Brazil’s struggle to lead climate policy at COP28.

Indeed, even before he took office last January, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva looked to situate his country as a world forerunner in the fight against environmental change.

He showed up at the Unified Countries Environmental Change Gathering last year to cheers and allies reciting his name. “Brazil is back,” he told energetic crowds, proclaiming the battle against environmental change “the most prominent” issue of his organization.

One year later, Lula is returning on Friday to the annual climate conference, known in its latest edition as COP28. But critics question whether he has lived up to the sweeping promises he made on the world stage, particularly as Brazil continues to grow its oil and natural gas sectors.

“Lula da Silva’s Brazil can’t be at once a climate leader and the world’s fourth oil exporter,” Suely Araújo, a public policy specialist at the environmental NGO Observatório do Clima, told Al Jazeera.

Still, with world leaders like United States President Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping notably absent from COP28, Lula aims to send the message that Brazil can marshal efforts to tackle climate policy — and fill the leadership vacuum.

“We arrive at COP28 with our heads held high,” Ana Toni, the climate change secretary at the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, said during a November 8 news conference.

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