuild Brazil’s environmental policy
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva signing in Sonia Guajajara as Minister of Indigenous Peoples

Main image: President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva signing in Sonia Guajajara as Minister of Indigenous Peoples on January 01, 2023. Credit: Mídia Ninja

In one of the first administrative measures of his administration, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva repealed a series of executive orders dismantling human rights and socio-environmental policies instituted by his predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro.

Prior to his 01 January inauguration, Lula nominated Marina Silva to lead Brazil’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change and Sonia Guajajara to head a new Ministry of Indigenous Peoples, in historic moves meant to contain the intensifying assault on Indigenous territories and the environment.

No more mining on Indigenous lands

Among his first acts, Lula signed decrees and provisional measures that reinstated environmental funding programmes, such as the Amazon Fund and the National Environment Fund (FNMA), the oldest environmental fund in Latin America.

Lula also revoked Bolsonaro’s decree that facilitated illicit ‘artisanal’ Amazon mining; put an end to an ‘environmental amnesty’ that fostered impunity among those who committed environmental crimes and revoked the relaxation of limits on the possession and carrying of firearms.

Revoking Bolsonaro’s pro-‘artisanal’ mining decree, which had driven a disastrous increase in illegal Amazon mining, answered the demands of the Association of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples (APIB), which has called for an end to mining on Indigenous lands.

The new administration also adopted another APIB request, correcting the name of the federal Indigenous agency FUNAI from the National Indian Foundation to the National Foundation of Indigenous Peoples.

Created in 1967, during the military dictatorship, FUNAI will be headed for the first time by an Indigenous woman, Joenia Wapichana.

The Amazon Fund is back

President Lula’s reinstatement of the Amazon Fund is significant given the key role this mechanism could play in providing much-needed financing for forest preservation efforts.

Paralysed since 2019 by the Bolsonaro regime with more than BR$ 3 billion (US$ 550 million) of frozen funds donated by Norway and Germany, the Amazon Fund will once again support 102 conservation projects in the Amazon, among them forests managed by Indigenous People and small-scale farmers.

‘After four years of relentless dismantling of socio-environmental legislation, Lula’s new government is beginning to rebuild the fundamental norms eviscerated by the Bolsonaro regime. The renewal of the Amazon Fund is one of the first and most urgent steps to re-establish policies to confront today’s climate emergency.

‘There is much to be done and we hope that these measures will be followed by a real commitment to restructuring Brazil’s socio-environmental policies to combat deforestation and reduce emissions, as well as respect for the rights and territories of Indigenous Peoples.’

Programme director at Amazon Watch

Protecting the Amazon

Brazil’s new president also moved the management of the Rural Environmental Registry (CAR, or Cadastro Ambiental Rural) — which tracks all rural land ownership — from the agriculture to the environment ministry, hindering efforts to evade fines levied on landowners who commit environmental crimes.

This change also reactivates a plan to prevent and control deforestation in the Amazon — known as the Plan for Preventing and Combating Deforestation in the Amazon (PPCDAm) – that Bolsonaro dismantled in his first year in office.

Public participation in policies

Lula determined that Bolsonaro’s executive orders that restricted the role and reduced social participation in the National Council for the Environment (CONAMA), an important government body for public participation in the development of Brazil’s environmental policies, be reviewed within 45 days.

CONAMA will be reactivated with new regulations proposed by the Ministry of the Environment to ensure greater public participation.

Negotiating with the ‘ruralist’ movement

President Lula also promised to achieve zero deforestation in the Amazon and 100% renewable electricity during his inaugural speech, adding ‘Brazil does not need to cut down forests to keep and expand its strategic agricultural frontier.’

However, while the new government’s environment team is ambitious and assuring, Lula will have to negotiate his agenda without a majority in Congress, which is dominated by legislators linked to Bolsonaro’s party and to the ‘ruralist’ movement promoting agribusiness and mining in the Amazon.

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