View from Brazil: Agribusiness lobby scuppers climate gains
The election of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva came as a big relief for all concerned about the planet’s future. One of his main pledges was to protect forests and cut carbon emissions – and indeed the rate of deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon fell by a third in the first six months of his term compared with 2022.
Unlike his predecessor, Lula wants Brazil to be a beacon in the fight against global warming. But the powerful lobby that represents agribusiness in Congress has a different view. In May, they pushed through measures to thwart the fight against environmental crimes. It is a clear defeat for the Lula administration – and the world.
The government’s denial of a request from Petrobras to prospect for oil near the mouth of the Amazon River without guarantees on environmental protection spurred the rural caucus in Congress to seek to reduce the power of the ministries for the environment and Indigenous Peoples.
These departments are crucial for combating deforestation and land-grabbing, improving basic sanitation, waste treatment, water management and demarcation of Indigenous territories. Environment minister Marina Silva warned that the country, which had targeted sustainable growth, was destroying the very agencies that would help in the task.
Then on 30 May, by a vote of 283 to 155, the Chamber of Deputies passed the so-called Time Frame bill, restricting the rights of Indigenous people to claim their historical territories. This also allows the government to take back Indigenous peoples’ lands and build roads and dams on their territories without consultation.
The bill, now being discussed by the Senate, would increase deforestation because, thanks to the stewardship of their inhabitants, Indigenous lands have far better rates of forest protection than other conservation areas of Brazil.
This legislative situation comes about because Lula’s government does not have a majority in Congress, and must negotiate matters vote-by-vote in a parliament that is generally conservative.
There are likely economic impacts, on trade and investment. Brazil is a leading food and commodities producer, and competitors elsewhere have attempted to erect trade barriers against Brazilian products based on claims the country disrespects human rights and does not protect the environment.
We give credence to such claims when vested interests insist on acting against the environment and traditional populations, and when our politicians advocate a short-termist production model based on predatory development.
It’s no use our congressional leaders expressing concern about global warming at UN climate summits and then destroying the socio-environmental protections that guarantee sustainable development.
Will the governments of Germany, Norway and others be foolish enough to keep putting their money into the Amazon Fund, aimed at protecting the forest, while the Brazilian Congress loosens its laws? Will the negotiators of the EU-Mercosur trade agreement simply ignore this?
Will the serious businesspeople who operate in Brazil stand by and watch Congress ruin the country’s image abroad? Will the business at stake motivate them, even if quality of life now and for future generations doesn’t?