Cela, State of Sao Paulo, Brazil
The drive through the state of Sao Paulo in Brazil is decidedly mundane, blocks and blocks of high-rise buildings giving way to suburban freeways and eventually rolling hills. This is hardly the scene where one would expect to find climate salvation.
And yet, as Luis Guedes Pinto climbed to his perch above a strip salvaged from Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, he explained that you don’t have to go to the Arctic or even the Amazon to learn care for the Earth’s forests.
“This project does not change a great landscape, but it shows that it is possible to bring life back, to bring back water, to bring back biodiversity, to the center of the State of Sao Paulo,” said Pinto, CEO of SOS Mata Atlanticaas he pointed to two square miles of forest restoration.
Pinto’s organization is a non-profit organization dedicated to the rehabilitation of the strip of forest on the Atlantic coast of Brazil. The forest itself is home to over 145 million Brazilians and, just as the Amazon rainforest was ravaged by deforestation over the past few years – about three-quarters of it has already been wiped out by urban and infrastructure development and aggressive agro-industrial practices.
“We have to plant and replant, but we can’t waste another acre,” Pinto told CNN as he guided CNN through a nursery with more than 50 species of trees and plants carefully grown in what was once a degraded pasture and prone to drought. “A forest that we replant will not be the same as a forest that we cut down. Some of the forests we are losing contain trees hundreds of years old.
They are the seedlings of the rebirth of a forest. In just 15 years, it has grown into a thriving eco-laboratory with healthy groundwater, trees, plants and animals. It’s a completely different landscape from the pastures that fringe its land, where drought-stricken grass towers over acres of what was once forest.
As President-elect Lula Da Silva comes to powerprojects like this stand today at the crossroads of the climatic and political history of Brazil, a country that is home to one of the most important reservoirs of biodiversity on the planet.
For nearly four years, the government of President Jair Bolsonaro has been accused of undo environmental progress of Lula, who served as president from 2003 to 2010. Data from Brazil National Institute for Space Research show that the rate of deforestation under President Bolsonaro has increased by more than 70% from 2018 to 2021.
The Amazon rainforest is already emitting more carbon dioxide than it absorbs in some places – a change that could have a huge negative impact on global warming trends. And scientists warn the precious rainforest is approaching a point of irreversible decline and is less able to recover from disturbances such as drought, logging and wildfires.
Lula’s record as a former president shows that his government succeeded in drastically reducing deforestation rates by the end of his term in 2010. And his new pledge goes even further: to achieve zero deforestation in Brazil. That would be significantly more ambitious than his previous government’s goal of eliminating illegal deforestation, not deforestation of any kind.
Speaking at the UN’s COP27 climate summit on Wednesday in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Lula told a packed conference room that “Brazil is back to reconnect with the world” and that it there is “no climate security for the world without a protected Amazon, and we will do whatever it takes to have a different view of degradation.
He also promised to punish those responsible for deforestation in the Amazon, and announced a new Ministry of Indigenous Peoples “so that the indigenous peoples themselves can present and propose to the government policies that can derive their survival in dignity and safety. , peace and sustainability.
His remarks were met with huge applause that spilled from the conference room into the hallway, where people who couldn’t fit into the crowded room but eager to hear Lula talk about the climate crisis, watched from their phone.
But Bolsonaro’s allies, who continue to control Congress, could make climate action much more difficult over the next four years. One of those allies is Ricardo Salles, Bolsonaro’s former environment minister and now a newly elected lawmaker in Brazil’s conservative-leaning congress.
In an interview with CNN, Salles said he and others were ready to work with Lula’s new administration on climate goals, but cautioned that this should not come at the expense of economic development.
“I was the only guy as environment minister in the entire history of the ministry who put these economic issues on the table,” Salles said. During his tenure as environment minister, the Bolsonaro government has often portrayed development and economic activity in the Amazon as essential to long-term sustainability — an approach decried by many of the country’s environmental activists.
Salles says Brazil will now need to work closely with international allies to tap into the billions of dollars in climate funds and carbon credits currently offered by governments and corporations around the world.
But climate advocates say neither Brazil nor the planet can afford the kind of compromise now advocated by Bolsonaro’s allies.
“We don’t need to destroy in order to develop. We can do this in harmony with nature. And it is the indigenous people who teach this,” Brazilian indigenous leader Txai Suruí told CNN.
Suruí said she is optimistic that Lula’s government will keep its promises to act quickly, despite economic pressure not only from Bolsonaro’s allies, but also from millions of people in the Amazon whose livelihoods depend on its commercial development.
“Because this agenda – of the Amazon, of climate change, of the environment – it’s a global agenda,” she said. “If Lula doesn’t take care of it, it won’t just be us natives knocking on his door, it will be the whole world.”
The urgency of committing to these goals is not lost on Pinto, who says it’s not just Brazil’s future that’s at stake.
“We have to understand as a nation that this is essential for the planet and that the decisions we make will be important for us but also for others,” he says.
This story has been updated with Lula’s remarks at the UN climate summit.