Bruno Covas took office as Secretary of State for the Environment on January 1, 2011. Geraldo Alckmin had defeated PT senator Aloizio Mercadante in the first round and chose young Bruno —grandson of his sacrosanct mentor and doubly elected state deputy (in 2006 and 2010)—to command an area that did not yet dominate. I was 30 years old.
In November 2011, Bruno and I, who at the time managed the state government’s international relations, spoke for the first time about the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio+20, in a small room at Palácio dos Bandeirantes, annexed to the governor’s office. It was the main international event in the environmental area that year.
He had a spacious laugh, commensurate with his stout bearing. His manners were still youthful and his vivacity had not yet been pruned by the adversities of his position. But Bruno carried on those shoulders, hidden under a light-colored suit he liked to wear, a feeling of responsibility and fiduciary duty. He told me he wanted to leave a mark. He told me he was studying environmental issues. He told me he liked working as a team.
From this conversation, between two almost strangers, was born the commitment to work together so that the government could present an ambitious proposal at Rio+20, which would be held in June 2012. We had 8 months ahead of us.
Ten years earlier, São Paulo had presented a proposal on renewable energy that was the central point at the Johannesburg Conference, Rio+10. Expectations were therefore high.
During those 8 months, the government apparently did everything that should be done. It was a political science textbook. Aware of the internal artifices and the egotistical struggles of government activity, Bruno suggested creating, by decree, a Working Group (WG) with the objective of organizing the participation of the state government in Rio+20, to be coordinated by the Secretariat for the Environment and by the Special Advisory Office for International Affairs (currently the Secretariat for International Relations). Published on December 16, 2011, the objective was clear: to order responsibilities and define leadership.
In initial conversations, together with the governor, it was decided that the government would go to Rio de Janeiro to present a state plan for sustainable development, with targets until 2020. We knew that the plan could not be designed by just a few palace officials to be implemented, later, by dispossessed civil servants in the state secretariats. It would have to be everyone’s plan, not just a few. To enlist the rest of the government in the mission, several WG meetings were organized with representatives from around 20 state secretariats, over many months. All were encouraged to come up with goals that were discussed internally and knitted over months into a tapestry that had a balanced degree of ambition and achievability.
Bruno told me he was excited about the way our teams, along with the rest of the government, had been committed. He fully trusted his secretariat’s environmental experts, led by Oswaldo Lucon, currently Executive Coordinator of the Brazilian Forum on Climate Change, to shape the plan.
The idea of inviting personalities from civil society to gather their views on the first version of the state strategy also germinated from Bruno. On April 10, two months before Rio+20, we organized a meeting at Palácio dos Bandeirantes with the presence of around 30 people, including José Goldemberg, Rubens Ricupero and Fabio Feldmann. Bruno and the then vice-governor, Guilherme Afif, chaired the meeting. It was Ricupero’s suggestion that the ambitious São Paulo plan should meet the federal government’s meager goals.
On June 4 at night, Bruno and I excitedly presented the details of the strategy to the governor. The reaction was not the expected one, but even so, the following day, Decree 58,107 is finally published, establishing the Strategy for Sustainable Development of the State of São Paulo 2020 and which presented “sectoral targets that will define the action of the State Government of São Paulo until 2020.”
Among the Government’s main commitments, the following stood out: (1) increase, by 2020, the share of renewable energy from 55% to 69% in the State’s final energy consumption, (2) reach, by 2020, 20% of the territory São Paulo with vegetation cover, and (3) reduce 20% of carbon dioxide emissions, based on the year 2005. In total, there were 40 targets, duly debated over the course of months.
The choice of date was explicit. The 5th is World Environment Day. It was also on that day that a small public event was organized at Palácio dos Bandeirantes to present the state plan. Bruno’s speech was emphatic. Alckmin’s restrained.
On the 19th I boarded with Alckmin for Rio de Janeiro. Other state secretaries were already in Rio. Bruno and the governor had full schedules. Bruno participated in side events of the subnational government networks The Climate Group and nrg4SD and his secretariat set up the São Paulo State stand at Parque dos Atletas. On the evening of the 18th, Bruno informally presented the state plan to Achim Steiner, then president of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), who was impressed, Bruno told me. During the event, the governor also had numerous bilateral meetings, in addition to having participated in the official openings of Rio+20 and the Rio+20 World Summit of States and Regions.
But at no time did the governor publicly present the Strategy. Some goals were highlighted and some technical announcements were made (such as the signing of a financing contract with BNDES for the extension of Line 2-Green of the Metro), but the state plan was not fully presented. To contain the reputational damage, Bruno tried to make reference to the new São Paulo Strategy in the sectorial public interventions he carried out. I also asked the government communications team to keep the press release publicizing the new state plan, prepared days ahead. But everything was lost in the incontinence of announcements and interventions by so many other governments and countries.
On his return to São Paulo, the São Paulo strategy was transported, already a corpse, in the plane’s hold. Torn between loyalty to the top and shame at the bottom, Bruno ended up accepting the decision not to have seen his plan publicly defended at the highest level. It was Bruno Covas’s first major defeat as a member of the government.
We never knew the real reasons for the outcome. There was speculation that the governor had single-handedly decided not to come up with an ambitious plan that could confront Dilma Rousseff at a time when various packages of support for the state were being negotiated. It was a tactical and shrewd decision, many said. The political science manual we follow did not guide us through the intangibles, the unexpected and the unconscious of political activity. “As long as we’re not in the lead, we have to go on,” he told me embarrassed weeks later.
Years later he can finally lead. And it was as mayor that Bruno launched, with relief and a few months from the end of his life, his Climate Action Plan for the city of São Paulo.