‘Lungs of the Earth Will Breathe Easier Tonight’: Amazon Defenders Cheer Lula Victory

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s victory Sunday in the country’s presidential election, which one climate policy journalist called “the most important climate election of the year,” yielded a hopeful response from environmental defenders Monday as they celebrated an end in sight for President Jair Bolsonaro’s destructive policies in the Amazon rainforest.

Da Silva, who is commonly called Lula, spoke directly in his victory speech about protecting the 1.5 million square miles that the Amazon spans in Brazil, saying, “Brazil and the planet need a living Amazon.”

“Brazil is ready to resume its leading role in the fight against the climate crisis, protecting all our biomes, especially the Amazon forest.”

Lula pledged to reverse the damage done by Bolsonaro, who has pushed miners and other industrial interests to develop in the Amazon. In the four years since Bolsonaro took office, deforestation has soared to a 15-year high.

During his campaign, the president-elect said he plans to restore funding to the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), the federal agency which protects the rainforest from extractive industries, following Bolsonaro’s weakening of environmental enforcement.

“Let’s fight for zero deforestation,” Lula said in his first speech as president-elect. “Brazil is ready to resume its leading role in the fight against the climate crisis, protecting all our biomes, especially the Amazon forest… We will resume monitoring and surveillance of the Amazon, and combat any and all illegal activity—whether mining, logging, or improper agricultural occupation.”

Deforestation fell by 72% between 2004 and 2016, when Lula and former President Dilma Rousseff, both of whom represent the Workers’ Party, were leading the country.

Under Bolsonaro and his right-wing Liberal Party, the amount of forest that was cleared in 2021 was the largest annual figure in more than a decade.

“The lungs of the Earth will breathe easier tonight,” said Brazil-based Reuters climate correspondent Jake Spring, referring to rainforests’ ability to absorb carbon dioxide.

While there is “lots of work to be done,” added Oxford University professor Dr. Jennifer Cassidy, “the Amazon exhales a sigh of relief.”

In addition to fighting deforestation by stepping up enforcement, Lula plans to grant protected status to nearly 200,000 square miles of “undesignated territory” in the Amazon, setting it aside for Indigenous communities or wildlife.

He also wants to grant subsidies for sustainable farming, establish a federal authority tasked with ensuring Brazil is in line with goals set by the Paris climate agreement, and reform the country’s tax code to require higher taxes on pollution-causing companies and incentivize a shift to sustainable energy sources by offering lower tax rates.

Although Lula won the election by a margin of just 1.8%, said University of California, Berkeley professor Daniel Aldana Cohen, his victory is “a massive win for Brazil: for its working class, its Black and Indigenous communities, and against fascism.”

In addition to helping preserve the wildlife and biodiversity within the Amazon, Lula has pledged to enact policies that will protect the home of 24 million people, including hundreds of thousands of members of Indigenous tribes. In the first year of Bolsonaro’s presidency, invasions of Indigenous lands rose by 150%.

“The nightmare is due to end at last,” said Marcio Astrini, executive secretary of the Brazilian Climate Observatory. “Stopping the slaughter of Indigenous peoples and the devastation of the Amazon will require countering powerful gangs and, very often, the interests of allies and supporters in local governments and the Parliament.”

As advocates for climate action, human rights, and democracy around the world applauded the Brazilian public for rejecting Bolsonaro’s policies, Norwegian officials announced the country would resume subsidizing the protection of the Amazon, which it halted in 2019 after Bolsonaro took office.

“We are open to international cooperation to preserve the Amazon, whether in the form of investment or scientific research,” said Lula in his post-election speech.

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