Climate Negligence Has Killed Thousands in Brazil
The new Rio de Janeiro Municipal Secretary for Environment and Climate grew up amidst a number of urban problems affecting her city. Since last month, it has been her mission to address and solve them. Born in the Praca Seca district, in the Loteamento community in western Rio, Taina de Paula says she realised very early on that discussions on sustainability only took place far from where she lived. Thirty years have passed, and water is still a key topic in the where I came from. We have perhaps one of the highest rainfall rates in Latin America, but there is still no wider discussion about this, she says. Taina is an architect, and was elected city councillor in 2020, representing the PT party. In her opinion, the root cause of this problem is racism, which translates into lack of investment in peripheral areas. Over the past 10 years, Brazil has lost thousands of lives due to negligence and the absence of serious climate change mitigation policy, she points out, citing the recent tragedy in the area of Sao Sebastiao, in the state of Sao Paulo, and the heavy rains in Petropolis, in the state of Rio. For Rio, she adds, one of the priorities is urban waste management, which, according to her, is the root cause for 70 per cent of all floods. Waste is also responsible for emissions resulting from improper disposal. In addition to increased funding, Taina mentions other potential solutions: providing environmental education, and strengthening local communities' role as guardians of the environment. Evictions or forced displacements, on the other hand, should not be part of their work. Some areas could become ecologically sustainable communities, building on relocation efforts within the same area, avoiding constructions on very steep slopes, but rather favouring areas that enable architectural and engineering solutions, she explains. It is very important to bear in mind that the rich continue living on the slopes, as they have access to geotechnical and engineering solutions. From a very young age, I began to understand that discussions on sustainability only reached certain territories and certain income brackets. It was very difficult to implement a sustainable upgrading project in a , for example. A solar panel is still expensive today, but it was much more so 20 years ago. Similarly, implementing a water reuse project, or building sustainable septic tanks, filters and basins is much more expensive (I should say unaffordable!) precisely in those areas that need it the most. It is very important to develop a compensation agenda for those that have been historically affected. We still observe widespread denial of the climate crisis, and this is a reflection of our poor environmental education, and of the limited engagement of those production sectors that benefit the most from extractive models, from deforestation, and from Brazil's capitalist mode of production. There is a logic of global racism that impacts not only Brazil, but also Latin America as a whole. The entire region is seen as a dumping ground. We recently had heavy rain events on the north coast of the state of Sao Paulo, as well as in the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Petropolis, both in the state of Rio. Over the past 10 years, Brazil has lost thousands of lives due to negligence and the absence of serious climate change mitigation policy. We need funds to deal with that, as well as planning resources. In 2016, Brazil launched its National Climate Change Adaptation Plan. It is worth pointing out that the plan still has to be reviewed by minister Marina Silva but in the meantime, she has been doing something very important, that is, encouraging discussions on the crisis and the joint accountability of countries in the Global North. We are going to build an agenda focused on facing the climate crisis and making up for any damages. It is high time we did that in Rio de Janeiro, and it is vital that we have a specific budget for dealing with crises. Every year, our rainfalls reach record highs. Our rainfall regime has been changing, and this affects our significantly. How can we make our reforestation agenda stronger? In Rios peripheral West Zone, urban militias and their enterprises have been destroying an area as large as a football pitch every month. How can we make an energy transition in the city of Rio de Janeiro? How can we punish and remove licenses from those industrial sectors that are the most polluting? How can we present a positive gas control agenda? Rio de Janeiro holds the record for greenhouse gas emissions from solid waste. We stand ahead of Sao Paulo and Cubatao, among other cities. This results from deep negligence, and is directly linked to environmental racism. We want to launch a specific solid waste programme for our . The first step is to implement local actions to identify flood risks and control floods. Rio de Janeiro owes it to its population. Engineering works are needed in different parts of the city, and these points are already being mapped by my team. Waste is the main cause for 70 per cent of all flooding events in Rio de Janeiro. Cleaning and dredging our rivers, together with cleaning our sewers and ditches, would drastically reduce the cyclic chaotic events we see in the city. In addition, we are launching a selection process to recruit large numbers of local guardians for those territories that flood more often. Rio de Janeiro is experiencing a dramatic situation in the area of relocation. Historically, it has been a testing ground for such processes but it is very important that we create local strategic plans, on a case-by-case basis. We have tried mass removals, mainly from slopes in our central and southern regions, but this was used politically by several public authorities in the past as an endorsement for eugenics and social cleansing. It is very important to bear in mind that the rich continue living on the slopes, as they have access to geotechnical and engineering solutions. We must learn how to separate the wheat from the chaff. We have discussed this under the [One , One Forest] project, including with regard to reusing rainwater, promoting reforestation and the use of solar energy, and, of course, implementing sanitation systems. Some territories could become ecologically sustainable communities, building on relocation efforts within the same area, avoiding constructions on very steep slopes, but rather favouring areas that enable architectural and engineering solutions. I have started a conversation with minister Marina [Silva] on the urgency of metropolitan climate governance. There is no doubt that a city like Rio de Janeiro needs to have an environmental climate resilience fund. How could a city like ours afford to build so many reservoirs and introduce engineering and geotechnical solutions to deal with its flooding processes? We need support from the federal and state governments. I use them quite often in my papers and articles, but, when addressing the general population, we tend to talk more about inequality and poverty. This is what people understand. People only understand the concept of vulnerability when they see how it might affect their lives. Everyone understands the impacts of dirty water on a child or a family. Everyone knows what diarrhoea is. Everyone knows what a burden it is not to have a bathroom at home. Rio de Janeiro is one of the cities with the highest number of dry pit latrines in Brazil. At the same, we have one of the highest GDPs in our country. , as we call the people from the city of Rio de Janeiro, together with all other people born or living in our state, tend to address these injustices too lightly. We must build awareness regarding compensation and climate equity. Rio's first group of Climate Leaders have just completed their training. We want to strengthen this program and create a local network of leaders. Rio de Janeiro is the city with the largest number of vegetable gardens in urban slums, but many are abandoned due to people's lack of ownership over such areas. The same applies to reforestation and river cleaning areas. We have also launched a programme known as Forest Guardians, aimed at women living in in Rio. We will start planting more fruit trees in all our to build a new environment. Taina de Paula is an architect and urban planner. She has a first degree from the Fluminense Federal University (UFF), and a master's from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). In 2020, she was elected city councillor in Rio de Janeiro, representing the PT party. In February of this year, she was appointed Municipal Secretary for Environment and Climate. Along her career, she has supported movements such as the Popular Housing Union and the Movement of Homeless Workers (MTST). is a series of reports and interviews with new players and experts on climate change in Brazil and around the world. This special coverage will also focus on the responses to the climate crisis during the 2022 general elections in Brazil and at (UN Climate Conference that took place in Egypt in November 2022). This project is supported by the Open Society Foundations.