Itu, Sao Paulo State, Brazil
Driving through Brazil’s Sao Paulo state is downright unremarkable, blocks and blocks of high-rises giving way to highways and eventually gentle hills. It is hardly the scene in which one would expect to find the salvation of the climate.
And yet as Luis Guedes Pinto climbed his sky-high perch above a reclaimed area of Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, he explained that you don’t have to go to the Arctic or even the Amazon to learn how to nurse the Earth’s forests back to health.
“This project does not change the big landscape, but it shows that it is possible to bring back life, bring back water, bring back biodiversity, in the center of the state of Sao Paulo,” said Pinto, director of SOS Mata. Atlântica, where he pointed down to two square kilometers of forest recovery.
The Pinto Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to forest restoration on the Atlantic coast of Brazil. The forest itself is home to more than 145 million Brazilians and – just as the Amazon rainforest has been ravaged by deforestation in recent years – about three-quarters of it has already been wiped out by urban and infrastructure development and aggressive agribusiness practices. .
“We need to plant and replant, but we must not lose another hectare,” Pinto told CNN as he guided CNN through a nursery of more than 50 species of carefully cultivated trees and plants in what was once degraded, drought-prone pastureland. “A forest we replant will not be the same as a forest we cut down.” Some of the forests we’re losing have trees in them that are hundreds of years old.”
These are the plants of forest revival. In just 15 years, it has become a thriving ecological laboratory with healthy water levels, trees, plants and animals. It’s a very different landscape than the pastureland that borders it, where drought-stricken grass overtakes acres of what used to be forest.
As President-elect Lula Da Silva takes office, projects like these now stand at the crossroads of climate and political history in Brazil, a country home to one of the planet’s most important reserves of biodiversity.
For nearly four years, the government of President Jair Bolsonaro was accused of undoing the environmental progress of Lula, who served as president from 2003 to 2010. Data from Brazil’s Space Research Institute shows that the rate of deforestation under Bolsonaro’s presidency has increased by more than 70% from 2018 to 2021.
The Amazon rainforest already emits more carbon dioxide than it absorbs in some places – a change that could have a huge negative impact on global warming. And scientists warn that the precious rainforest is approaching 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 was able to significantly reduce deforestation by the end of his term in office in 2010. And his new promise goes even further: to achieve zero deforestation in Brazil. This would be significantly more ambitious than his previous government’s goal of eradicating illegal deforestation, not deforestation of any kind.
Speaking at the United Nations COP27 climate conference on Wednesday in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Lula told a packed conference hall that “Brazil is back to restart its relationship with the world,” and that there is “no climate security for the world without protecting the Amazon , and we will do whatever it takes to have a different view of the breakdown.”
He also promised to punish those responsible for deforestation in the Amazon and announced a new ministry for indigenous people “so that the indigenous people themselves can present and propose to the government policies that can lead to their lives with dignity and security, peace.” and sustainability.”
His remarks were met with a standing ovation that spilled out of the conference room into the hallway, where people who couldn’t get into the packed room, but were eager to hear Lula talk about the climate crisis, watched on their phones.
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 member of Brazil’s conservative parliament.
In an interview with CNN, Salles said he and others are willing to work with Lula’s incoming administration on climate goals, but warned that it should not come at the expense of economic development.
“I was the only person as environment minister in the entire history of the ministry who brought these economic issues to the table,” said Salles. During his time as environment minister, the Bolsonaro administration often portrayed development and economic activity in the Amazon as vital to long-term sustainability – an approach that many environmentalists in the country have rejected.
Salles says Brazil must work closely with international allies now to take advantage of the billions of dollars in climate funds and carbon credits now being offered by both governments and companies around the world.
But climate advocates argue that neither Brazil nor the planet can afford the kind of compromises Bolsonaro’s allies are pushing for.
“We don’t need to destroy to develop. We can do it in harmony with nature. And it’s the indigenous people who teach it,” Txai Suruí, an indigenous leader in Brazil, told CNN.
Suruí said he is optimistic Lula’s government will keep its promise to act quickly, despite economic pressure from not only Bolsonaro’s allies, but millions in the Amazon, whose livelihoods depend on its commercial development.
“Because this agenda – the Amazon, climate change, the environment – is a global agenda,” she said. “If Lula doesn’t address it, it won’t just be us, the indigenous people, who will be 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 need to understand as a nation that it is a key issue for the planet and that the decisions we will make will be important for us but also for others,” he says.
This story has been updated with Lulu’s comments at the United Nations Climate Change Conference.