Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva

President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. (AP)


AS/COA Insider: Cecilia Tornaghi on Lula’s Global Environmental Policy

“The world of environmentalism is very eager to hear what Lula has to say,” says the senior director of policy at AS/COA.

Since winning Brazil’s runoff presidential electionLuiz Inácio Lula da Silva has hit the ground running to shape his third term in Planalto. One of his first moves was announcing that he would attend the COP27 in Egypt, sending a signal that the environmental issues could be a major issue for his administration.

“The world of environmentalism is very eager to hear what Lula has to say,” says Cecilia Tornaghi, managing editor of Americas Quarterly and a senior director for policy at AS/COA. She discusses what Lula might announce in Sharm el-Shiekh, what it will take for Brazil to rebuild its environmental infrastructure, and how the environment will factor into Lula’s global leadership. 

 AS/COA Online: In his first international trip since winning Brazil's runoff election, Lula will travel to Egypt for COP27. What's the significance of this trip? How do you see him differing from the outgoing government on environmental issues? 

Cecilia Tornaghi

Cecilia Tornaghi: It’s hard to overstate the significance of President-elect Lula heading to Egypt to join COP27 in terms of signaling a U-turn on Brazil’s environmental direction and its policies on the environment. Of course, there’s a lot of focus on the Amazon rainforest and deforestation specifically, but Brazil has several other environmental priorities, including other biomes, clean energy, and biodiversity. 

The world of environmentalism is very eager to hear what Lula has to say. Everyone is hopeful that this U-turn to revamp completely Brazil’s environmental policy, which he already announced that he would do, will actually come to fruition. They hope he will be able to actually implement and act on all these ideas and expectations that the world has for Brazil when it comes not only to its own environmental conservation and policies, but its global leadership on environmental issues. 

AS/COA Online: While at COP27, there’s a discussion that Lula might revive an idea for an alliance of countries with significant rainforest that would, as a start, involve Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Brazil, as they are three countries that account for over half of the world's rainforests. What's the goal for this plan? 

Tornaghi: This is an interesting idea. Someone coined this idea as the “Rainforest OPEC,” which is ironic because OPEC is an oil and fossil fuel group. In any case, it’s very interesting and necessary. These three countries did meet together at COP26, but nothing much has actually happened since. We actually saw numbers of deforestation in all three countries worsen.  

Right now, the idea is to revamp this conversation and actually create a group that can negotiate on issues like carbon credits, climate financing, and adaptation financing by creating a common ground for these negotiations. This could be a very powerful group if Lula goes beyond this and holds a global summit in Brazil next year, which is what he’s saying he wants to do.  

A group that can negotiate together on these fronts is a really powerful idea. Of course, its viability depends a lot on the political powers to be, and it remains to be seen how much they can actually pull together. There are also very powerful industries that still have a vision that they need to cut forests further to be able to continue to grow their production, be it palm oil or cattle in the case of Brazil. This mind frame is still present in all these countries, so whether we can change the culture around conservation is a bigger challenge than just talking together and negotiating. 

There is also a lot of talk about collaboration among the Amazonian countries themselves, which already have an organization, but that’s not really had a lot of impact at this point in time. Lula is talking about reenforcing its work with Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Ecuador in terms of the Amazon itself, in addition to bringing others into that discussion. It’s not just about the countries that house rainforests protecting them; it’s a global responsibility for all countries to support this effort. 

AS/COA Online: You said Lula is intending a U-turn on environmental policy. How far do you think he can get? What are chances for success and what are the challenges he faces? 

Tornaghi: I think one major item that is expected to be announced at COP27 is the creation of a Brazilian environmental tsar, similar to John Kerry’s position in the United States. That was an idea from Marina Silva, who’s a main environmentalist and a very strong leader in Brazil. She is supporting Lula now, but there were a lot of bad vibes between them for many years even though she was his first environment minister. They’re back on good terms, and one of her ideas is to have this main position be a cross-cabinet position that will work with every policy and any policy that has an environmental component. Lula is expected to announce this tsar position. That alone could be a game changer, ensuring every other cabinet office in the country has to take the environment into account.  

The main challenge for Lula right now is to rebuild all the nuts and bolts of the environmental institutes, organizations, and bodies of government that were weakened, closed, or just completely disbanded during the previous administration. The Bolsonaro government had a view of the world that believed slash-and-burn and mining should take precedence. Lula comes with a different view, to start with.  

Lula’s main challenge is going to be to rebuild what Brazil had before, which was enforcement of the laws. Brazil has good, strong rules and laws regarding the environment, but if they are not enforced or taken into account when other policies are designed, they’re good for nothing. 

AS/COA Online: What does Lula's environmental policy tell us about his foreign policy? 

Tornaghi: I think he’s going to base a lot of his foreign policy with a coat of environmentalism. That seems to be what it’s gearing up to be. We saw Celso Amorim, who was Lula’s foreign minister for a long time and still is his main adviser on foreign relations, say before the second round that there was an idea to start 2023 with an environmental summit to bring together the region and strengthen regional integration. It’s a great opportunity to blast Brazil’s calling cards and to posture as an environmental leader. I think that much of Lula’s foreign policies are going to, at least at first, have a lot to do with his environmental approach and trying to bring Brazil back to this leadership position globally.  

Many people in the environmental movement in Brazil are cautioning that it can’t just go back to where it was, that Brazil needs to think beyond where it was. Indigenous groups are going to get their own ministry and their own cabinet position going to get its own ministry and its own cabinet position, and that alone may change a lot in terms of these communities who are basically guardians of the rainforest and other biomes. We have the ICMBio, Chico Mendes Institute for biodiversity. And we have the Ibama, the organ that monitored fires and deforestation and enforced laws and fines. All these groups need to be rebuilt. People need to be hired back.  

At the same time, Lula needs to think forward. What is it that Brazil can bring to the table in a 2023 scenario of not reaching 1.5 degrees anymore with the Paris Accord being almost obsolete at this point? Brazil has a lot to offer, so I think that there is a big chance that Lula will take this as a banner that can help raise the hopes and the morale in the country. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.