by Karla Mendes
Effective Jan. 2, Brazil’s President Lula issued six decrees revoking or altering anti-environment-and-Indigenous measures from his predecessor Jair Bolsonaro, acts highly celebrated by environmentalists and activists.
One of the decrees annuls mining in Indigenous lands and protected areas, another resumes plans to combat deforestation in the Amazon and Cerrado biomes, and a third reinstates the Amazon Fund, a pool of funding provided to Brazil by developed nations to finance a variety of programs aimed at halting deforestation that was stalled under Bolsonaro.
Right afterward, Norway announced the immediate release of already available funding for new projects as “President Lula confirmed his ambitions to reduce deforestation and reinstated the governance structure of the Amazon Fund.”
In an unprecedented act in Brazil’s history, Lula also created the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples, complying with his promise to native people who supported his candidacy “to combat 500 years of inequality.”
BRASÍLIA, Brazil — In the first day of his third mandate as Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, issued measures to protect the Amazon and Indigenous people, acts highly celebrated by environmentalists and activists as a reversal of an anti-environment-and-Indigenous era from predecessor Jair Bolsonaro.
Effective Jan. 2, six decrees revoked or altered measures imposed by Bolsonaro’s administration, including the annulment of a decree that encouraged mining in Indigenous lands and protected areas, the resumption of plans to combat deforestation in the Amazon and Cerrado biomes and the resumption of the Amazon Fund, a pool of funding provided to Brazil by developed nations to finance a variety of programs aimed at halting deforestation that was stalled under Bolsonaro.
“Our goal is to achieve zero deforestation in the Amazon and zero emission of greenhouse gases in the electricity matrix, in addition to stimulating the reuse of degraded pastureland. Brazil does not need to deforest in order to maintain and expand its strategic agricultural frontier,” Lula said Jan. 1 during his inauguration speech before the National Congress. “We will not tolerate violence against minorities, deforestation and environmental degradation, which have already done so much harm to the country.” He noted that the government transition office diagnosed Bolsonaro’s government as “appalling,” stating, “They have destroyed the protection of the environment.”
Right after the publication of the decrees in Brazil’s official gazette, Norway announced the immediate release of already available funding for new projects. “On Day 1, President Lula confirmed his ambitions to reduce deforestation and reinstated the governance structure of the Amazon Fund. Today, I confirmed to Marina Silva Norway’s understanding that this allows for an immediate re-activation of the Fund,” Norway’s minister of climate and environment announced on Twitter Jan. 2.
Silva is Brazil’s minister of environment and climate change; the name of the ministry also gained the “climate change” addition to its previous name of Ministry of Environment. “The world expects Brazil to once again become a leader in facing the climate crisis and an example of a socially and environmentally responsible country,” said Lula.
On Day 1, President @LulaOficialconfirmed his ambitions to reduce deforestation and reinstated the governance structure of the Amazon Fund. Today, I confirmed to@MarinaSilva Norway’s understanding that this allows for an immediate re-activation of the Fund.@SvenjaSchulze68
— Espen Barth Eide (@EspenBarthEide) January 2, 2023
In total, 3.3 billion reais ($607 million) was already made available from both Norway and Germany, Tasso Azevedo, who is part of Lula’s transition team, said on Twitter. Another of Lula’s decrees reorganized the environmental sanctioning process, which Azevedo said has been “undermined” over the last four years. “This prevents 18 billion reais [$3.3 billion] in fines from expiring, he said on Twitter. Azevedo is coordinator of MapBiomas, a network of NGOs, universities and tech firms including Google, which monitors land use in the country.
There were also decrees increasing transparency and resuming social participation in decision-making processes of the National Council on the Environment and the Deliberative Council of the National Environmental Fund (FNMA).
Environmentalists celebrated the measures. “After four years of intense dismantling of socio-environmental legislation … the current government is beginning to rebuild the normative bases destroyed by the previous administration,” Mauricio Guetta, legal adviser at the Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), a nonprofit that advocates for the rights of Indigenous and traditional communities, wrote in an analysis.
Guetta noted that the newly resumed plans to fight deforestation will revive efforts that slashed deforestation rates by 83% between 2004 and 2012 and “social participation will again serve as a guide for the application of public policies.” According to him, changes during Bolsonaro’s administration regarding environmental sanctioning led the number of trials in the environmental agency to drop from an average of 5,300 per year between 2014 and 2018 to only 113 in 2019 and a mere 17 in 2020. “With the improvements made by the new rules of the current administration, these threats have been solved and the regular processing of proceedings on notices of infraction, an important mechanism to discourage the undertaking of environmental crimes, has been reestablished.”
He said he expected new “revocations” and normative revisions to occur in the coming days “considering the depth of abyss” of the last four years under Bolsonaro.
In an unprecedented act in Brazil’s history, Lula also created the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples, complying with his promise to Native people who supported his candidacy.
“The Indigenous peoples need to have their lands demarcated and free from the threats of illegal and predatory economic activities. They need to have their culture preserved, their dignity respected and their sustainability guaranteed,” said Lula during his inauguration speech at the Presidential Palace. “They are not obstacles to development — they are guardians of our rivers and forests and a fundamental part of our greatness as a nation. That is why we are creating the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples, to combat 500 years of inequality.”
“What a special day, an honor to be the first minister sworn in by President Lula! And a day for the people to move forward! [Land] Demarcation now!” Sonia Guajajara posted on Instagram right after.
“No one knows our forests better or is better able to defend them than those who have been here since immemorial time. Each demarcated land is a new area of environmental protection,” Lula said in the National Congress. “We will repeal all injustices committed against the Indigenous peoples.”
Another unprecedented move in Lula’s inauguration was climbing the presidential ramp beside prominent 92-year old Indigenous leader Raoni Metuktire, seven other representatives of social groups reflecting the country’s diversity — and even the dog “Resistência”[Resistance], who appeared at the Workers Party militants’ camp in 2018, shortly after Lula was arrested and was adopted by him and his wife, Rosângela Lula da Silva, known as Janja da Silva.
Lula received the presidential sash from the eight participants as Bolsonaro flew to Florida Dec. 30 — following the path of Donald Trump, who also skipped the 2020 inauguration of his successor, President Joe Biden.
Karla Mendes is a staff contributing editor for Mongabay in Brazil. Find her on Twitter: @karlamendes
Mongabay is a U.S.-based non-profit conservation and environmental science news platform.