The Amazon rainforest is at a crossroads.
On one path, deforestation continues to accelerate, bringing the iconic forest closer to a dangerous, self-destructing forest turning point. On the other hand, the Brazilian government is renewing its efforts to protect the Amazon and conserve a huge amount of biodiversity and carbon.
This weekend, Brazilian voters will have a say in which direction the forest will go. The country will hold presidential elections on Sunday, and the two frontrunners — right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro and former left-wing president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva — are expected to take a very different approach to the country’s most beloved ecosystem.
Polls this week show “Lula”, as he is commonly known, by a large margin. If neither Bolsonaro nor Lula get at least 50 percent of the vote on Sunday, the election will move to a second round at the end of October.
Under President Bolsonaro, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has increased dramatically. Lula, meanwhile, has pledged to crack down on illegal mining and help control forest loss, as he did ten years ago when he was president. A analysis by the climate website Carbon Brief suggests that if Bolsonaro loses to Lula, annual deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon could be reduced by nearly 90 percent by the end of the decade.
“Everything Lula has said, even his track record, would indicate that he is going to undo the brutal regressions of the Bolsonaro regime,” Christian Poirier, program director at the nonprofit Amazon Watch, told cafemadrid.
Few political issues are more at stake globally than the preservation of the Amazon. Cutting down the rainforest not only erodes a critical carbon sink, which helps suck planet-warming gases from the atmosphere, but it also fuels climate change. Continued deforestation can also: cause a runaway reaction those parts of the rainforest can turn into a savanna-like ecosystem, stripping the forest of its many ecological benefits and natural wonders.
What Bolsonaro has done with the Amazon rainforest, briefly explained
Brazil was once a paragon of conservation. For much of the past two decades, the nation has protected indigenous lands, cracked down on illegal logging and more carefully controlled forest loss, resulting in an abrupt decline in deforestation — that is, fewer forest loss.
In 2004, the Amazon lost a whopping 28,000 square kilometers (about 7 million acres), but by 2012 that figure had dropped to just 4,600 square km (1.1 million hectares), according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, known as INPE. The destruction continued relatively low over the next few years (although it crept up again after 2012, partly because Brazil a law weakens that requires private landowners to protect part of their land).
Then, in 2019, Jair Bolsonaro came to power. He stripped enforcement measures, economize in front of science and environment agencies, dismissed environmentalistsand pushed to weaken indigenous land rights, including Other activities largely to support the agricultural sector.
“We are witnessing a heartbreaking unraveling of that success,” Frances Seymour, a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute, wrote in a statement. blog post last year.
Between August 1, 2019 and July 31, 2021 — a period that largely overlaps with Bolsonaro’s first three years in office — more than 34,000 square km (8.4 million acres) disappeared from the Amazon, not counting the many losses from natural wildfires. That is an area larger than the entire country of Belgium, and an increase of 52 percent compared to the previous three years.
“The Brazilian government is fully committed to reducing deforestation in Brazil, especially in the Amazon region,” a government representative told cafemadrid. The representative pointed out how the Environment Ministry has increased the budget for enforcement over the past two years, adding that deforestation has decreased in areas where enforcement is permanent.
Brenda Brito, a researcher at Brazil’s research group Imazon, said that although the ministry’s budget increased from 2020 to 2021, the government was only spending part of it. “The amount actually used is the lowest in 20 years,” she said. “Having money but not using it is another sign of a lack of capacity or political will to fight environmental crime.” International funds to tackle deforestation were also frozen in 2019 due to rampant forest loss overseen by Bolsonaro, she added.
Bolsonaros office has forwarded cafemadrid’s request for comment to the Department of Justice and Public Security. The ministry pointed cafemadrid to a government task force launched last summer called Guardians of the Biome. It is set up to tackle illegal deforestation, wildfires and criminal activity in the Amazon, an agency representative said. The spokesperson also said that deforestation has decreased between August 2021 and July 2022 compared to the previous 12 months. (INPE has not yet released official deforestation data for that period.)
Regardless of these recent actions, the destruction has been enormous and the consequences severe: about 17 percent of the Amazon rainforest has now disappeared, according to a 2021 report. Scientists estimate that if that number reaches 20 to 25 percentcan dry out parts of the tropical ecosystem, threatening the millions of people and animals that depend on it.
The largest rainforest on Earth, the Amazon is home to a truly remarkable collection of species, including: 14 percent of the world’s birds and 18 percent his vascular plants. Many of them cannot be found anywhere else.
The loss of organisms through deforestation impairs vital functions, including oxygen production and carbon storage, on which we all depend, and undermines scientific discoveries. Many drugs come from Amazonian plants, but only a fraction of forest species have been studied.
What Lula would mean for the Amazon if he wins
An icon of the left, Lula, who recently spent time in jail on controversial corruption charges, committed to protect the Amazon. It has been criticized that Marina Silva, a prominent environmental lawyer and Lula’s former environment minister, has backed him. That makes Lula the “greenest‘candidate in the field, according to Observatório do Clima, an environmental coalition in Brazil.
“Too bad that the [current] government has neglected the preservation of the Amazon,” Lula said in a statement Radio interview in June. “We have to take care of the forest and the Amazon people.”
To show that he can succeed, Lula often points to his track record. When he came to power in 2003, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon was at an eight-year peak, spanning more than 25,000 square kilometers (6.3 million acres). 2004 was even worse. “He inherited an environmental disaster,” Poirier said.
Then his government — largely at the direction of Secretary Silva — began implementing existing laws to protect the Amazon, including enforcing a law called the Forest Code, and getting several government agencies to work together to curb forest loss. said Brito.
As the chart above shows, deforestation dropped dramatically between 2004 and 2012, and Lula was in power for most of that time. “Let’s go back to what we were doing,” Lula said in the radio interview. “We had reduced deforestation in the Amazon by 80 percent.”
Based primarily on Lula’s past achievements, Brito and other environmentalists say this election could mark a turning point for the Amazon. It is worth noting, however, that even under Lula, some level of deforestation will continue, in part because it will take a while to ramp up enforcement again.
The reality is that the bar is incredibly low – environmental advocates say everyone is probably better for the environment than President Bolsonaro. While Bolsonaro has pledged to end illegal deforestation within the decadehe cannot be trusted and will likely continue to open up the forest to agribusiness if reelected, they say.
“What has happened in recent years has been a real tragedy,” said Brito. “We need a change. Lula understands the importance of preserving the Amazon – because he did when he was president.”