Sunday, December 07, 2008

Lula's New Plan to Stop Deforestation and Climate Change - Reason for Hope?

It's no secret that I think that Lula has been genuinely concerned about deforestation in the Amazon, but that his continuous approach of taking one step forward (such as reducing deforestation from 10,500 square miles in 2004 to 4,261 this year) and another step backwards (and his environmental record more generally) is one of the biggest disappointments of his administration.

That said, Lula's announcement last week to reduce deforestation by 70% and cut back on Brazil's own greenhouse gas emissions (many of which come from deforestation) is nothing short of outstanding. And as Randy comments, the fact this plan is gaining support both from environmental NGOs and from farmers is hugely important.

It's still too early for unguarded optimism - Lula's administration has had great plans before, and they haven't necessarily panned out, both because he has occasionally launched contradicting policies when it comes to the question of environment vs. development, and because it is difficult for any country to patrol that much forest, much less a country that historically has not had a very strong presence in that area. That said, the plan is more encouraging than anything else Lula has launched for a couple of reasons. First, it's focused not just on the present, but on the long-term; this isn't a simple measure to reduce deforestation for next year, but for the next 10 years, and the accompanying efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and efforts to get farmers involved with re-foresting some of their lands shows that Lula is finally thinking in the long term here.

Secondly, it the government's openness to listen to NGOs demands is important. Culturally, Brazil is very proectionist towards the Amazon, and does not like foreign groups or governments telling it what to do. These attitudes are understandable - in a broad history of exploitation of its resources by Europe and the U.S., Brazilians are more than a little cautious that foriegn efforts to tell Brazil how to deal with the forest are little more than imperialist ploys to get at the resources in the Amazon themselves (and to be clear, I don't think that's what many groups are trying to do, but to presume all NGOs or governments have nothing but the best intentions in terms of the forest is naive, too - if nothing else, there are doubtless some major pharmaceutical companies that would love to get in there without restrictions and start trying to exploit natural remedies with little to no reward for Brazil). It's a very complicated dynamic, and Americans are often confused when Brazilians get a little "snappy" towards advice on how to save the rainforest (particularly given the U.S.'s awesome environmental record). Still, the fact that both NGOs are being a little less paternalistic in this case, and the Brazilian government a bit more open, is highly encouraging.

Again, it's still too soon to be fully optimistic. There's no telling if the government will be able to actually enforce its plans here, or if farmers will really adhere to the program. Still, given how comperehensive this plan is, it is definitely a major step (vs. previous minor steps) in the right direction.