Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva put inequality and the climate crisis at the center of a speech Tuesday that opened the annual UN General Debate in New York, lamenting that the international community has “numbed” to its responsibility to care for the world’s poor.
“We must overcome resignation, which makes us accept such unfairness as a natural phenomenon,” said the popular leftist, often referred to as Lula. “There’s a lack of political will from those who govern the world to overcome inequality.”
In his first appearance at the global summit since resuming office earlier this year – after more than a decade out of power – Lula also touted a new geopolitical order that could challenge the West’s global economic sway, and pushed for greater dialogue around the war in Ukraine.
Since taking back the Brazilian presidency, Lula has worked quickly to position himself as a climate progressive and global leader on the issue, bringing Amazon deforestation levels this summer to the lowest rate in six years — a remarkable reversal after the environmentally damaging policies of his predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro.
“The whole world has always talked about the Amazon. Now the Amazon is speaking for itself,” he said Tuesday.
Lula urged rich countries to complete their clean energy and international climate funding goals, arguing that a $100 billion funding plan had already become an “insufficient” sum.
“Rich countries grew based on a model with high rates of climate damaging gas emissions,” he said. “We, developing countries, do not want to repeat this model. In Brazil we have already proven once and will prove again that a socially fair and environmentally sustainable model is possible.”
Still, Lula has faced criticism for his administration’s investments in fossil fuels, including plans for a possible off-shore drilling project.
In remarks earlier Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres noted that G20 countries, among them Brazil, are responsible for 80 percent of greenhouse emissions.
“They must break their addiction to fossil fuels,” Guterres said.
The UN gathering comes less than a month after the BRICS summit in Johannesburg, where Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa agreed to open their coalition to new entrants, expanding an alternative geopolitical and economic vision to the West.
“The recent expansion of the group at the Johannesburg summit meeting strengthens the fight for an order which accommodates the economic geographic and political plurality of the 21st century,” Lula said. “We are a force that works towards fairer global trade in a context of a serious crisis in multilateralism.”
Lula has tried to fashion himself as a potential broker for peace amid Russia’s war in Ukraine, putting forward earlier this year a controversial plan for negotiations. While not clearly defined, the proposal involved forming a coalition of other similarly unaligned countries to mediate.
Lula has also suggested that Ukraine cede Crimea, which Russia had annexed in 2014, in pursuit of a peace deal. The notion has been rejected by Kyiv and condemned by Washington.
“We do not underestimate the difficulties of achieving peace, but no solution will be lasting if it is not based on dialogue,” Lula said Tuesday. “I have reiterated that work needs to be done to create space for negotiations.”
Lula is set to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday in New York, according to his spokesperson Cynthia Ribeiro.