Bolsonaro’s defeat in Brazil presidential elections on Monday raises hope for the future of the Amazon rainforest, as President-elect Lula promises to restore the country’s leadership on climate change.

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva defeated his rival Jair Bolsonaro by less than two percentage points in a runoff election on Sunday, ending Brazil’s most right-wing government in decades.

“From January 2023, I will govern for 215 million Brazilians, and not just for those who voted for me. We are one people, one country, one great nation,” said 77-year-old Lula – who was Brazil’s left-wing president for two terms between 2003 and 2010 – in a speech following the announcement of his victory. “We no longer want to fight. We’re tired of seeing the other as the enemy,” he added.

Lula’s victory has been celebrated by world leaders across the globe. But the results of the presidential elections in Brazil have much larger implications, marking a turning point on environmental issues and sparking optimism on climate change.

Under Bolsonaro, deforestation in the Amazon – the world’s largest rainforest and home to about three million species of plants and animals, as well as one million indigenous people – soared to a 15-year high, with scientists warning that the forest was nearing a tipping point beyond which there would be irreversible consequences that would be felt across the globe. September marked yet another record-breaking month, as nearly 1,455 square kilometres (562 square miles) of coverage were lost. This marked a staggering 48% increase from just a year ago and more than the current record, which was hit in September 2019.

Persistent deforestation and a sharp increase in wildfires under Bolsonaro’s presidency have turned what was considered one of the world’s largest and most important carbon sinks into a carbon source, meaning that the Amazon now emits a greater amount of carbon dioxide than it is absorbing. 

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Preserving “the world’s green lungs” has thus become crucial for the planet to stay on track to meet the 1.5C goal of the Paris Agreement. 

During the election campaign, da Silva –commonly known as “Lula” – has vowed to fight Amazon deforestation and crack down on illegal gold miners, loggers, and ranchers responsible for widespread environmental destruction and the displacement of indigenous communities. 

“Brazil is ready to retake its leadership in the fight against the climate crisis,” the President-elect said in his victory speech in Sao Paulo. “Brazil and the planet need a living Amazon.”

Lula’s new government is also likely to set new targets for slashing methane emissions from livestock, power plants, and other sources.

Congresswoman-elect and allied environmentalist Marina Silva told Reuters that Brazil will “definitely” send representatives to COP27 – the United Nations climate summit set to begin this Sunday in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt – as part of an unofficial delegation, as Lula is only set to take office on January 1.

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