Brazil is seeking to return to the forefront of global climate negotiations in what’s likely to be the most visible foreign policy change under President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
The 77-year-old leader has made the shift clear by choosing the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Egypt as his first international trip after defeating President Jair Bolsonaro last month. Even if Lula only takes office January 1, he will present his vision for the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest and the focus of international outrage with Bolsonaro, at COP27 on Wednesday morning.
“One of the main things that I’m going to do is to put Brazil back at the centre of international geopolitics,” Lula said last week in Brasilia. “I will have more talks with world leaders in Egypt in a single day than Bolsonaro has had in four years.”
During the campaign, Lula has vowed to reduce deforestation of the rainforest to zero and to protect the indigenous peoples living there in sharp contrast to Bolsonaro, who has been the target of international disapproval for loosening legislation and surveillance agencies designed to protect the Amazon.
The leftist leader has also said he will make voluntary commitments to cut emissions of greenhouse gases. In exchange, he’ll ask rich nations to pledge more funds for the protection not only of the Amazon but all remaining tropical forests, most of them in Brazil, Indonesia and Congo. A key step will be the revival of the Amazon Fund maintained by rich nations including Norway and Germany and which was frozen in 2019 when Bolsonaro changed the country’s governance.
Lula is also creating new cabinet positions to handle environmental issues. In addition to an environment minister, he’ll appoint a minister for indigenous peoples and a special climate envoy, a position akin to that of John Kerry in the US. Some of them may be announced during his visit to Egypt.
Brazil needs to leave behind the global distrust from the last four years, according to Helder Barbalho, governor to the northern state of Pará, who will also be present at COP27.
“We have to win back the credibility, even if it is to demand more vehemently compensation from industrialised countries and their players,” he said.
Lula’s return to power paves the way for a fresh, constructive start in climate discussions between Brazil and the world, and especially Europe, an official from a Western European country said. Another European official said the reelection of Bolsonaro would have been a catastrophe for the global environmental agenda.
Yet despite the change in tone, preventing the Amazon deforestation won’t be easy for Lula given the geographical challenges of a huge, isolated land – about half the size of the United States – hard to police and filled with violent gangs with a government facing fiscal constrains.
US, China, Russia
At the same time, Lula will also have to calibrate its policies toward the US, China and Russia at a moment of volatile relationships among the world’s largest economies. The complexity of the global scenario leaves little space for errors by the new Brazilian president.
Maintaining such relations will require a lot of diplomacy by Brazil as Western officials privately say they expect Lula to take some distance from Russia – or at least refrain from saying that Ukraine shares blame for the war, as he told Time magazine in May.
His comments on Ukraine raised eyebrows in European capitals, with a top European official saying before the election that Lula urgently needs to change his lenses and drop “third-worldish views” if he returns to power. Lula’s ties with Russia and China are set to complicate his push for a reform of the UN Security Council that seeks to include Brazil as a permanent member.
Another European official downplayed Lula’s comments on Ukraine, saying they reflect Brazil’s historic reluctance in taking sides and its policy of non-interference in domestic issues of other nations.
In addition, as part of his international agenda Lula intends to boost the BRICS group of major emerging-market countries that currently comprise Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The plan, according to his adviser Celso Amorim, is to include Argentina to “increase the weight of Latin America” in the association.
Lula’s return is also good news for efforts to revive the trade agreement between the EU and Mercosur, a bloc that includes Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. The accord was signed in 2019 but has stalled since then amid European reluctance.
Lula made clear he is willing to resume the EU-Mercosur deal and he needs some quick foreign affairs victory so there are reasons to be optimistic, a senior EU official said, adding that it won’t be easy because the agreement has become even more unpopular in countries like France.
by Simone Iglesias & Samy Adghirni, Bloomberg