On August 28, 1963, as part of his speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., Pastor Martin Luther King said: “I Have a Dream”. The phrase is famous, as well as that particular day, because it became decisive in the history of the American Civil Rights Movement. I chose to open this text with this reference because this new year cries out not only for resistance, but also for the dream of recognizing our challenges and building the foundations that we need to overcome them.
2020 was an intense and particularly difficult year. COVID-19 has claimed more than 2 million lives worldwide, has brought pain and mourning to countless families, and has psychologically affected people of all ages, beliefs and backgrounds. In Brazil alone, over 200,000 lives have been lost, with a total lack of planning, disinformation campaigns and unpreparedness due to no coherent or effective public policy. We suffer, we fight and we are angry together, but we are also extending the relations between organized civil society and society and we are promoting specific actions of help and solidarity.
2020 also demonstrated the strength, resilience, creativity and capability of civil society to resist the dismantling of public policies and the rule of law. The indigenous peoples and the black movements have led this resistance, but other movements, such as the environmental and climate movement have also responded decisively.
Reflecting on this message, I ask myself what that would have remained on the environmental and climate agenda without the resistance of Brazilian society these past two years? How much more deforestation, how many more deaths of indigenous peoples, blacks or environmental activists would we have witnessed? How many attempts to weaken laws and administrative processes would have been passed without anyone noticing or reacting? Certainly, without civil society, they would have been passed silently and passively. But this is not what we saw in 2020. We saw a diverse, alert, combative and resilient civil society fighting against reversals to already conquered rights. We saw businesspeople, bankers, mayors, governors, members of congress and legal experts publicly taking a stand, many for the first time, for anti-racist actions or for the preservation of the Amazon.
Paying tribute to civil society, social movements, the Brazilian media and also the new actors who have emphatically entered into this struggle, it is not only a way of applauding the exuberant confrontation with the dismantling being planned by the federal government, but also a manner of proclaiming the dream of a new future for Brazil. A future of a more just and less unequal Brazil, with strong democratic institutions and public policies based on data and science, less polarized and more human and responsible, an environmentally and socially sustainable economy and a Brazil that is once again a leading player in the global fight against climate change. What we need is not a return to the past but to build a new future.
We realize, more than ever, that changes occur in real places, with real people, and therefore it is urgent in 2021 that we are able to implement specifically, in each one of the municipalities, in each one of the states, in each of one of the companies or institutions, the pillars of a new future.
The time for rhetoric is over.
Action must now play the leading role, both to continue resisting the dismantling of the democratic and socioenvironmental agenda in Brazil, as well as to build and implement the future steps. Although we have never officially left the Paris Agreement, we have rapidly lost decades of work establishing a leading role in the environment and climate in the world. It is essential to rescue it, if not via the federal agenda, through efforts and positioning in partnership with the newly established actors (who now need to incorporate climate and environmental principles directly into their business models or into their local public policies). It will be a collective construction of Brazilian society and we believe it is prepared for this.
A few days ago, we had, directly from the capital of the United States, a sad example of what manipulation of people, the disregard of science or the truth, the lack of control of the state and armament can do. The scenes of invasion of the Capitol, in the greatest attack on democracy in modern American history, should act as a warning to Brazil to solidify its institutions, strengthen its society and qualify its politics. The 2022 elections are not that far away, after all.
Finally, but with all due respect, we are very grateful to all ours partners and funders for their trust, support and tenacity in this collective trajectory. I have no doubt that together we will build the new future that we dream of and that we need in order to fight climate change.
Executive director of the Institute for Climate and Society