It is unsurprising that the same administration which vowed to take advantage of the pandemic to “pass the cattle” is also approving the easing of environmental laws. Brazil’s most relevant climate-related news is concerning given its preoccupation with legislative changes in conservation and the preservation of ecosystems.
President Bolsonaro’s rolling back of climate mitigation and adaptation policies are accelerating the country towards an unprecedented climate crisis. In this post, I call attention to pressing issues in need of addressing such as Brazil’s Paris Agreement Pledge—a target that should be of global concern.
The Amazon Continues Burning and Fires are Expanding to Other Biomes
Bolsonaro’s incendiary rhetoric encourages ruralists to actively deforest the Amazon and burn and cut trees to ease the conversion of large areas to cattle lands. As a result, major fires have ensued in the rainforest—some of which caught the world’s attention. However, very few actions have been taken by the government to address this issue and rather than take accountability for his statements, the President is preoccupied with shifting blame unto Environmental NGOs.
In 2019, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) counted 126,089 fires in the Amazon—a near 40% rise since the year before Bolsonaro took office. Despite a government ban on fires in the Amazon imposed in mid-July as a result of media pressure, INPE reported more fires in August and September than in the same period a year ago.
INPE data also showed fires raging in the Pantanal, an area home to alligators, jaguars and numerous other animals. By mid-September 2020, Pantanal had registered 16,119 heat spots; these are the highest numbers the region has seen since 1998. The fires have already destroyed close to 30% of the Pantanal, with 2.3 million hectares of the world’s largest wetland tragically being lost.
Mangroves are threatened
Ricardo Salles, the current Minister of the Environment, recently overturned two preservation and protection resolutions intended to protect mangroves and restrict deforestation. These resolutions were enforced since 2002.
Mangroves are considered an essential ecosystem for the planet: they are the nursery of marine life and greatly contribute towards the fight against global warming. According to the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO, mangroves, sea grasses, and other marine living organisms capture more than half of the world’s biological carbon. The commission estimates these ecosystems absorb the equivalent of more than half of the emissions from the entire global transport sector each year. Brazil has almost 14,000 square kilometers of mangrove areas and the largest continuous extension of mangroves in the world. Salles’ legislative changes to mangrove protection pose a catastrophic threat for our global environmental state.
Deforestation Rates are Alarming
Despite not following through with his campaign pledge of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, Bolsonaro’s personal and administrative stances on the environment threaten to open Indigenous-populated regions and other protected areas to mining and agribusiness. This possibility would be in clear violation of the country’s 1988 Constitution.
Fires and loggers destroying the Amazon inches the country closer to a tipping point whereby the rainforest might become a savannah. Brazil, home to the world’s largest biodiversity mass, is on the precipice of desertification should the government continue on this path. A recent article published in the journal Nature Communications suggests this threshold is closer to being reached than what scientists previously believed and calls for global action to prevent the biome from being forever lost.
A Shift from Previously Successful Climate and Environment Policies
Not long ago, Brazil was a global leader in Climate Change mitigation, adaptation, and research. Under its current leadership, the country is cultivating more of a “climate villain” persona than a “climate hero” persona. An anti-science political agenda encourages short-term economic development by any means necessary; their diplomatic strategy is less impressive as it excuses lack of climate action by pointing to the positive contributions of developed nations.
This frightening trajectory will likely have lasting impacts for Brazil and the world at large given how dependent we are upon the country’s biodiversity and natural resources. The government continues to irresponsibly promote Bolsonaro’s agenda and it seems as though change will not come until the next election year in 2022.
Agribusiness Presents Hidden Threats to Sustainable Development
One of the most pressing debates at the moment concerns agricultural commodities in Brazil. International buyers have raised concerns about products that are contaminated by deforestation (i.e., deforestation occurred during the process of producing the product). The European Union’s (EU) criticism of the Brazilian government, in particular, has bolstered demands to boycott Brazilian products and to withhold ratification of the trade agreement reached in 2019 between the EU and Mercosur (a South American trade bloc). Chief among these concerns is that increasing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest fires in Brazil could cancel out EU climate change mitigation efforts.
Only 2% of properties in the Amazon and Cerrado biomes are responsible for 62% of all potentially illegal deforestation activities. Roughly 20% of soy exports and 17% of beef from both biomes exported to the EU may be contaminated with illegal deforestation.
Activity Rating: * Falling Behind
All of the reported news prevent any past efforts Brazil has done to reduce global warming and each day makes the country further from being able to comply with the Paris Agreement and IPCC recommendations.
The aim of this post was to provide a brief summary on all news worthy politics in Brazil with direct links to climate. However, the interested reader may refer to these sources for more detailed information:
- Bolsonaro’s Brazil unlikely to achieve Paris Agreement goals: experts
- Amazon near tipping point of switching from rainforest to savannah – study
- Amazon near tipping point of switching from rainforest to savannah – The Guardian article
- The importance of mangroves, which are left unprotected by Bolsonaro government decision
- Incontrolável, fogo já consumiu 26,5% do Pantanal, mostram satélites (only available in Braziliam Portuguese)
- The rotten apples of Brazil’s agribusiness
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Country Manager Luiza Martins Karpavicius
 Addressing UN member states in a pre-recorded address in September, Bolsonaro accused foreign actors of a “brutal disinformation campaign” about the “supposed” degradation of the Amazon as well as Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands, but many well credited Brazilian scientists have already refuted most of the claims he made in his speech.
 At the moment of writing this article, the Brazilian court was attempting to blocs government’s decision to revoke key mangrove protections