brazil environment minister marina silva speaking afp office brasilia afp

Protecting Amazon is a difficult task, says Brazil’s environment minister

Brazil’s environment minister, Marina Silva, knows she has her work cut out to protect the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest that is shared among nine countries.

“It will be difficult,” Silva admitted in an interview with AFP on Monday evening.

Just three weeks into the work, Silva said the environmental situation in his country, which is home to more than 60% of the Amazon, was “worse than expected”.

When leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva appointed this emblematic figure in the fight for the environment to his position, he signaled that the planet was a clear priority for the new administration after four years of rule by far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro , which has seen deforestation reach record levels.

“Reality is much worse than we imagined,” said Silva, 64, who was born in the heart of the jungle.

“We will have to make a great effort” because the ministry “has been largely dismantled”.

Lula’s concern for the environment is “in line with what is happening in other parts of the world”.

He set 2030 as a goal to achieve zero deforestation.

“It won’t be an easy road… but we will try to make up for lost time,” said Silva.

‘Getting people’ the key

Within the Lula government, 17 ministers will be involved in environmental policies.

But when it comes to deforestation, Silva says reaching target numbers isn’t enough, “we have to convince people that it’s not a good idea to destroy the forest.”

“We will invest in biotechnology, tourism, low-carbon agriculture and other sources of income,” he said. “Our goal is to restart preventive actions and the fight against deforestation.”

But Silva warned against expecting too much too soon during Lula’s four-year tenure.

“We will see what can be achieved in this short period of time. Only populist governments can guarantee that they will solve such huge problems in four years,” she said ironically.

“We hope to arrive at COP30 in 2025 as a country that has fulfilled its obligations.”

Brazil has bid to host the 2025 climate conference in Belem, a city on the edge of the Amazon.

Brasilia won’t be able to work miracles without international help, said Silva, who served as environment minister during Lula’s first two terms as president (2003 to 2010) before resigning in 2008 in protest against what he called a lack of funds.

One of Lula’s first acts as president was to reactivate the Amazon Fund, whose main contributors were Norway and Germany. He had been suspended under Bolsonaro over a scandal related to forest fires in the Amazon.

“We are talking to the UK, France, Spain and many other countries that can contribute to the Amazon Fund. We don’t want it to be just Norway and Germany,” Silva said.

“A decent life”

Negotiations are also well advanced with businesses and philanthropic organizations, Silva said.

But he says the international community still needs to make a bigger effort.

“This collaboration with developed countries must also translate into the opening of markets for sustainable products” so that “what is produced legally can serve as a source of income for the 25 million inhabitants of the Amazon”.

“We must guarantee these populations a dignified life”, Silva said, adding that the fight against the commercialization of illegally extracted gold and trunks must be multilateral.

But, he warned, “unless developed countries also reduce their carbon dioxide emissions, the Amazon will be destroyed.”