Speech by Sophie Prize winner Marina Silva

Sophie Prize Ceremony June 17th 2009.
Thursday 18 June 2009

First of all, I would like to thank God for the fact that we are all here today. I would also like to thank Jostein Gaarder for creating the Sofia Award in order to encourage people to fight for a sustainable world, which I have the honour of receiving today.

I would also like to thank Professor Donald Sawyer for having nominated me for the award and my assistant Jane Vilas Bôas, who organised the information necessary for the nomination.

I would also like to thank the Council of the Sofia Foundation which selected me, and the Foundation itself for all the kindness I have received from the Foundation’s president, Nina Drange, and director, Mari Sager.

I would also like to thank my father, my husband and my children for all the support they have given me during all these years of dedication to the environment.

I would also like to thank two highly important partners here in Norway in the fight for the conservation of Amazonia and all rainforests of the planet, who are Erik Solheim, Minister of the Environment and International Cooperation, and my friend Lars Løvold, Director of Rainforest Foundation.

I would also like to greet all people who honour me with their presence here today in the presence of Brazils ambassador, Sérgio Moreira Lima.

The receipt of this award is particularly gratifying to me because it is given in recognition of work for the environment. My life’s work has been devoted to increasing awareness of the need to defend the environment and of the importance of alternatives, which are developmentally sustainable.

Here I must also acknowledge my comrades in Acre, my home state, for their contributions to my education, and for their support.

First of all it is fundamental for me to acknowledge the great debt I owe to Chico Mendes with whom I learned so much and the protection that I received from Dom Moacir Grecchi, Bishop of Rio Branco, in both my private life and my political activity. My comrades Jorge Viana, the former governor of Acre, Arnóbio Marques, the current governor of Acre and the journalist Toinho Alves, through whom I honour and thank all of my other comrades and the entire people of my home state.

I would like to share the honour and recognition brought by this award, with President Lula, to whom I owe the opportunity to be a member of his government in the Ministry of the Environment. I would also like to share the honour and recognition brought by this award, with the member of my team in the persons of:

  • João Paulo Capobianco, who was Secretary for Biodiversity and Forests and later Vice-Minister and
  • Tasso Azevedo, a young man, who worked incessantly to create our Amazonia Fund.

As I said, by thanking these specific people I am also thanking all those who work for the Ministry of the Environment, who together with me and with great enthusiasm and trust were willing to develop a style of management, which was characterised by control and social participation by millions of Brazilians citizens and civil society organizations via the National Environment Conferences and many other sectorial councils.

Our management sought to promote sustainable development, via the inclusion of socio-environmental factors in the plans of the other sectors of the government plus the strengthening and modernization of environmental governance. This process resulted in the Legal Action Plan for the Control of Deforestation in Amazonia, co-ordinated by the central nucleus of the government, with the active involvement of many ministries in the government, with a specific budget, action plan, transparency of information and intense measures to combat corruption in public institutions.

We defined more than one hundred strategic measures in line with the Plan’s three fundamental orientations:

  • Monitoring and combat of environmental crimes
  • Territorial and agrarian land use planning and control  and
  • Encouragement of sustainable productive activities    

This process resulted in a 57% reduction in the rate of deforestation of Amazonia between 2005 and 2007, which prevented the release of more than 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It also resulted in the creation of 340 thousand km2 of conservation and native land units, which is an area equivalent in area to Germany.

I would like to emphasize here that we have doubled the areas for non-native gatherers and extractors, Chico Mendes’ original social group, from 50 thousand km2 to 100 thousand km2, and we have created a policy of sustainable development for these people. To do so, it was necessary with strong measures to combat environmental crimes. We seized more than 1 million cubic metres of illegal lumber, which is equivalent to a 500 km long continuous line of trucks loaded with lumber.  750 people were arrested including businessmen, lawyers and civil servants, and more than one thousand companies were closed. We have also implemented an advanced monitoring system, which provides information almost in real time and permits a constant adjustment of monitoring strategies.  It also keeps the general public informed and mobilised to check actions from government.

Internationally, we have made important gains, such as the reformulation of Brazil’s traditional position within the ambit of the Climate Change Convention, on the basis of the proposed creation of positive incentives for the reduction of emissions arising from the reduction of deforestation of tropical forests, which led to the Amazonia Fund proposal, which Norway has encouraged and supported from the outset.  

Finally I would like to share with you my growing conviction on the basis of the increasingly troubling information produced by scientists, regarding the imminence of the greatest environmental catastrophe that mankind has ever been confronted with, which demands a vigorous, rapid and responsible attitude on the part of all of us, both governments and society.

Mankind needs to be able to stabilise the annual average increase of the world temperature to less than 2°C. A gigantic effort to free the economies of the world of greenhouse gases by the end of the century will be needed in order to achieve this. This will require a reduction of world emissions to 80% of their 1990 level by 2050.

There can be no doubt that the rich countries need to assume an attitude, which is compatible with their historic responsibility and that equitable criteria should be taken into consideration in relation to the commitments of the poor countries.

Brazil needs to use its international credibility to help the other countries to escape from this debilitation and to establish a new dynamic in the negotiation of obligations within the ambit of the Climate Change Convention.

I agree with those in Brazil who propose the creation of a calendar of global emission limits, which allocates distinct obligations to three groups of countries:  

  • The developed countries,
  • the emerging countries and
  • the other developing countries.

It is estimated that approximately 50% of the Brazilian emissions are the result of deforestation and, therefore, the target of an 80% reduction of deforestation by 2020 is a significant contribution to the reduction of overall emissions. However, this effort could be cancelled out, if the same commitment is not also assumed by the other developing countries.

I believe that it is time for Brazil to propose the establishment of a global emissions reduction target for 2020, 2030 and 2050 plus global emissions limits throughout the century, at the Conference of Parties in Copenhagen this year.

The setting of a global target does not mean the definition of the extent of the responsibility of each country to meet the target, which should be discussed in subsequent years – taking into consideration the principle of common, but differentiated responsibilities, as provided in the Climate Changes Convention. This is important because failure to establish an overall reductions target places the future of many poor countries in the hands of the major global emission countries, which, if there are no restrictions, will cause an increase in the planets temperature in excess of 2°C.

In the case of Brazil, the failure to create mechanisms to ensure that limits on global emissions are imposed is to place our forests, our rainfall patterns, our agriculture and our economy at serious risk.

In addition to all of these reasons, we also need to do this as a gesture of solidarity with the needs of our brothers and sisters in the poorer countries. They have made little or no contribution to the situation we are all in, but are certainly the most affected by it and are the ones who will suffer most in the future.

I have no doubt that we face a challenge without precedent in the history of mankind, a civilizational challenge, a sort of ethical turning point. We need to make the right choices at the right time, because on them depends the continued existence of the conditions for life on the planet Earth. It is, therefore, necessary that we face this task with conviction, determination and audacity, in order not to not be tempted to do what Chesterterton so correctly warned us half century ago:

“(…) what we suffer from today is humility in the wrong places. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; here it was never meant to be.”

Finally I would like to pay personal homage to the Norwegian people in the persons of two of its famous sons, the artist Eduard Munch, and the writer, Jostein Gaarder, people who were able to understand the pain and needs of our time, the former by capturing the most disturbed and painful scream of nature – probably the most authentic picture of our time. The latter by having the courage to explain to us mortals what it means to live on more than bread, when he invited to enter his “World of Sofia” - maybe this is the greatest miracle of art: not be a prisoner of time frontiers.

That was what I discovered in 2007, when  I was here in Norway, and had the pleasure of visiting the National Museum, where part of Munch’s works are. I was so impressed with the actuality of The Scream that I only could get asleep at two in the morning, after writing this modest poem:

Even without rhyme
is poetic
Even without form
is esthetic
Even without voice
is prophetic
Even in secret
it reveals itself
And speaks
beyond its time
Like waves it rises
to the winds
and floods shores.

May the dreams of the yet to be born be flooded with hope by the good we are able to scatter in our days.

Thank you very much!