Brazilian President Lula’s commitment to climate change is a stark contrast to his predecessor Jair Bolsonaro’s approach

Ishita Sharma

Ishita Sharma

Ishita Sharma is an emerging journalist from India, who has a keen interest in covering global politics and governance. She has contributed to publications like the Toronto Observer along with other projects such as the United Way. Ishita is a student in the University of Toronto / Centennial College's joint journalism program and contributed to the Global Summitry Project as part of an experiential learning opportunity in 2024.

Brazilians have signalled that climate change is a priority and they’ve turned to a familiar face to lead the battle. 

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who returned for a third term as president after more than a decade,  promises to repair the damage done to the Amazon rainforest under former President Jair Messias Bolsonaro’s watch. 

Bolsonaro, who has been referred to as the “Trump of the Tropics,” has a history of being a denialist. He was recently indicted for allegedly falsifying his COVID-19 vaccination status and is known for understating the severity of coronavirus when it was at its peak.

Bolsonaro is consistent in his approach as deforestation in the Amazon soared to a 15-year high under his presidency. Lula, on the other hand, has time and again displayed his commitment to climate change and continues to prioritise it and the protection of the Amazon in his agenda. 

“Whenever the world discusses the Amazon and whenever we Brazilians discuss the Amazon even if we’re talking about the Bolsonaro administration, which was a disaster on that front, we do have to take into account the overall context,” said Pedro Vormittag, director of external relations at Brazilian Centre for International Relations (CEBRI)

During an interview, Vormittag explained that during the Bolsonaro years, “the federal government made a deliberate decision to pretty much cut all the funding for basic, crucial environmental law enforcement policy. Of course, what it meant was that the level of environmental crime increased.”

These crimes included illegal logging, mining and land grabbing. 

Lula pledged to deliver zero deforestation in Brazil by 2030, upon being elected in January 2023. He highlighted the need for global mobilization against the climate crisis in the upcoming G20.

In 2024, Brazil has taken over from India to host the G20 Leaders Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Leading up to the Summit, which will take place in November, 130 meetings and events have been planned across 15 different cities. 

The purpose of these meetings is for ministers and high-level representatives to collaborate to improve co-operation and reach international global governance arrangements.


Brazil’s Agenda

Brazil’s motto for the G20 this year is “Building a Just World and a Sustainable Planet” and the highlighted priorities are:

  • social inclusion and the fight against hunger and poverty;
  • energy transitions and the promotion of sustainable development in its economic, social, and environmental dimensions; and
  • reform of global governance institutions.   

In 2024, the G20 will likely see much deliberation over sustainable development goals, the SDGs, and climate change in particular. 

“The contribution of why they [Brazil] focus on climate change is because Lula personally is committed to it,” said Yves Tiberghien, a professor of political science, at the University of British Columbia. He has expertise in global economic governance, COVID politics, G20, Global environment, climate change, and biodiversity governance. 

According to Brazil’s concept note, Brazil’s G20 Presidency has proposed establishing a Task Force for Global Mobilization Against Climate Change, bringing together 

G20’s two parallel tracks: the finance track and the sherpa track. The finance track is led by finance ministers while the personal representatives of national leaders head the sherpa track.

Bringing together the two tracks is “one of the biggest challenges of the G20,” said Feliciano de Sá Guimarães, the academic director and senior researcher at CEBRI and associate professor at the Institute of International Relations University of São Paulo, during an interview.

Calling for global mobilisation against climate change, Brazil acknowledges that such a goal cannot be accomplished without adequate and timely access to financial resources which can only happen by engaging governments, central banks, financial regulators, multilateral development banks such as the IMF, World Bank, and IBRD. 

Tiberghien noted that a determining factor in measuring the success of the Summit’s climate change agenda would be an increase in a percentage of that capital dedicated to climate, that would be a measurable outcome because you need public funding to take the risks, and to leverage private funding. 

In order to further its agenda on climate change, Brazil plans to launch the G20 Initiative on Bioeconomy. As per the concept note released by the Brazilian government, bioeconomy is “a novel field where natural resources are coupled with emerging technologies to create sustainable, high value-added products and services.”

Tiberghien said that Lula “wants to be a leader of the developing world” and Brazil’s biofuel coalition presents the country with a business opportunity as Brazil leads the world in sugarcane production. 

“So they try to bring biofuel at the heart of the climate action, which can become a great export opportunity for Brazil. So there is a business agenda, there’s a domestic political agenda, and there is a personal conviction agenda,” said Tiberghien.

“The goal is to expand Brazil’s economy by leveraging its vast natural resources, such as agricultural, bio-fuels, and forestry, and thereby reducing its dependence on fossil fuels,” said Ella Kokotsis, a climate change advisor and a G7 and G20 expert at the G20 Research Group at the University of Toronto.

Kokotsis said that Brazil is “investing heavily in innovation related to biotechnology, research and development, bio-products and bio-based technologies.”

Tiberghien agrees.

Brazil is a superpower in generating things like sugarcane and other products that can be turned into energy. They’re going to push that,” he said.

With such a diverse range of agendas being brought to that table, there is a lot to cover at the November Summit.

Guimarães said that G20 is considered a “soft law,” meaning that the guidelines are not legally binding however, they are “moral commitments.” 

Added Kokotsis: The commitments and decisions at the G20 cannot be enforced but “the incentive to comply and implement decisions is based on domestic and global scrutiny when the leaders fail to comply with their international obligations.” 

She added that “peer pressure” also plays a role in accomplishing this goal of ensuring that all members stay committed to the agreements at the G20. These leaders convene annually and “want to demonstrate to each other that they have taken the necessary steps to fulfil their international obligations.”  

As for Brazil’s role in facilitating deliberation over these agendas, Guimarães said that “we cannot overestimate Brazil’s capacity to be a bridgebuilder, and we cannot underestimate it.”