democraciaAbierta: Opinion

Bolsonaro’s empty climate promises for Brazil

As Bolsonaro claims to protect forests, his leadership has allowed devastation of the Amazonian jungle to reach epic heights

Juanita Rico
23 October 2021, 12.00am
Trees felled for soy plantation in the Amazon
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BrazilPhotos / Alamy Stock Photo. All rights reserved

The biggest country in Latin America is one of the least committed to reducing its CO2 emissions and battling climate change.

In April 2021, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon broke global records. With a total of 580 square kilometers of the rainforest lost in just one month, the vast country hit a new high, according to the Real-Time Amazon Deforestation Detection System (DETER, by its Spanish acronym). In 2020, the total number was an appalling 10,851 square kilometers deforested.

That same month, during the Leaders' Summit on Climate led by US president Joe Biden, Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s far-Right president, committed to taking serious steps towards eradicating deforestation in his country by 2030. However, since he came to power at the start of 2019, the devastation of the Amazonian jungle has reached its worst-ever heights, and his environmental politics have been widely criticised. He defends the exploitation of natural resources in the Amazonian region, even in Indigenous reserves, and has made it easier for those who attack the environment directly, such as mining companies and illegal wood traders, to do so.

In fact, in August 2019, openDemocracy revealed that Bolsonaro had secret plans to facilitate the logging of the Amazon by whipping up a hate campaign against the Indigenous communities that live in and protect it.

It’s as a result of all of this that Bolsonaro has been described by Rolling Stone magazine as “The world’s most dangerous climate denier.”

With this in mind, it came as a big surprise that on 19 October, Bolsonaro and the Colombian president, Ivan Duque, allied during the latter’s visit to Brazil, vowing to attend COP 26, the UN’s climate conference in Scotland that starts on October 31, together, united by one goal: defending the Amazon.

“We will arrive in Glasgow together to tackle a very important and dear issue for us: our dear, rich and loved Amazon region,” Bolsonaro said after a meeting with Duque in the Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil.

Bolsonaro also said he wants to work towards an efficient energy transition, emissions reduction, and net-zero. He also reaffirmed that, by 2030, there will be no deforestation in Brazil.

Although a positive change, international observers have pointed out that Brazil has yet to officially register its promises within international instruments or organizations. What’s more, the country has been promising zero deforestation by 2030 for six years consecutively, ever since the former president, Dilma Rousseff, first pledged it at the UN General Assembly.

Another pessimistic truth is that, besides its unofficial promises, Brazil will not present a new NDC (a nationally determined contribution to the global effort to slash emissions) in Glasgow. This highlights that there is no specific path to achieve the promises the country is making.

Climate experts have pointed out that Brazil’s latest NDC, introduced last December, actually allows the country to pollute more than under its previous goal, which was presented in 2015. The newer target enables Brazil to emit around 360 million more tonnes of carbon than the one set six years ago.

As part of that December 2020 NDC, Brazil set an indicative goal to reach net zero in 2060, ten years more than what the president has since publicly promised. To achieve that goal, the NDC also established one condition: the receipt of financial transfers. The country has not provided specific information, either in its NDC or elsewhere, about whether Bolsonaro’s vow to tackle deforestation at the Leaders’ Climate Summit was an actual pledge and, if so, how it would be met.

The truth is, if the country's deforestation number keeps rising, there is no plausible way for it to achieve the 2030 or 2050 goals. It’s also true that, during the Bolsonaro presidency, there has been a systematic dismantling of Brazil's institutional and legal frameworks for forest protection, which takes the country in the opposite direction of its commitments.

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The reality is that given the pivotal role required by the land use and forestry sectors if Brazil is to meet its promised carbon reductions, and the importance of Brazil’s forests to the world (they act as lungs for the entire planet), Bolsonaro has to strengthen mitigation action and policies now, instead of weakening them. However, as in most Amazonian countries, political and private interests seem to be prioritized above the planet's conservation.

Regarding Bolsonaro, until there is solid, verifiable proof of action, one must take his commitments with a grain of salt, and work with what he has shown: absolute disregard of how deforestation affects the world’s increasing and unbearable global warming.

Bolsonaro is up for re-election next year and his main challenger is likely to be the popular former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – known as Lula – of the left-wing Workers’ Party. Lula was imprisoned by a judge who went on to be justice secretary in Bolsonaro’s far-Right government but, earlier this year, the judge was ruled to be biased, and the former president was cleared of all charges.

Lula is currently around 20% ahead of Bolsonaro in the polls for the election, which is scheduled for October next year. During Lula’s last term as president, which ended in 2010, deforestation of the Amazon reduced significantly and the Brazilian Green Party activist and prominent musician, Gilberto Gill, served as his culture minister.

Bolsonaro, sometimes known as ‘the Trump of the Tropics’, has been seen by many as one of the major blocks to climate action globally, and everyone concerned about climate change will be closely following Brazil’s election.

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