Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro
Photo: Marcelo Chello/Shutterstock

Climate summit marks first (virtual) meeting between Biden and Bolsonaro

Brazil will insist on an economic "way out" for the Amazon, claiming that if countries want to see it standing, they should pay for it. But there is strong pressure for declining the deal and for Bolsonaro to show stronger preservation measures if he wants access to international funds

Ler em português

Many of the original peoples in the Amazon call money the “green leaf you don’t eat”. It is precisely this leaf that the Brazilian government is likely to explicitly – and in piles – ask for during the Leaders Summit on Climate, that takes place, virtually, from April 22nd to 23rd, organized by the White House. Over 40 world leaders will speak on topics of environmental relevance, especially those dealing with the reduction of carbon emissions.

Behind the scenes at Brazil‘s presidential palace, a speech for the conference is already being arranged, followed by material that will reinforce Brazil‘s position. The main point is about this “green leaf you don’t eat”. Brazil wants the Amazon to have an economic role, it’s no surprise. This is the position of Bolsonaro’s government since his campaign. What will go down badly is the explicit request for funds, in exchange for conservation during the conference. 

In a letter to the American president on April 14, Bolsonaro states this clearly, after narrating commitments he says he will adopt that go completely in the opposite way to what we currently see. It is an open-air blackmail that can go down very badly in the first meeting (albeit virtual) between Biden and Bolsonaro.

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The Brazilian leader will point the finger at developed countries whose carbon emissions are higher than Brazil‘s, after making commitments never reached by any Brazilian leader before, with promises, dates and details that go completely in the opposite direction to those seen so far during his administration. And that is exactly what will lie at the heart of the discussion among countries that see the proposal as a threat, rather than a deal.

Letters to Biden

Joseph Biden. Image: Shutterstock

Brazil deserves to be fairly compensated for the environmental services that its citizens have provided to the planet”, says Bolsonaro in the letter addressed to Biden. The letter has a detail that draws attention: only two handwritten excerpts, the date (April 14) and the president’s signature. It is proof of a document tailored by who knows how many hands. By the way, By the way, letters ahead of the conference are in full swing. 

From the 27 Brazilian governors, 24 delivered a letter to the US ambassador in Brasilia, Todd Chapman, saying that they are open to negotiating funds directly with foreign countries without the Union’s consent. It is worth remembering that the Amazon is part of only nine Brazilian states, although it constitutes 59% of the national territory. And, once again, what is at the bottom of the matter? The funds themselves, the money. The governors want the same as Bolsonaro, only without mediators in Brazil‘s presidential palace.

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Another letter sent to President Joe Biden, asking precisely the opposite, is signed by 36 artists. Among them are Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Joaquin Phoenix, Sonia Braga, Wagner Moura, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Alec Baldwin, Jane Fonda, Orlando Bloom, Katy Perry and Roger Waters, among others. “We urge your Administration to hear their [indigenous and environmentalists] call and not commit to any agreements with Brazil at this time,” says the document. For these artists and activists, releasing funds to the Amazon during President Jair Bolsonaro‘s government is not a good idea. 

Added to this exchange of letters is one signed by fifteen leading democrat senators from the US Congress stressing that Biden will not have the support to negotiate with Bolsonaro. The senators showed to be aware of the recent developments in the dismantling of environmental agencies in Brazil and complained about the violence against environmentalists and indigenous people.

“President Bolsonaro has publicly derided Brazil’s main environmental agency and sabotaged its ability to enforce the country’s environmental laws. He has sought to weaken the protection of Indigenous territories, which are often subject to invasion by illegal loggers, miners, and ranchers. He has been openly contemptuous of Brazilian environmentalists, referring to them as a ‘cancer’ in the Amazon that he ‘can’t kill,’ falsely accusing them of setting the rainforest on fire and seeking to exclude them from their long-established involvement in key aspects of environmental policy-making,” the senators wrote in the letter. And they restated: without sustained progress over time, no amount of Brazilian rhetoric will convince them to release funding.

READ ALSO: Brazil needs $10 billion a year in aid for carbon neutrality by 2050, minister says

Even so, Brazil wants to leave the Summit with full pockets, $1 billion for starters. Then it wants compensation for the carbon emitted by other countries that could reach $133 billion, in accordance with the Paris Agreement, but with developments yet to be discussed. However, this figure is related to a period of eleven years when Bolsonaro was not in power. Since then, deforestation, mining and fires in the Amazon have increased virtuously, while monitoring is not only reduced, but boycotted by Bolsonaro’s government itself.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that in addition to the forty world leaders, a small number of businesspeople and civil society leaders have been invited and that the meeting will address issues such as technological innovation, job creation and how to sustainably finance measures needed to slow the pace of climate change. Among the Latin American countries, the presidents of Colombia, Mexico, Chile, Argentina and Brazil will speak.

Translated by Anna Lima