Interview: Negligence with the climate killed thousands in the country – 03/17/2023 – Environment
The new municipal secretary of Environment and Climate in Rio de Janeiro grew up amidst the problems that, since last month, she has had the task of resolving at work. Born in Praça Seca, in the Loteamento community, west of the city, Tainá de Paula says she realized early on that the discussion on sustainability only reached distant places.
“Thirty years have passed and water is still a very strong theme in the favela where I came from. We have rainfall rates that are perhaps the highest in Latin America and there is still no broader discussion about it”, says the architect, elected councilor by the PT in 2020.
At the root of the issue, she believes, is racism, which translates into a lack of investment in peripheral areas.
“We have lost thousands of people in Brazil in the last ten years due to negligence, the absence of a serious policy to mitigate damages arising from climate change”, he highlights, citing the recent tragedy in São Sebastião (SP) and the rains in Petrópolis. (RJ).
For Rio, says the secretary, one of the priorities is taking care of the garbage, which, according to her, is at the origin of 70% of floods. It is also a villain due to gas emissions caused by improper disposal.
In addition to financial resources, Tainá sees environmental education and the role of guardian of the residents themselves as solutions to these problems. Evictions, on the other hand, should not be at the heart of the actions, he says.
“Certain territories can become ecological, sustainable communities, with relocations within their own territory, where the slopes are not the steepest to be occupied, but those that manage to allow possible architectural and engineering solutions”, he says.
“It is very important to say that the rich continue to live on the slopes and continue to access geotechnical and engineering solutions”, he further argues.
How did the socio-environmental and climate justice agenda come to your professional life? From a very young age, I began to understand that the discussion of sustainability only reached certain territories and certain income brackets. It was very difficult to implement a sustainable slum upgrading project, for example.
A solar panel, if today it is still expensive, 20 years ago it was much more expensive. And implementing a reuse water project, or a sustainable septic tank, filter and sink, was much more expensive and inaccessible precisely in those territories that needed it most.
How to remodel cities in times of climate emergency? It is very important that we make a reparation agenda for those who have been historically impacted. There is still a very strong denial of the climate crisis, and this is a reflection of our poor environmental education, the poor adherence of the productive sectors that benefit from the matrices of extractivism, deforestation, of this Brazilian capitalist mode of production.
There is a logic of global racism that impacts not only Brazil, but Latin America, in a logic of a country of disposal.
We recently noticed the rains on the north coast of São Paulo, the rains that happened here in the state of Rio de Janeiro, both in the capital of Rio and in Petrópolis. We have lost thousands of people in Brazil in the last ten years due to negligence, the absence of a serious policy for mitigating the damage caused by climate change. We need resources to deal with and, of course, resources linked to planning.
There is a nationally established model, the National Plan for Adaptation to Climate Change [de 2016]. It is very important to say that it needs to be revised by Minister Marina Silva, but the most important thing she has done is to stimulate the discussion of the crisis and claim the co-responsibility of the countries of the North.
Studies show that the Metropolitan Region of Rio de Janeiro is among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change in Brazil. What are your priorities as a secretary? We are going to build an agenda for repairing and facing the climate crisis. This is past time in Rio de Janeiro. It is very important that we have a specific budget for dealing with crises.
Every year it rains a volume of precipitation that is comparable to the great historical rainfall of Rio. Our rainfall regime has changed, this is a reality, and it has had a lot of impact on the favelas.
And how do we make our reforestation agenda robust? Rio de Janeiro has been losing about one stadium per month in the deep west zone, in the peripheral areas, largely because of the militia’s activities.
How do we make an energy transition in the city of Rio de Janeiro? How do we fine, withdraw the license of the industrial sectors of the city that are the most polluting? How can we present a positive agenda for gas control?
Rio de Janeiro holds the record for greenhouse gas emissions in the solid waste sector. We beat cities like São Paulo and Cubatão. This is profound negligence and is directly linked to environmental racism. We want to launch a specific solid waste program for the favelas.
What will be your main agenda in terms of adapting to climate change? The first step is to implement local actions to identify and control floods. There is this debt with the resident of Rio de Janeiro. Engineering works need to be carried out in different parts of the city and these points are already being mapped by my team.
Garbage basically originates 70% of flooding events in Rio de Janeiro. The cleaning and dredging of the rivers, associated with the cleaning of drains and ditches, would drastically reduce the chaos that happens cyclically in the city. In addition, we are starting a process of mass hiring of guardians for the territories that flood the most.
The National Civil Defense and Protection Policy, from 2012, provides for the relocation of the resident population in risk areas. What do you think about this? Rio de Janeiro is experiencing a drama in relation to removal processes. Historically, it was a testing ground for removal processes. And it is very important that we create local strategic plans, case by case.
We have already tried mass removals, mainly on the slopes of the central areas and in the south zone, and this was used politically by several managers in the past as a seal of approval for eugenics and social cleansing. It is very important to say that the rich continue to live on the slopes and continue to access geotechnical and engineering solutions to stay on these slopes. We need to separate the wheat from the chaff.
I have faced this discussion in the Cada Favela Uma Floresta project, including reuse of rainwater, reforestation and use of solar energy and, of course, sanitation works.
We need to understand that certain territories can become ecological, sustainable communities, with reallocations within their own territory, where the slopes are not the steepest to be occupied, but those that manage to allow possible architectural and engineering solutions.
You have already criticized the concentration of resources and capacity at the national level. How do you intend to secure more resources? I already have a conversation with Minister Marina [Silva] to present an idea of metropolitan climate governance that is urgent. It is a fact that a city like Rio de Janeiro needs to have an environmental climate resilience fund.
How is a city like this going to manage to have its own resources to build so many swimming pools, so many engineering and geotechnical solutions to deal with its flooding processes? We need federal and state help.
Don’t you think terms like “environmental racism” and “climate justice” they can sound too abstract for the population? I use it a lot in my texts, in my articles, but in popular we talk about inequality and poverty. It’s what people understand.
People only understand vulnerability when we can explain how it impacts their lives. Everyone knows the impact of dirty water on a child, on a given family. Everyone knows what diarrhea is. Everyone knows what a burden it is not to have a bathroom in your house.
Rio de Janeiro is one of the cities with the highest number of dry pits for external toilets in Brazil. And we have one of the highest GDPs in Brazil as well. The carioca, the fluminense and [e as pessoas de] all cities with many injustices placed trivialize these injustices. It is necessary to build awareness of repair and climate equity.
And how to foster a culture of prevention with residents of risk areas? We just graduated the first class of popular climate leaders in the city. We want to strengthen this program and create a local network of leaders.
Rio de Janeiro is one of the record-breaking cities for vegetable gardens in slums, but many are abandoned due to the lack of ownership of the territories over this vegetable garden. This also happens with areas of reforestation and river cleaning.
We also launched the Guardiãs da Mata program, with women from the favelas of Rio. We are going to plant fruit trees in all the favelas and build this new environment.
Taina de Paula, 40
She is an architect and urbanist, graduated from UFF (Fluminense Federal University) and Master from UFRJ (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro). She was elected councilor of Rio de Janeiro by the PT in 2020. In February of this year, she became municipal secretary of Environment and Climate. She has already given assistance to movements such as the Popular Housing Union and MTST (Movement of Homeless Workers).
UNDERSTAND THE SERIES
Planeta em Transe is a series of reports and interviews with new actors and experts on climate change in Brazil and worldwide. This special coverage also accompanied responses to the climate crisis in the 2022 elections and at COP27 (UN conference held in November in Egypt). The project is supported by the Open Society Foundations.