Brazilian Presidential Candidate Marina Silva Ready to Take on Deforestation

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By Allie Goldstein

This article was originally published in our Forest Carbon Newsletter. Sign up to receive it here (free, bi-weekly).


Following the tragic death of Brazilian presidential candidate Eduardo Campos in a plane crash earlier this month, Marina Silva, Campos' running mate and a celebrated environmentalist, is taking his spot on the campaign trail. Recent polls predict that Silva will narrowly beat current President Dilma Rousseff, who previously served as Brazil's Minister of Mines and Energy.


Silva has a green track record. The daughter of rubber tappers, she was a friend of the late activist Chico Mendes, with whom she helped to lead nonviolent protests to protect the Amazon. Under her leadership as environment minister from 2003 to 2008, deforestation rates plummeted by almost 80% as Silva led a crackdown on illegal logging that shut down over 1,500 operations as she worked to establish 20 million hectares of protected areas.


"It was thanks to treating the issues in a transversal way — involving different sectors of the government, the scientific community, NGOs, and local communities — that we achieved this important result, which even led us to reduce approximately four billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), causing Brazil to become the first developing country to adopt CO2 reduction targets," Silva said in an April video address to attendees of Katoomba XX, a global meeting hosted by Forest Trends. (The original address is in Portuguese.)


However, a reform to Brazil's Forest Code in 2012 that reduced the amount of forested land that private landowners (mostly farmers) were required to maintain revealed how delicate these gains were.


"The lack of integrated vision [and] lack of commitment to a strategic agenda caused Congress to change the law protecting forests, and this led to a major setback, the setback of fragmentation: of isolated approaches to forest, water, agriculture [and] communities, causing deforestation to resume growing — already up 28% in this past year of 2013," Silva added.


Silva hopes to reverse this trend. In policy proposals released last Friday, she said that, if elected, she plans to put a price on greenhouse gases and implement a national carbon market. The presidential hopeful is also a strong supporter of payment for ecosystem services programs that channel investment to protect landscapes such as forests that perform essential ecological functions, including carbon storage. She is a native of Acre, Brazil, a state at the forefront of developing a jurisdictional avoided deforestation (REDD) program. The German development bank KfW has committed to spend $24.2 million in Acre through 2018, and part of that agreement involves Acre's commitment to deliver eight million tonnes of emissions reductions between 2013 and 2016 through avoided deforestation.


But halting deforestation in Brazil is difficult and often dangerous work. Just last week, Brazilian police arrested eight members of a "deforestation gang" responsible for an estimated 1,550 hectares of deforestation in the state of Pará. Six other suspects are on the run. The group is suspected of burning down rainforest and then selling the land to farmers and grazers, earning an illegal $220 million.