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Lula’s Bid to Style Himself Climate Leader at Cop28 Undermined by Opec Move

The Brazilian president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has roared into Cop28 with a mega-delegation of more than 2,000 people and grand ambitions to address inequality and protect the world’s tropical forests.

Lula, as he is known, said his country was leading by example: “We have adjusted our climate goals, which are now more ambitious than those of many developed countries. We have drastically reduced deforestation in the Amazon and will bring it to zero by 2030,” he said.

But any pretensions he might have had to broader climate leadership on cutting fossil fuels were weakened on Thursday when his energy minister, Alexandre Silveira, chose the opening of the planet’s biggest environmental conference as the moment to announce that Brazil plans to align itself more closely with the world’s biggest oil cartel, Opec.

Brazilian climate campaigners said the timing and symbolism were horrendous and a sign of the divisions within a country that has made huge strides to reduce deforestation of the Amazon, even as it has ploughed ahead with oil exploration in ecologically sensitive areas.

“This statement is a scandal. Celebrating entry into the oil club in the middle of a climate conference is as if the minister of mines and energy were disavowing President Lula’s own environmental speech,” said Marcio Astrini, the executive secretary of the Brazilian Climate Observatory. “With ministers like this, the president doesn’t need enemies.”

At the end of the world’s hottest year on record, scientists, activists and politicians in many affected countries have called on delegates at the UN climate summit to set a goal of phasing out fossil fuels.

They had hoped that Brazil, which will host Cop30 in two years’ time, might be an ally. Since taking power in January, Lula – a veteran of the Workers party – has repeatedly declared the climate crisis is a priority and supported measures taken by his environment minister, Marina Silva, to reverse the ecological devastation of the previous administration of his rightwing predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro.

This has given Lula strong cards to play at the summit. Deforestation, which accounts for about half of Brazil’s carbon discharges, has fallen to the lowest level in five years. His government has strengthened emission-cutting targets, pledging a 53% fall by 2030 compared with 2005, and net zero by mid-century.

Ani Toni, the government’s climate change secretary, told reporters that Brazil had already saved 250m tonnes of carbon this year, equivalent to the total for Argentina. “Brazil arrives at Cop28 with its head held high,” she said.

As well as setting a positive example, Brazil organised a conference of Amazon nations earlier this year and tried to build an alliance with other ecological superpowers, such as Indonesia and Congo.

At Cop28, it is calling for the establishment of a forest fund that would reward nations for reducing deforestation and provide incentives for forest residents to avoid destructive practices such as logging, ranching and mining. It is hoped that the fund, which would be managed by the World Bank or another multilateral organisation, would start at the relatively low level of $100m and steadily increase to the billions needed to stabilise and recover the world’s great terrestrial carbon sinks, rainfall regulators and homes of biodiversity.

A separate loss and damage fund has already been agreed to support the nations and communities most vulnerable to extreme weather, and Brazil is expected to demonstrate leadership among developing nations by pushing for wealthy nations, who bear most responsibility for the climate crisis, to make sizeable contributions.

Foreign ministry officials say Brazil will also act as a defender of the world’s most ambitious climate goal, to limit global heating to 1.5C (2.7F) above pre-industrial levels, despite growing scientific evidence that this target may be breached sooner than expected. For there to be even a remote chance of preventing this, emissions have to start declining, and rapidly, which will require a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels.

This is where Brazil – like the US, UK, UAE, Norway and a host of other countries – is on shakier ground, because all these countries are planning to approve new oil projects that are incompatible with the 1.5C target. The day after Cop28, Brazil will stage an auction for hundreds of oil drilling blocks, many of them in ecologically sensitive areas such as near the mouth of the Amazon river, according to Carol Pasquali of Greenpeace.

“Brazil is caught in contradictions,” she said. “On one hand, it is looking forward and walking in the right direction on forests. But on the other, it carries the weight from the past when it comes to exploring for oil. Brazil needs to be more consistent if it wants to assume a role as a climate leader ahead of Cop30.”

Challenges within the government do not help. To get elected, Lula had to call on a broad front of politicians ranging from leftwing climate justice campaigners to rightwing agribusiness advocates.

Brazil’s indigenous communities have a stronger voice than before thanks to Lula’s appointment of the country’s first minister of indigenous peoples, Sonia Guajajara. She is one of 15 ministers in Brazil’s delegation, which is more than three times the size of any the country has sent before and reportedly the biggest in the history of UN climate summits. A broad church, it includes civil society activists, businesspeople, academics and Indigenous representatives.

“This Cop needs to make Indigenous people feel that they are truly heard and have their rights guaranteed, especially when it comes to demarcation of territory,” said delegate Neidinha Cristóvão Kanindé.

Source: The Guardian