The Petrobras x Ibama conflict



The vision of sustainability is not limited to the environmental issue, as it necessarily involves the social, economic, cultural and political dimension

The conflict between developmentalism x sustainability that led Minister Marina Silva to leave the Lula government in 2008 is only apparently reminiscent of the current conflict that arose with the unanimous opinion of IBAMA denying the permit to drill an exploratory well on the north coast, in the equatorial region from the mouth of the Amazon River. But the basic issue is the same.

On the one hand, a developmental vision that today accepts environmental rules but finds it difficult to accept rejection of its projects. On the other hand, the vision of sustainability that advocates environmental protection as a condition for humanity's survival on the planet.

Petrobras claims that the drilling of the well subject to the licensing request would take place at a distance of 175 kilometers from the coast of Amapá and more than 500 kilometers away from the mouth of the Amazon River. But the potential for environmental impact in the event of an accident would be enormous. Accidents in the oil industry are not rare and have disastrous consequences. This would seriously compromise the image of defense of the Amazon that the government has boasted and that it used as an argument to raise funds for the Amazon Fund.

The impasse ensued and, as reported, an important step forward was taken by the government when it determined that Petrobras carry out a Strategic Environmental Assessment to analyze the impact as a whole - as required in projects with great environmental impact - instead of requiring the licensing of each lot, as occurred in the previous government.

Having said that, I would like to mention two major problems, hitherto ignored.

(1) Despite its extraordinary technical progress, Petrobras has not evolved in terms of its core activity, it remains only an oil company. Instead of just extracting fossil fuel, it could and should become an energy company, combining renewable energy with current exploration. Investing in the future, renewable energy production, without abandoning oil production according to the needs assessed in a development plan.

(2) The government does not have an energy transition plan with defined points and schedule to be fulfilled. In the absence of such a plan, conflicts arise chaotically. Incidentally, the government still does not have a development plan based on public investment by the State, without which development is not possible.

Another important element is tax reform as an instrument to reduce inequality and promote sustainability. The newspaper Le Monde , in the edition of May 23, 2023, published the proposal by Jean Pisani-Ferry, professor at the School of Political Science in Paris and one of the formulators of the government program of current President Emmanuel Macron. He said: “It is necessary to tax large fortunes to face the serious climate crisis that lies ahead. We need an exceptional tax on the financial wealth of the richest for the climate transition. The ecological transition will produce a profound change in the development model and will bring negative shocks to growth, employment, investment, inflation and inequalities”.

Looking back at the current Lula government, it is important to remember that it was a government elected by a Frente Ampla that brought together the left, the center and the non-fascist right. Thus, many government programs are the result of compromises between disparate forces. This is the case, among others, of the economic program known as Fiscal Framework, bringing together fiscal elements typical of neoliberalism with a social democratic vision.

The Lula Government 3 is and will continue to be for a long time a space of dispute between these forces, against the backdrop of a Congress with a reactionary majority, identified with the right, which has just emptied the Ministry of the Environment and Indigenous Peoples, and amend the Atlantic Forest Law, weakening the control of deforestation.

It is in the light of these considerations that we must face the Petrobras x Ibama conflict. Instead of arm wrestling between environmental protection and fossil fuel production condemned by the future, but still necessary over the next few decades, we should have a National Development Plan formulated by a strengthened National Council for Sustainable Development where the Minister of Economy had the same weight as the Minister of the Environment.

It is important to clarify that the vision of sustainability is not limited to the environmental issue, as it necessarily involves the social, economic, cultural and political dimensions. On a social level, it is essential to protect communities potentially threatened by oil exploration in the region of the mouth of the Amazon. And on the economic front, it is good to remember that the global trend is towards a low-carbon economy that will lead to a reduction in oil prices.

What looks like utopia today will soon be considered a necessity, a condition sine qua non for development with socio-environmental protection and guarantee of continuity of living conditions. It is true that we will still need petroleum products for a long time to come. But it is also true that the widespread use of fossil fuel is doomed for its strong contribution to the climate crisis through the emission of greenhouse gases, thus threatening the survival of humanity on the planet.

It is important to highlight, however, that, although urgent, the elaboration of an Energy Transition Plan is not enough. Further ahead, the survival of life on Earth will require a profound program of ecological transformation to overcome capitalist productivism always in search of profit and implement a new way of life and production.

*Liszt Vieira is a retired professor of sociology at PUC-Rio. He was a deputy (PT-RJ) and coordinator of the Global Forum of the Rio 92 Conference. Author, among other books, of Democracy reactsGaramond).

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