Lula Administration to Seek Climate Justice in Brazil

Adriana Abdenur, climate and diplomacy expert and executive director of Plataforma Cipó, stresses the need for Brazil to ratify the Escazú Agreement, which protects environmental defenders

Cristiane Fontes

In Lula's address to COP27 (2022 UN Climate Change Conference in Egypt), shortly after his election, he made it very clear that the climate agenda will play a key role in Brazil's diplomatic relations.

'I would like to say to you all that Brazil is back. Brazil is back to resume its ties with the world', he said at the event, in which he also suggested holding an Amazon Summit Meeting, and put Brazil forward as a candidate to host COP30 in 2025.

For Adriana Abdenur, executive director of Plataforma Cipó [Vine Platform, in a free translation], a research institute focused on climate, governance, and peace issues, hosting such events is an important part of rebuilding Brazil’s foreign policy agenda — a priority for the new government.

Plataforma Cipó also coordinated and published a study titled 'Climate and International Strategy: New Directions for Brazil'. The final paper — presented to Lula at COP27 — results from consultations with 70 players from different sectors of society, including groups that traditionally do not have much voice in foreign policy discussions, such as women, Black and Indigenous peoples, the LGBTQIA+ community, and a number of institutions outside the Brasília-Rio de Janeiro-São Paulo axis.

Ms Abdenur integrated the Government Transition Team's Foreign Policy Working Group. Among other priorities, she highlights the urgent need for Brazil to ratify the Escazú Agreement, which aims to protect environmental defenders. Brazil signed the agreement in 2018, but has not ratified it yet.

Another pressing matter, she says, is the need to design climate justice policies The concept of climate justice builds on the idea that climate change disproportionately affects certain social groups, and, among other impacts, helps to perpetuate so-called climate racism. Both concepts, very much in vogue in international discussions, need to be applied to the Brazilian reality too, she adds.

Ms Abdenur also believes that Brazil's G20 presidency, starting in December 2023, offers Brazil a great opportunity to lead discussions on sustainable development and food security — a topic that has gained even more relevance since the war started in Ukraine.

'Brazil has historically played a very proactive role in this area. Therefore, it could help the G20 go beyond discussions on the financial crisis and the indebtedness of vulnerable economies, focusing on a more substantive agenda', she adds. She also advocates the need to expand civil society's engagement in these discussions. In Lula's first week in office, Brazil's Foreign Ministry announced the creation of a Social Participation and Diversity Office, responding directly to foreign secretary Mauro Vieira.

Retrato de Adriana em um lugar com decoração luxuosa, como a recepção de um hotel ou cassino
Adriana Abdenur has a PhD in Development Sociology from Princeton University - Gabrielle Alves/Divulgação

How to ensure that climate justice remains at the core of Brazil's international strategy, as proposed by Plataforma Cipó in its paper? The concept of climate justice is very relevant both domestically and internationally. It is important for us to move forward on the domestic level. We know that those who benefit the most from programme funds associated with development, climate action, and other policy areas are the elites; on the other hand, society’s most vulnerable groups are increasingly exposed to climate change and environmental destruction and degradation.

Scientific research has already found that women, Black and Indigenous populations, quilombolas, the LGBTI+ community, and people with disabilities are less prepared to cope with extreme weather events. They also have more limited access to the scarce funds that are made available to mitigate the impacts of such events.

It is high time Brazilian leaders explicitly adopted the concept of climate justice, as well as other related ideas, such as climate racism. Not only should these views be incorporated into diagnostic studies, but they should also become part of the solution.

What was the Government Transition Foreign Policy Working Group's proposal to strengthen Indigenous rights as part of the climate agenda? It is very important for Brazil to prioritise the ratification of the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean, also known as the Escazú Agreement.

In addition to promoting transparency, the Escazú Agreement also urges signatory States to invest more in the defence and protection of environmental defenders. We know that Indigenous communities are being attacked, and are victims of murders and other forms of violence.

Another very important issue is prior consultation. In the context of infrastructure projects, especially large ones, such as roads, railways, and hydroelectric power plants, prior consultation is a key requirement. This has been established in a number of regulations, including some issued by the International Labour Organization.

China is the largest international market for Brazilian commodities, such as iron ore, meat, and soybeans. What are the main opportunities and challenges related to promoting an agenda of climate and environmental commitments between China and Brazil? In addition to buying commodities, China also invests directly in transport and logistics infrastructure in Brazil.

Brazil has to seek bilateral engagement with China in order to be able to fight environmental crime. China’s demand for commodities that put pressure on the forest is very high. It is impossible for us to make full progress in this area without having a deeper conversation with China — not just with companies, but with the government too.

The United States, China's strongest geopolitical rival, has already agreed a joint declaration on climate and environmental commitments. This could serve as inspiration for Brazil.

How may we promote the food sovereignty agenda, considering that, in recent years, most of the Foreign Ministry's efforts have been devoted to expanding the market for Brazil’s agricultural commodities overseas? A key challenge will be to find commonalities between low carbon agriculture and cooperation in areas in which Brazil already has considerable expertise. Embrapa, among other players, has developed considerable research in sustainable agriculture.

Therefore, the challenge for this new government will be to balance interests in order to maintain a position that is beneficial both for our growth and for wealth redistribution. The agribusiness sector will continue playing a critical role in all this, as it accounts for a significant part of our GDP. Agribusiness players need to understand that sustainability could add considerable value and enhance our competitiveness overseas.

The demand for deforestation-free agricultural products, as well as for crops that are not related to other environmental crimes and human rights violations, has grown tremendously, not only in the United States, Canada, and Europe, but also in other countries.

It is also very important for Brazil to take advantage of regional forums, such as UNASUR [Union of South American Nations], MERCOSUR, and the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization, to strengthen the food security and sovereignty agenda, so that countries in the region may agree on a long-term project and, at the same time, develop a strong and fair export-oriented agriculture.

Environmental and climate negotiations are increasingly complex; on the other hand, Brazil's technical capacity [for climate negotiations] has been compromised in recent years. How can we restore Brazil's credibility? The Brazilian Foreign Ministry's credibility in this area is very strong, building on all its history. Our institutional memory needs to be restored through our diplomatic network and staff.

Brazil's diplomatic relations need a breath of fresh air, and restore its ability to see and act beyond the negotiation of targets. Nowadays, it is civil society that has been pushing the climate and environmental agenda in Brazil.

The reconstruction of our Environment Ministry and the creation of a new Ministry of Indigenous Peoples result from civil society efforts. Another area that is very dear to civil society is the expansion of its role and its engagement. This can be achieved by reinstating civil society councils, and also through the creation of new mechanisms.

In your opinion, what should Brazil aim for under the climate and environmental agendas during its G20 presidency [starting in December 2023], and within BRICS [bloc of emerging economies that also includes Russia, India, China, and South Africa]? Brazil should consider a propositional agenda, not only in order to benefit the Brazilian population, but also to propose global governance reforms. President Lula is one of the very few heads of State who have the legitimacy and capacity to mobilise other developing countries.

At the G20, it would be very interesting for Brazil to focus on the climate agenda, but from the perspective of developing countries, that is, balancing mitigation, adaptation, losses and damages, and finance — and, above all, focusing on sustainable development, including sovereignty and food security.

As a result of the war in Ukraine, food security has been affected in many countries. Some African countries used to rely almost exclusively on wheat imports from Ukraine, and were forced to find quick cooperation solutions in order to cope. Brazil has historically played a very proactive role in this area. Therefore, it could help the G20 go beyond discussions on the financial crisis and the indebtedness of vulnerable economies, focusing on a more substantive agenda.

How important are the climate-related events proposed by Lula, such as an Amazon Summit Meeting next year, and the UN Climate Conference (COP30) in 2025? It is very important for Brazil to start hosting international events again. Host countries have a better chance to influence the agenda. There is huge pressure on President Lula not only to fight deforestation and other environmental crimes in the Amazon and the Cerrado, but also to institute a more proactive agenda.

There's no better way to do that than hosting a first-ever Amazon Summit, where a propositional foreign policy agenda could be developed not only for Brazil, but for the whole region too.

This is a very positive moment, due to the relative alignment we see in the region. It is a unique opportunity for Brazil-Colombia relations, as well as Brazil-Chile relations. We now have progressive governments in the region that are strongly committed to the climate and environmental agendas.

New ideas could emerge from this summit, and Brazil would also have a fresh opportunity in the area of biodiversity. Brazil is the most biodiverse country in the world, but the Convention on Biological Diversity receives much less political attention and resources than the Climate Convention.


Adriana Abdenur, 47

Adriana Abdenur has a PhD in Development Sociology from Princeton University (USA). She is a co-founder and the executive director of Plataforma Cipó, an independent research institute based in Rio de Janeiro, led by women, and devoted to climate, governance, and peace issues in Latin America and the Global South. She is also a member of the UN Development Policy Committee, and integrated President Lula’s Transition Team’s Foreign Policy Working Group.


Planeta em Transe (Entranced Planet) is a series of reports and interviews with new players and experts on climate change in Brazil and around the world. This special coverage also focus on the responses to the climate crisis during the 2022 general elections in Brazil and at COP27 (UN Climate Conference in Egypt, in November 2022). This project is supported by the Open Society Foundations.