Oliver Kornblihtt / Mídia NINJA

A new roadmap for Brazil and the Amazon

Insight / 23 Mar 2023

As the world celebrated International Day of Forests this week, Adriana Ramos, environmentalist and Public Policy Specialist at the Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), shares her views on Brazil’s new government, what this means for deforestation and Indigenous peoples, and the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Under the previous President, Jair Bolsonaro, deforestation hit record levels.  How big is the challenge for Brazil now?

“Huge. We have had enormous and numerous setbacks in the last few years. Now we have to start recreating the conditions to re-establish the social and environmental agendas. That means rebuilding institutions, legal frameworks, and enforcement; but also securing funds at a time when Brazil is in a severe economic crisis – another legacy of the previous government. And the political context is still unfavourable. President Lula’s party does not have a majority in Congress and there is still growing criminality in the Amazon. We also need to engage the private sector to make concrete changes to their patterns of production and impact on deforestation.”

What has changed in Brazil since the new president took office?

“A lot has already happened. There is an optimism that comes from changing from a President and a regime that denied climate change and attacked Indigenous peoples and their rights. There are now federal investigations into the possible genocide against the Yanomami people.

We are bringing back national policies, such as the Plan to Combat Deforestation – but extending it to all biomes. The government has also re-established councils, including the Amazon Fund, which I am part of, which works to combat deforestation as well as promote the preservation and sustainable use of the Brazilian Amazon.

The new Ministry of Indigenous Peoples is also an impressive step, increasing the diversity of voices within the new government. It will strengthen the land demarcation processes and the implementation of the National Policy on Indigenous Territories Management.”

Can you explain the role Indigenous peoples have in the fight against deforestation?

“Many people talk about the importance of the forests to Indigenous peoples, but now it is understood that Indigenous peoples and their knowledge are key for climate mitigation. 

But it is more than that. Indigenous peoples’ way of being, living and managing the environment has created the forest we know today. It is an interdependent relationship. Guaranteeing Indigenous rights is the basis for any strategy to fight against deforestation. Indigenous peoples, quilombolas, and traditional communities are key political stakeholders and are on the frontlines against a model that already has proved to be unsustainable and unequal.”

Can Brazil meet President Lula’s target of ending deforestation and the destruction of other natural biomes by 2030?

“If we get on track and do not set it back, we can advance a lot and make important contributions to the global reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. There are concrete measures in the plan such as improving the Environmental Rural Register (the so-called CAR) and ensuring general funding of the Low Carbon Agriculture Plan. There are also the management plans for Indigenous Lands, that provide the roadmap to support Indigenous sustainable development. But these tools all depend on political will and engagement of different sectors to be effective.

Although we lost control of deforestation in recent years, we still hold a huge wealth of experience in developing technologies and ways to improve productivity without needing to open more areas. We have tested several methods for traceability and we, as civil society, spent years resisting the Bolsonaro government’s effort to dismantle our work. If we keep this strong effort, we can be part of this goal.”

Next week President Lula will visit China to talk about trade, what else needs to be on the agenda?

“It should never be just about trade. Any discussion about the production and export of commodities from Brazil must consider the importance of avoiding environmental and social impacts. I hope President Lula highlights his commitment to zero deforestation and takes the opportunity to challenge our Chinese partners on the importance of tackling deforestation and related emissions reduction as an ethical issue.”

What is the role of the international community ? What do you need from governments, companies, and financial institutions?

“We need real commitment and engagement. For years, we have been hearing that the private sector doesn’t know how to comply and adapt to climate change. In the meantime, rates of deforestation soared and violence against Indigenous peoples, quilombolas, and traditional communities and small holders increased. 

In the Brazilian Congress, we see the representatives of agribusiness focused on environmental deregulation and the legalisation of human rights violations. It’s time to let the not so invisible hand of the market push in the direction of consumers, citizens and societal interests. Cooperation and partnership must support public policies.”

Watch the full event recording: A new roadmap for Brazil and the Amazon.

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