COP27: Greeted like a rock star, Brazil's Lula promises to protect Amazon

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt, Nov 16 (Reuters) - Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva received a superstar welcome at the COP27 summit in Egypt on Wednesday as he pledged to recommit the rainforest nation to tackling the climate crisis and offered to hold future U.N. climate talks.

"I'm here today to say that Brazil is ready to come back," Lula said, drawing cheers from the crowd of delegates at the international climate summit in the seaside resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Lula won the presidential election last month against right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, who presided over mounting destruction of the Amazon rainforest and refused to hold the 2019 climate summit originally planned for Brazil.

Lula, a former president who is due to start his third term in January, told delegates he would seek to make Brazil the host of COP30 in 2025 and would aim to put the venue in the Amazon rainforest, rather than the more populous coastal region.

The Amazon, the world's largest rainforest spanning more than 6 million square kilometers, absorbs vast amounts of greenhouse gas, which if released would blow global climate targets.

"There is no climate security for the world without a protected Amazon," he said, explaining he wanted people to see the region. "We will spare no efforts to have zero deforestation and the degradation of our biomes by 2030."

The standing-room-only crowd included two former Brazilian environment ministers, legislators, state governors, activists and indigenous in traditional headdress. COP27 President Sameh Shoukry of Egypt escorted Lula to the stage.

Lula emphasized that climate change could only be addressed hand in hand with social justice, with the crowd applauding his pronouncements on ending inequality and improving conditions for natives people.

He also slammed global leaders for failing to prioritize climate change, saying they had ignored warnings about the plight of the planet while spending trillions of dollars on war.

"The planet is at every moment alerting us that we need one another to survive," he said.

"However, we ignore these alerts. We spend trillions of dollars on wars that bring destruction and death, while 900 million people in the world don't have something to eat."

Lula added that he was calling on rich nations to deliver on their past pledge to provide $100 billion a year to poor countries to help them adapt to climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It was his second speech at the conference on Wednesday, both of which were thronged by admirers chanting "Lula! Lula!" and shaking the conference venue walls with their cheers.

Lula moved through the conference with a light security detail reaching out to shake outstretched hands.

Brazil's 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro set the stage for all major international environmental agreements since, with the signing of U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is aimed at preventing extreme climate change and was the foundation of the COP meetings.

Lula's choice to make the COP27 summit the focus of his first international visit since being elected has helped to energize this year's talks.

"It's very positive that he's coming here as president-elect because the current president never came to COPs," said Carlos Nobre, a climate scientist at the University of Sao Paulo.

He said Lula would turn around Brazil's environmental policies "180 degrees" from those of Bolsonaro.

Bolsonaro appointed climate skeptics as ministers and saw deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest spike to a 15-year high.

Lula had reduced deforestation to near-record lows in his first presidency from 2003 to 2010.

For his new administration, he has promised a sweeping plan to restore environmental law enforcement that eroded under Bolsonaro and create green jobs.

On Tuesday, Lula met U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry and China's chief climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua. He was expected to meet EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Lula will meet with civil society and indigenous groups, as well as United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres. He departs on Friday for Portugal to meet government authorities there.

Reporting by Jake Spring; Additional reporting by William James and Dominic Evans; Editing by Katy Daigle, Janet Lawrence and Lisa Shumaker

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Thomson Reuters

Global Climate & Environment Correspondent, based in Brazil. Interests include science, forests, geoengineering, cryosphere, climate policy/diplomacy, accountability and investigative reporting. His work on environmental destruction under Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro received awards from Covering Climate Now and the Society of Environmental Journalists. Previously based in China, he is fluent in Portuguese and Mandarin Chinese.