Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, widely known as Lula, was sworn in as Brazil’s new president yesterday, vowing drastic change in the country, including reversing and ending deforestation in the Amazon – the world’s most important rainforest. Lula’s third turn in the presidency starts exactly 20 years after his first inauguration back in 2003.
In his inauguration speech, Lula pledged to undo the harm caused by the previous government of the former president Jair Bolsonaro, which he said was “inspired by fascism.” Bolsonaro left “terrible ruins” among Brazil’s institutions and “destroyed the protection of the environment”, Lula said, claiming Brazil will now be a climate leader.
This is big news for Brazil, but also for the world.
About two-thirds of the Amazon rainforest, which acts as a carbon sink and regulates the world’s climate, lies on Brazil’s territory. During his time in office, Bolsonaro encouraged the expansion of cattle ranching and stripped back enforcement, causing a 60% rise in deforestation during his government compared to the previous four years.
After the swearing-in, Lula drove to the presidential residence, where he walked up its ramp with his wife and a diverse group of people – including an indigenous leader, a young Black boy, a cook and a disabled man. He was then handed the presidential sash, a symbolic act Bolsonaro said he wouldn’t do, by Aline Sousa, a Black garbage collector.
Tens of thousands gathered to celebrate as Lula wiped away tears. In his speech from the palace, he pledged to unite a polarized country and govern for all Brazilians. “There are not two Brazils. We are one country, one great nation,” Lula said. He vowed to narrow inequality, improve the rights of women, attack racism and be fiscally prudent. However, the most striking change of direction was the environment.
A strong environmental agenda
In his first presidential decrees, Lula reinstated the authority of the government’s environmental protection agency Ibama to tackle illegal deforestation, which had been diluted by Bolsonaro. He also revoked a measure that encourages illegal mining on indigenous lands and unfroze a billion-dollar fund for Amazon sustainable projects.
Lula has named environmental activist Marina Silva as his Environment minister and Sonia Guajajara, an indigenous leader, as Brazil’s first minister of Indigenous Peoples. Silva was Lula’s environment minister during his first time in office between 2003 and 2010. Back then, the government was able to bring down deforestation significantly.
The appointment of Guajajara is seen as a key in the protection of the Amazon, as much of the forest lies in areas designated as indigenous lands but often preyed upon by criminal gangs who run illegal mining and logging activities. Giving more power to indigenous people would ensure the forests are better protected, Lula said in his speech.
Two weeks after his October election win, and despite not being in office yet, Lula attended the COP27 UN climate summit in Egypt to reassure the world that Brazil would be a responsible environmental leader. He also started informal conversations with developed nations to finance new protection measures on the Amazon rainforest.
Lula has also nominated Jean Paul Prates, a Brazilian senator and energy consultant, as the new chief of the state energy giant Petrobras. Since 2019, Petrobras has been largely focused on offshore oil and gas activities. But the nomination of Prates, an advocate for renewable energy, suggests a possible shift in the policies of the company.
Whether or not the promises will materialize remains to be seen. But at least the intention seems to be vastly different from the previous four years. For Brazil’s environment and for the world, this seems to be good news.