Brazil's incoming president Lula da Silva pledges to fight illegal Amazon deforestation

An Amazon River island of the Bailique archipelago, in the district of Macapa, state of Amapa, northern Brazil. Credit: AP

Brazil's president-elect has promised to fight illegal Amazon rainforest deforestation, in an address at the United Nations COP27 climate summit in Egypt.

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is set to take power from Jair Bolsonaro within six weeks, following a tumultuous election.

Speaking to a packed room at COP27, 'Lula', as he is known in Brazil, vowed that his administration would crack down on illegal deforestation and thrust Latin America's largest and most populous nation to the forefront of climate leadership.

Mr da Silva has made an extraordinary political comeback in the past year after being convicted of corruption and jailed - though his convictions were later annulled by Brazil’s top court, which ruled the presiding judge had been biased and colluded with prosecutors.

But as Brazil's leader between 2003 and 2010, he oversaw a large reduction in deforestation of the Brazilian area of the important rainforest, and has promised to do so again.

After meeting with several Brazilian governors, including from important rainforest states like Amazonia and Para, Mr da Silva addressed the crowd in a short speech.

“You all know that we are going to undertake a big fight against deforestation," he said to cheers.

Mr da Silva said he would recommend that the UN hold the 2025 climate conference in the Amazon, adding it was time that “people who defend the Amazon and defend the climate get to know the region close up.”

Mr da Silva beat Mr Bolsonaro in October's elections and will assume power from January 1.

But the transition has been uneasy. Mr Bolsonaro, while promising to respect the country's constitution, did not initially concede after narrowly losing the election to his rival.

Watch ITV News correspondent Emma Murphy's October report on how illegal mining in the Amazon has left remote indigenous communities fighting for their survival

Days of tension followed last month's election results, with pockets of unrest emerging around the country.

ITV News reported how in Sao Paulo, 'Bolsonaristas' gathered in their thousands outside an army base - begging the soldiers inside to intervene to keep him in power. 

During his speech, Mr da Silva took several swipes at Mr Bolsonaro, who pushed development of the Amazon, both in his pro-business rhetoric and how his administration managed the forests.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Credit: AP

“Brazil can’t remain isolated like it was these last four years. (Officials from Brazil) didn’t travel to any other countries, and no other countries travelled to Brazil,” he said.

On Tuesday night, Mr da Silva met with United States Climate Envoy John Kerry, who on Wednesday told reporters he was pleased that the Brazilian politician “talked about for once and for all getting it right, pulling people together in order to preserve the Amazon.”

The Amazon rainforest, which overlaps with several nations in South America, is seen as crucial to combatting climate change because of the large amounts of carbon dioxide that it absorbs.

Mr da Silva did not address news reports in Brazil that have focused on a possible alliance between Brazil, the Congo and Indonesia, home to the largest tropical forests in the world.

Given the moniker “OPEC of the Forests,” in reference to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and the way they regulate oil production, the general idea would be for these three countries to coordinate their negotiating positions and practices on forest management and biodiversity protection.

The proposal was initially floated during last year’s COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, according to the reports.

Seawater pushed back the Amazon river bathing the Bailique archipelago in 2021, leaving thousands scrambling for drinking water. Credit: AP

Despite Mr da Silva's promises, the task in front of his incoming administration is huge.

Brazilian leaders have traditionally faced huge pressures to develop the Amazon, with lobbying coming from sectors like agriculture and mining, along with many people who live in the rainforest and feel that it's for them to decide how it is managed.

While deforestation dropped dramatically in the decade after Mr da Silva first took power, his environmental record as president was mixed.

Marina Silva, a former childhood rubber-tapper who worked closely with murdered environmental activist and campaigner for Amazon indigenous and peasant rights Chico Mendes, was made his environmental minister.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know

But in his second term, Mr da Silva began catering to agribusiness interests, and in 2008 Ms Silva resigned. She is attending COP27 and is a contender for the top environmental job again.

Simone Karipuna, an activist from the Amazon who traveled to COP27 and attended Mr da Silva's speech, was one of several Indigenous women who travelled to Sharm el-Sheikh to participate in the summit.

Between chants with several other women, Karipuna talked about her hope that challenges could be overcome because Indigenous communities living in the forest could work with the incoming administration.

“We had no dialogue at all with the current administration,” she said.