President Lula’s First Pro-Environment Acts Protect Indigenous People and the Amazon
Newly inaugurated Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has wasted no time in enacting environmental protections and reversing anti-climate policies of the previous administration. Within his first hours in office, Lula signed a series of decrees aimed at safeguarding Indigenous rights and lands while also promoting conservation of the Amazon rainforest.
The most consequential decree annuls a measure by former President Jair Bolsonaro that allowed mining on Indigenous territories and in protected conservation areas. Lula’s decree suspends new mining claims in these regions, a major victory for Indigenous groups who staunchly opposed mining and development on their ancestral lands. Mining permits already granted will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
Lula stated his priority is ensuring the environment is protected from predatory development interests. The move delivers on his campaign pledge to combat illegal mining that surged under Bolsonaro, causing deforestation and mercury contamination of rivers. While the mining industry may resist tighter regulations, Lula emphasized, “we will not negotiate our rights, our lives, and our territories.”
In another decree, Lula immediately reestablished the Amazon Fund, a critical tool for rainforest conservation. The fund finances efforts like environmental enforcement, sustainable forestry, and fire prevention by collecting donations from developed nations. But Bolsonaro had largely paralyzed the program since 2019 by issuing critiques of its donors and refusing to accept pledged contributions.
Lula aims to reinvigorate the Amazon Fund with over $500 million in suspended donations from Norway and Germany. His administration seeks to expand international fundraising and disperse resources to state governments, Indigenous groups, and NGOs protecting the rainforest. Lula described the fund as an essential mechanism for “keeping our forests standing in the fight against climate change.”
Further decrees from Lula strengthen environmental agencies like Ibama and ICMBio that were defanged under budget cuts and anti-regulatory zeal. Lula is allotting recovery funds to hire more inspectors and provide agency staff with improved equipment and technology. This empowers on-the-ground enforcement of conservation laws that deteriorated over the past four years.
Lula also revoked a Bolsonaro decree that encouraged illegal land grabbing in the Amazon. The prior rule emboldened squatters, loggers and miners occupying public lands by promising to eventually grant them titles. Lula’s reversal corrects what Indigenous advocates called “the biggest governmental incentive for deforestation ever.”
While Lula’s pro-environment stance has buoyed climate activists, major challenges still confront the Amazon. Deforestation rates hit a 15-year high under Bolsonaro and Brazil’s emissions rose sharply. Lula must follow through on expanding protected areas and restoring degraded lands. His success relies on cooperation from local officials and agribusiness groups often aligned with Bolsonaro.
However, the quickness and decisiveness of Lula’s initial actions signal his intention to steer Brazil in a dramatically different direction. Lula’s prompt defense of the Amazon and its Indigenous communities provides hope that one of Earth’s critical carbon sinks can be preserved. The world will be watching in the coming months to see if Lula’s administration can translate these early victories into sustained policies that roll back the environmental degradation of the Bolsonaro era.
- Brazil’s president Lula issued six decrees revoking or altering anti-environment and Indigenous measures that were put in place under his predecessor Jair Bolsanaro.
- One of the decrees annuls mining in Indigenous lands and protected areas.
- Another decree reinstates the Amazon Fund, which provides funding to developed nations to finance various programs to stop deforestation.