Dinamam Tuxá standing
Dinamam Tuxá is executive coordinator of the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, a group advocating for land rights and greater representation in Brazil’s government.Catherine Boudreau/Insider
  • Brazil's President-elect, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, got rockstar treatment at a UN climate summit.
  • Lula spoke at COP27 about the need to save the Amazon rainforest to help save the world.
  • In recent years, an area of the Amazon larger than Belgium has been lost to illegal activity.

This article is part of Insider's weekly newsletter on sustainability, written by Catherine Boudreau, senior sustainability reporter.

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt – Brazil's President-elect, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, returned to the world stage at the UN climate summit with a promise to reverse surging deforestation rates in the Amazon rainforest.

Lula's defeat of former President Jair Bolsonaro could mark a turning point in the fight against climate change because the Amazon sucks vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stores it in trees and soil.

Under Bolsonaro, an area larger than Belgium was lost to illegal mining and logging and agriculture; before Bolsonaro took office, deforestation had mostly been on a decade-long decline. He slashed funding for environmental enforcement and halted government efforts to demarcate Indigenous' peoples lands. 

"Brazil is back!" Lula said while the audience cheered and sang "Olé, olé olé ola" as he took the stage. "There is no climate security for the world without protecting the Amazon." 

He said nature is an economic ally, not an enemy "to be knocked down by tractors and chainsaws," and promised to make climate the highest priority when he officially takes office in January. A ministry of native people will also be established, he said.

Lula's victory is giving Indigenous people like Dinamam Tuxá hope. He is executive coordinator of the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, a group advocating for land rights and greater representation in Brazil's government. 

Bolsonaro's actions legitimized an increase in violence against Indigenous peoples, Tuxá told Insider on the sidelines of COP27. He said Lula needs to protect communities like his in Bahia state in Brazil, as well as make Indigenous people part of the government. 

"We want to make decisions for ourselves," Tuxá said. "We don't want non-Indigenous people making decisions for us."

Tuxá also attended last year's UN climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, where 145 countries including Brazil pledged to halt deforestation by 2030. For the first time, countries recognized that securing land rights for Indigenous populations would help achieve that goal and mitigate climate change. 

Indigenous groups could claim rights to as much as 65% of the world's land but only 10% is recognized under national laws, according to the Rights and Resources Initiative, an advocacy organization.

A dozen wealthy nations, including the US and UK, promised to spend $12 billion over five years on the effort. The private sector promised another $7 billion. A slice of the funding was set aside for securing land rights for Indigenous people. 

Fast forward to Sharm el-Sheikh, where a "forest and climate leaders partnership" was established to carry out the deforestation pledge. Only a fraction of the countries who signed on at Glasgow are involved. Still, nearly $2.6 billion was spent in 2021, including at least $321 million to help secure land rights for Indigenous peoples, according to progress reports.  

Tuxá said that money didn't reach his community, and the progress reports acknowledged that there isn't enough funding flowing directly to groups representing Indigenous peoples. Most of it ended up in the hands of larger NGOs.

Hollow promises are familiar to Tuxá, who spent his time at COP27 delivering this message: "Indigenous peoples are part of the solution to climate change. We are a part of society that has made a historical contribution to protecting nature. But we need political support and land tenure rights so we can protect our own territories."

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