On the penultimate day of scheduled talks to tackle the climate crisis at COP25 in Madrid, representatives from more than 190 countries are stalling. Formerly an important broker of rich and poor countries’ competing claims over their responsibilities to act on the issue, Brazil now faces criticism for its lack of ambition from former environment minister Marina Silva.
Silva travelled to COP25 in Madrid to participate in activities organised by civil society organizations and indigenous peoples, who are calling for greater action. In an exclusive interview with Diálogo Chino, Silva expressed concern about President Jair Bolsonaro’s climate policies and recent political and social upheavals across Latin America.
Diálogo Chino [DC]: What is Latin America’s role at COP25 following the change of venue to Madrid?
Marina Silva [MS]: We lost a lot of strength. It was an opportunity to conduct a COP in our continent, with the aim of increasing commitments to stabilise life on the planet. But Brazil’s position was a detriment to the entire continent. Brazil has had a terrible influence on climate negotiations. It came with a negative view of climate change and a negative performance. Today, there is a violent process against environmental leaders and the criminalisation of social leaders in the country. Bolsonaro created an undesirable situation for Latin America.
DC: The climate commitments of the region are not in line with the Paris Agreement. Could Latin America achieve a greater level of climate ambition?
MS: I don’t like the word ambition. I have difficulty with it. It is associated with something negative and because of the lack of ambition, we are in this situation. But people who speak well of markets created that term for climate change. What we really need is a greater commitment to protect water, forests and biodiversity. The global context is very negative. More commitments from all countries are needed. The political crisis in Latin America is tied to the resurgence of the right[-wing] that creates problems for climate ambition.
DC: What results do you expect to see by the end of COP25?
MS: More effort is needed to prevent it from being a complete failure. I hope that in the end progress will be achieved, but it’s not looking positive. Progress here is very important. But even though we have a difficult situation, we also have to worry about the macro scenario. The US presidential elections could see a Democrat come in and that would be very favourable for the next COP.
DC: Chile, the president of COP25, did not sign the Escazú Agreement, which is key to the protection of environmental leaders in the region. How important would their signature be?
MS: Agreements such as Escazú are important because violence, climate change and the loss of biodiversity are processes that feed one another. The violence that kills the indigenous happens because of economic activities that generate carbon emissions and loss of biodiversity. Escazú has to be ratified and complied with on a national level in Latin America.
DC: Latin America is experiencing huge changes on a social, political and economic level. What is the cause of these changes?
MS: I am worried for Latin America. On one side there are left-wing policies and on the other neoliberal policies without a commitment to social and environmental problems. The two groups end up becoming polarised. We are in a process of democratic disbelief. We need policies that are guided by principles and values in the region. Environment, the protection of native peoples, and the strengthening of democracy are non-negotiable principles and values, whether left or right.
DC: Brazil’s indigenous people and civil society have a prominent role at the COP, in activities that don’t include the federal government. What do you make of that division?
MS: The role of Bolsonaro’s government causes sadness and outrage. Brazil always accredited civil society as part of the official delegation. This is the first time they have not been given credentials. It was society itself that marked the presence of Brazil here. Bolsonaro arrives at COP25 with a position of [climate] denial and to deconstruct environmental policies.
DC: Bolsonaro first rejected an alliance with China and then accepted it at the recent BRICS summit. What factors do you associate with that change?
MS: You must have principles and values. If I defend my national interests and my sovereignty I should not have automatic alignments with anyone. Bolsonaro loves the US, but China is a great commercial power and he should have realised that when he took office. He is a person who has no knowledge and stature to deal with international relations.
DC: Similarly, Bolsonaro distanced himself from the new Argentine president Alberto Fernández, threatening to leave the Mercosur regional trading bloc. How do you explain that rejection?
MS: Bolsonaro has an authoritarian and pretentious vision. The Argentine people are the ones who decide on Argentina. Argentina had a clean democratic process and we are nobody to question it. It does not mean that Brazil should have an alignment with Argentina, but maintaining relations is essential.