One of the most-watched visitors to the UN climate summit in Egypt this week has been incoming Brazilian president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva — more commonly referred to as Lula.
With his successful election campaign having included a promise to arrest record deforestation in the Amazon, Lula carried huge expectations into the yearly climate summit aimed at curbing planet-heating emissions.
"The world is missing Brazil," said Lula in a speech at COP27 on Wednesday, adding that "Brazil is back." He stated his intention to set the nation on a path to "defeat deforestation and global warming."
Describing the "climate denialism" of outgoing president Jair Bolsonaro, Lula said the "survival of the Amazon forest" was on the line during the recent election.
The Amazon is the world's largest tropical forest. It helps regulate climate and especially rainfall across the Americas, making it a vital source of water for those in the region. But nearly 20% has disappeared since 1970 through logging and burning. The massive carbon sink has even started to emit more carbon than it stores due to clearing, in part to make way for cattle and soy crops.
During Lula's last stint in power from 2003 to 2010, his left-wing government reduced Amazon deforestation by an estimated 67%. Much of that work was undone under Bolonaro's reign, when Amazon deforestation soared to alarming rates.
Deforestation hit record highs in September and October of this year, with environmental group WWF stating that the "unbridled" destruction would likely continue until Lula's government takes full power on January 1, 2023.
The logging and burning of the forest — the majority of which lies in Brazil — also fueled a near 10% rise in Brazil's annual CO2 emissions in 2020.
At COP27, Lula reiterated his promise to end deforestation — and to protect the territorial rights of Indigenous people in the region whose land has been exploited by loggers, miners and squatters under Bolsonaro's rule.
Confirming his plan to strengthen oversight in the Amazon, he said the 28 million people living in the rainforests can become the "protaginists of their own conservation" through the creation of a new Ministry of Indigenous People.
"We are going to make a big fight against illegal deforestation," he said at the UN talks.
"We are going to take very good care of the Indigenous people," added Lula.
Turning Lula's climate rhetoric into action
Before arriving at the COP27 talks in Sharm el-Sheik, Lula said he intended to have more meetings with world leaders on climate solutions in one day than Bolsonaro had in four years, the AFP news agency reported.
Finding ways to combat illegal destruction of the Amazon has to be a central part of these talks, say campaigners.
"Lula should specify how he plans to uphold the rule of law in the Amazon and protect both the forest and its defenders as soon as he takes office," said Maria Laura Canineu, Brazil director at Human Rights Watch, in the week after his October 30 victory.
Puyr Tembe, who is at COP27 representing Brazil's Teneteara people, called for Lula to "deliver his campaign promises" to combat deforestation and protect Indigenous lands.
"Brazil can be a role model to other countries in terms of combating deforestation, combating land grabbing," she said.
The nation did commit to forest preservation this week when it signed a trilateral alliance with the Democratic Republic of Congo and Indonesia to protect over half of the world's tropical rainforest, according to Reuters.
Lula, who is a veteran of climate negotiations during his first two terms in office, plans to meet with US climate envoy John Kerry to shore up global cooperation on saving the Amazon — and to announce Brazil's willingness to host the COP30 summit in 2025, according to Brazilian newspaper "O Globo."
Lula's former and likely future environment minister, Marina Silva, has already been holding meetings at the UN summit.
Speaking to Brazilian media at COP27, Silva said Lula's Workers' Party had once been responsible for 80% of the protected forest areas created globally.
The world wants to see Brazil again exert a leadership role, she added. After meetings last week with John Kerry and the directors of the World Bank, "there is a willingness to invest in Brazil again," she said.
This includes picking up on Mercosur agreement negotiations with the European Union. The agreement is a trade deal with Latin American states that includes robust climate commitments.
Germany wants to revive Amazon Fund
At COP27, Lula will also be looking to revive a coalition once committed to ending illegal logging in Brazil, but which fell apart under Bolsonaro's watch. Marina Silva has begun the process, having asked the US to also join the Amazon Fund set up in partnership with Germany and Norway in 2008 to help finance the protection of the region — and biodiversity.
In early November, a German development ministry spokesperson said the country wants to release funds for the protection of the Amazon rainforest under the deal. Norway also said it would resume financial aid to Brazil under the fund.
The two countries stopped making payments in 2019 after Bolsonaro took office and weakened environmental protection measures in the Amazon.
Under Bolsonaro, illegal deforestation has resulted in violence against Indigenous people, while the state has criminalized local resistance, said Puyr Tembe of the Teneteara people.
"Lula's arrival is the rebirth of hope, the rebirth of peace in our territories and the rebirth of a more environmental worldview than we have in Brazil today," Tembe said.
Samantha Baker contributed reporting.
This story was updated after Lula's COP27 speech.
Edited by: Jennifer Collins