January 5, 2023 – In one of the first administrative measures of his administration, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva repealed a series of executive orders dismantling human rights and socio-environmental policies instituted by his predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro. And prior to his January 1st inauguration, Lula nominated Marina Silva to lead Brazil’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change and Sonia Guajajara to head a new Ministry of Indigenous Peoples, in historic moves meant to contain the intensifying assault on Indigenous territories and the environment.

Among his first acts, Lula signed decrees and provisional measures that reinstated environmental funding programs, such as the Amazon Fund and the National Environment Fund (FNMA), the oldest environmental fund in Latin America; revoked Bolsonaro’s decree that facilitated illicit “artisanal” Amazon mining; put an end to an “environmental amnesty” that fostered impunity among those who committed environmental crimes; and revoked the relaxation of limits on the possession and carrying of firearms.

The revoking of Bolsonaro’s pro-“artisanal” mining decree, which had driven a disastrous increase in illegal Amazon mining, answered the demands of the Association of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples (APIB), which has called for an end to mining on Indigenous lands. The new administration also adopted another APIB request, correcting the name of the federal Indigenous agency FUNAI from the National Indian Foundation to the National Foundation of Indigenous Peoples. Created in 1967, during the military dictatorship, FUNAI will be headed for the first time by an Indigenous woman, Joenia Wapichana.

President Lula’s reinstatement of the Amazon Fund is significant given the key role this mechanism could play in providing much-needed financing for forest preservation efforts. Paralyzed since 2019 by the Bolsonaro regime with more than BR$ 3 billion (US$ 550 million) of frozen funds donated by Norway and Germany, the Amazon Fund will once again support 102 conservation projects in the Amazon, among them forests managed by Indigenous People and small-scale farmers.

Brazil’s new president also moved the management of the Rural Environmental Registry (CAR – Cadastro Ambiental Rural) — which tracks all rural land-ownership — from the agriculture to the environment ministry, hindering efforts to evade fines levied on landowners who commit environmental crimes. This change also reactivates a plan to prevent and control deforestation in the Amazon — known as the Plan for Preventing and Combating Deforestation in the Amazon (PPCDAm) – that Bolsonaro dismantled in his first year in office.

Lula determined that Bolsonaro’s executive orders that restricted the role and reduced social participation in the National Council for the Environment (CONAMA), an important government body for public participation in the development of Brazil’s environmental policies, be reviewed within 45 days. CONAMA will be reactivated with new regulations proposed by the Ministry of the Environment to ensure greater public participation.

President Lula also promised to achieve zero deforestation in the Amazon and 100% renewable electricity during his inaugural speech, adding “Brazil does not need to cut down forests to keep and expand its strategic agricultural frontier.” However, while the new government’s environment team is ambitious and assuring, Lula will have to negotiate his agenda without a majority in Congress, which is dominated by legislators linked to Bolsonaro’s party and to the “ruralist” movement promoting agribusiness and mining in the Amazon.

Christian Poirier, Program Director at Amazon Watch, said: “After four years of relentless dismantling of socio-environmental legislation, Lula’s new government is beginning to rebuild the fundamental norms eviscerated by the Bolsonaro regime. The renewal of the Amazon Fund is one of the first and most urgent steps to re-establish policies to confront today’s climate emergency. There is much to be done and we hope that these measures will be followed by a real commitment to restructuring Brazil’s socio-environmental policies to combat deforestation and reduce emissions, as well as respect for the rights and territories of Indigenous Peoples.”

Below are the main changes made by the new government organized in topics by the Brazilian organization Climate Observatory.

  • Ministry of Environment and Climate Change – The reappointment of Marina Silva to the environmental ministry after two decades is loaded with symbolism even in the name, which incorporated the term Climate Change. The ministry was completely restructured and largely ineffective due to Bolsonarism.
  • Ministry of Indigenous Peoples (MPI) and National Foundation of Indigenous PeoplesDecree 11,355 approves the structure and commissioned positions of the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples. Sonia Guajajara has been chosen to be the first Indigenous Peoples’ Minister, which will have a department dedicated especially to climate justice. Joenia Wapichana, the first Indigenous congresswoman in the country, has been appointed to be the president of FUNAI. Never before in Brazil’s history had an Indigenous woman presided over FUNAI or assumed a ministry.
  • Artisanal miningDecree 11,369 revokes Bolsonaro’s act that promoted artisanal mining in public and environmentally protected areas. Decree No. 10,966, of February 11, 2022, created the so-called Program of Support for the Development of Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining, considered to be one of the main achievements of the mining lobby in the Bolsonaro government.
  • PPCDAmDecree 11,367 reestablishes the Plan for Preventing and Combating Deforestation in the Amazon, abolished by Bolsonaro in his first year in office. Created in 2004, during Marina Silva’s first term in office, it was one of the main factors responsible for the 83% drop in deforestation by 2012. The decree also deals with plans to combat deforestation in the Cerrado, the Atlantic Forest, the Caatinga, the Pampa, and the Pantanal.
  • Amazon FundDecree 11,368 reestablishes the governance of the Amazon Fund. The act releases for immediate use R$ 3.3 billion that have been frozen for four years by the Bolsonaro government. Germany and Norway, which had cut donations, have already announced new transfers.
  • Environmental finesDecree 11,373 reestablishes the reorganization of the environmental sanctioning process, dismantled in the last four years, which can prevent the expiration of R$ 18 billion in fines, as the Bolsonaro government sought.
  • End of environmental conciliation – The change in the decree that regulates the Environmental Crimes Law removed the provision for environmental “conciliation” – or “environmental amnesty” as it was known – a step created in the Bolsonaro administration to benefit environmental criminals.
  • National Environment Fund (FNMA)Decree 11.372 changes the composition of the deliberative council of the FNMA, increasing the participation of society in the decision about the allocation of resources in this area. The council will have representatives from the recently created Ministry of Indigenous Peoples, from indigenous organizations and traditional communities. Environmental organizations, the National Youth Secretariat, and the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science (SBPC), among others.

Amazon Watch is a nonprofit organization founded in 1996 to protect the rainforest and advance the rights of Indigenous peoples in the Amazon Basin. We partner with Indigenous and environmental organizations in campaigns for human rights, corporate accountability, and the preservation of the Amazon’s ecological systems.