Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has been confirmed as the new President of Brazil, ousting far-right climate sceptic Jair Bolsanro in a move that has been celebrated by environmental activists across the globe.
Deforestation has increased every year since Bolsonaro took power up to as much as 75% from 2019. Lula has announced he will halt Bolsonaro’s ‘development-at-all-costs’ policies that encouraged ranchers, prospectors and loggers to besiege the Amazon and plunder its natural resources.
He promised to “aim for zero deforestation” but will be satisfied if his government can lower deforestation by 83% as was seen under Lula and his predecessor, Dilma, between 2003 and 2014.
Much focus will also be on Indigenous issues. A quick rebuild of the Indigenous and environmental organisations that were hollowed out by Bolsonaro will signal just how serious Lula’s government is, and will also help combat deforestation.
Bolsonaro had rejected the scientific consensus on climate change and repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the Paris Agreement during his campaign. Even before taking office, he backed out of Brazil’s offer to host the 2019 UN Climate Change Conference.
Ernesto Araújo, ex Minister of Foreign Affairs appointed by Bolsonaro, has previously called global warming a ‘plot by cultural Marxists’ and eliminated the Climate Change Division of the ministry. Two departments of the Ministry of the Environment dealing with climate change in Brazil and mitigation and one dealing with deforestation were also eliminated.
This makes the most compelling and immediate concern the fate of the Amazon forests, the majority of which sits in Brazil. It has long been understood that if current trends persist, the rainforest will be unable to produce enough moisture to sustain itself. A major global carbon sink that has been protecting us will instead turn into a carbon producer, propelling us toward climate catastrophe.
As in many other cases, the time scale of this tragedy has been severely underestimated. Brazilian researchers have shown that it has already begun to happen in some regions, which are reaching irreversible tipping points. Formally, they are protected under laws that are being cast aside in the interests of short-term profit and power.
As with the Brazilian election, politics, especially for young people are becoming increasingly vital in voicing their climate concerns. Research conducted by Harvard University titled The fall 2022 youth poll demonstrated that “climate change is in the top tier of issues for young Americans heading into the midterms,” Alan Zhang, a junior at Harvard University and the chair of Harvard Public Opinion Project (HPOP) who carried out the poll, points out, “If we’re looking at young liberals and young progressives, there’s really four issues tied for first place: There’s abortion, inflation, climate, and democracy.”
Further research conducted by the London School of Economics (LSE) argues “It’s hard to overstate what is at stake for the environment in elections.” Their investigation into the 2019 Canadian federal election, where the distinct policies of the leading parties allowed an estimate of the difference in emissions between the two likeliest outcomes. They then allocated responsibility for those saved emissions to voters, much like a carbon calculator shares emissions from an aircraft amongst passengers.
The median emissions responsibility of a voter who selected a winning candidate was 34.2 tCO2e. That works out as 14 times more than the emissions that come from a year of driving.
Fossil fuel donors have long understood that they can structure the decision-making of consumers in their favour by winning elections, even at a very granular scale. A report by the UN stated current global emission reduction commitments are insufficient to limit warming to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels and avoid the more significant impacts of climate change.
With more and more damning reports from scientists being released, elections such as Brazil will be instrumental in tackling the climate crisis.
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