The fate of the Amazon rainforest is in the hands of Brazilian voters

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Thursday, September 29, 2022

A car drives through forest fire smoke along a highway in the Amazon on September 22. Purposely set fires are a major contributor to deforestation. | Michael Dantas/AFP via Getty Images In Brazil’s election Sunday, President Jair Bolsonaro could be voted out. Here’s what that means for the Amazon. The Amazon rainforest is at a crossroads. Down one path, deforestation continues to accelerate, pushing the iconic forest closer to a dangerous, self-destructing tipping point. On the other, Brazil’s government renews its efforts to protect the Amazon, conserving an enormous amount of biodiversity and carbon. This weekend, Brazilian voters will help decide which direction the forest takes. On Sunday, the country is holding a presidential election, and the two frontrunners — right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro and former leftist president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva — are expected to take vastly different approaches to the nation’s most beloved ecosystem. Polls this week show “Lula,” as he is widely known, with a large lead. If neither Bolsonaro nor Lula receives at least 50 percent of the vote Sunday, the election will go to a runoff at the end of October. Under President Bolsonaro, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has surged. Lula, meanwhile, has promised to crack down on illegal mining and help bring forest loss under control, as he did a decade ago when he was president. An analysis by the climate website Carbon Brief suggests that if Bolsonaro loses to Lula, annual deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon could be down by nearly 90 percent by the end of the decade. Amanda Northrop/Vox “Everything that Lula has said, and even his track record, would indicate that he’s going to undo the brutal regressions of the Bolsonaro regime,” Christian Poirier, program director at the nonprofit advocacy group Amazon Watch, told Vox. Few political issues have higher global stakes than the conservation of the Amazon. Felling the rainforest not only erodes a critical carbon sink, which helps suck planet-warming gases out of the atmosphere, but it also fuels climate change. Ongoing deforestation could also trigger a runaway reaction that may turn regions of the rainforest into a savanna-like ecosystem, stripping the forest of its many ecological benefits and natural wonders. What Bolsonaro did to the Amazon rainforest, briefly explained Brazil was once a poster child for conservation. For much of the past two decades, the nation protected Indigenous lands, cracked down on illegal logging, and began monitoring forest loss more carefully, resulting in a precipitous decline of deforestation — that is, less forest loss. In 2004, the Amazon lost a staggering 28,000 square kilometers (roughly 7 million acres), but by 2012, that figure had fallen to just 4,600 square km (1.1 million acres), according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, known as INPE. The destruction remained relatively low over the next few years (though it crept back up after 2012, partly because Brazil weakened a law that requires private landowners to protect a portion of their land). Then, in 2019, Jair Bolsonaro came into power. He stripped enforcement measures, cut spending for science and environmental agencies, fired environmental experts, and pushed to weaken Indigenous land rights, among other activities largely in support of the agribusiness industry. “We’re witnessing a heartbreaking unraveling of that success,” Frances Seymour, a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute, wrote in a 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 including many losses from natural forest fires. That’s an area larger than the entire nation of Belgium, and a 52 percent increase compared to the previous three years. Amanda Northrop/Vox “The Brazilian government is fully committed to reducing deforestation rates in Brazil, in particular in the Amazon,” a government representative told Vox. The representative pointed to how the environmental ministry increased the budget for enforcement in the last two years, adding that deforestation has declined in areas where enforcement is permanent. Brenda Brito, a researcher at the Brazilian research group Imazon, said that while the ministry’s budget did increase from 2020 to 2021, the government only spent a portion of it. “The amount actually used is the lowest in 20 years,” she said. “If you have funds but are not using them, it is another demonstration of lack of capacity or political will to combat environmental crimes.” International funds to address deforestation were also frozen in 2019 due to rampant forest loss under Bolsonaro’s watch, she added. Bolsonaro’s office forwarded Vox’s request for comment to the Ministry of Justice and Public Security. The ministry pointed Vox to a government task force, launched last summer, called Guardians of the Biome. It was set up to address illegal deforestation, forest fires, and criminal activity in the Amazon, an agency representative said. The spokesperson also said that deforestation declined between August 2021 and July 2022, compared to the previous 12 months. (INPE has yet to release official deforestation data for that period.) Arterra/Universal Images Group via Getty Images A South American tapir, one of the Brazilian Amazon’s many mammal species. Regardless of these recent actions, the destruction has been immense and the consequences severe: About 17 percent of the Amazon rainforest is now gone, according to a report from 2021. Scientists estimate that if that number reaches 20 to 25 percent, parts of the tropical ecosystem could dry out, threatening the millions of people and animals that depend on it. The largest rainforest on Earth, the Amazon is home to a truly remarkable assemblage of species, including 14 percent of the world’s birds and 18 percent of its vascular plants. Many of them are found nowhere else. Losing organisms to deforestation erodes essential functions including the production of oxygen and storage of carbon, on which we all depend, and undermines scientific discovery. Many medicines are derived from Amazon plants, yet just a fraction of the forest’s species have been studied. What Lula would mean for the Amazon if he wins An icon of the left, Lula, who recently served time in jail on controversial corruption charges, has pledged to protect the Amazon. Critically, Marina Silva, a prominent environmental advocate and Lula’s former environmental minister, has endorsed him. That makes Lula the “greenest” candidate in the field, according to Observatório do Clima, an environmental coalition in Brazil. “It is a pity that the [current] government has neglected the preservation of the Amazon,” Lula said in a June radio interview. “We have to take care of the forest and the Amazonian people.” To show that he can succeed, Lula often points to his track record. When he came into power in 2003, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon was at an eight-year high, at more than 25,000 square km (6.3 million acres). 2004 was even worse. “He inherited an environmental catastrophe,” Poirier said. Michael Dantas/AFP via Getty Images Fires burn in the state of Amazonas on September 21, 2022. Michael Dantas/AFP via Getty Images A pile of illegally cut logs in the forest in southern Amazonas, Brazil, on September 17, 2022. Then his administration — largely, at the direction of minister Silva — began implementing existing laws to safeguard the Amazon, including enforcing a law called the Forest Code, and getting various government agencies to work collaboratively to curb forest loss, Brito said. As the chart above shows, deforestation fell dramatically between 2004 and 2012, and Lula was in power for most of that time. “Let’s go back to doing what we’ve been doing,” Lula said in the radio interview. “We had reduced deforestation in the Amazon by 80 percent.” Based largely on Lula’s past performance, Brito and other environmental advocates say this election could mark a turning point for the Amazon. However, it’s worth noting that, even under Lula, some amount of deforestation will continue, partly because it will take a while to ramp back up enforcement. The reality is that the bar is incredibly low — anyone is likely to be better for the environment than President Bolsonaro, according to environmental advocates. While Bolsonaro has pledged to end illegal deforestation within the decade, he can’t be trusted and is likely to continue opening up the forest to agribusiness if he’s reelected, they say. “What happened in the last few years was really a tragedy,” Brito said. “We need a change. Lula understands the importance of preserving the Amazon — because he did that when he was president.”

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Brazil Records Worst October in Deforestation Since 2015

Nearly 1,000 square kilometers of the Brazilian Amazon were lost in October, the worst figure for that month since records began in 2015, according to official data released Friday, less than two months before the end of President Jair Bolsonaro’s term in office. The 904 km2 of area logged last month represents 3% more than […] The post Brazil Records Worst October in Deforestation Since 2015 appeared first on The Tico Times | Costa Rica News | Travel | Real Estate.

Nearly 1,000 square kilometers of the Brazilian Amazon were lost in October, the worst figure for that month since records began in 2015, according to official data released Friday, less than two months before the end of President Jair Bolsonaro’s term in office. The 904 km2 of area logged last month represents 3% more than that of October 2021, a former record for the month, according to data from the DETER satellite monitoring system, from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE). The NGO WWF-Brazil alerted that along with the increase in deforestation, the number of fires “skyrocketed” after the presidential elections. “The increase in deforestation and fire alerts was expected, but even so the numbers of the first days of November are frightening, showing a rampant race for devastation,” the NGO said in a statement.  During the mandate of Bolsonaro, a climate change denier, the average annual deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon – mainly caused by logging for the expansion of cattle pastures and the agricultural frontier, according to experts – increased 75% compared to the previous decade.  The Brazilian Amazon corresponds to 59% of the Brazilian territory, distributed among nine states. More than half of the area destroyed was concentrated in the state of Pará (north), with 435 km2 cut down.  The deforestation accumulated between January 1 and October 31 of this year represents the highest value in the historical series of the DETER system, WWF-Brazil pointed out, with the destruction of 9,494 km2.  The leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who defeated Bolsonaro on October 2 in the presidential runoff, has promised “a living Amazon”, reactivating policies to protect the rainforest and combat deforestation, differentiating himself from the far-right leader.  “The new government will have a lot of work to do to repair the situation, to put an end to the perception that the Amazon is a lawless land,” said Raul do Valle, a public policy specialist with the NGO WWF-Brazil, in a statement.  Lula will travel next Monday to Egypt, invited by the president of that country, Abdel Fatah al Sisi, to participate in the COP27 climate conference, his international preview before taking office on January 1, 2023.  The leftist administration aims to regain international prestige with an agenda focused on environmental protection.  The post Brazil Records Worst October in Deforestation Since 2015 appeared first on The Tico Times | Costa Rica News | Travel | Real Estate.

B.C. hasn’t taken $50 million federal offer for old-growth forest protections

By Sarah Cox In August, as Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault prepared to visit an old-growth forest park in West Vancouver, his office drafted a news release for the occasion. It was never sent out.  The federal government had committed up to $50 million to permanently protect B.C.’s old-growth forests and was “awaiting the matching...

By Sarah Cox In August, as Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault prepared to visit an old-growth forest park in West Vancouver, his office drafted a news release for the occasion. It was never sent out.  The federal government had committed up to $50 million to permanently protect B.C.’s old-growth forests and was “awaiting the matching commitment from the province,” said the draft release, a copy of which was obtained by The Narwhal.  In the lead up to the United Nations biodiversity conference Canada will host in December, the federal government is eager to see permanent protections announced for B.C.’s old-growth forests as part of Ottawa’s commitment to protect 30 per cent of the country’s land and waters by 2030.  But with less than a month before the COP15 conference gets underway in Montreal, the B.C. government has yet to accept Ottawa’s offer of funding to protect old-growth forests that store carbon and provide habitat for many species at risk of extinction, including spotted owls, marbled murrelets and woodland caribou. Get The Narwhal in your inbox! People always tell us they love our newsletter. Find out yourself with a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism. Get The Narwhal in your inbox! People always tell us they love our newsletter. Find out yourself with a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism. That leaves environmental groups and the B.C. Green Party questioning the sincerity of the B.C. government’s promise to protect old-growth forests and embark on a forestry transition many believe is long overdue.  “It’s really critical that there’s money on the table,” Stand.earth forest campaigner Tegan Hansen said. “And B.C. hasn’t seized on that to actually support communities in transitioning away from old-growth logging and protecting forests.”  The draft release noted Guilbeault’s visit intended to show “solidarity and support for the protection of old-growth forest in British Columbia, and highlight ongoing discussions with the province to establish an Old Growth Nature Fund in B.C.”    “Old-growth forests in British Columbia are some of the most biologically diverse and productive ecosystems in Canada,” Guilbeault stated in the draft release. “They are also some of the most important and largest natural carbon sinks in the world. With deep-rooted significance to Indigenous communities and of importance to all British Columbians, old-growth forests require greater protections.” The federal government has committed more than $50 million to protect B.C.’s rare old-growth forests — but only if the B.C. government matches its contribution. So far, the B.C. government hasn’t taken them up on their offer. Photo: Taylor Roades / The Narwhal Guilbeault’s office declined to comment directly on the draft release, which offered the province $50 million. In an emailed response to questions, Guilbeault’s press secretary, Kaitlyn Power, said the 2022 federal budget allows for $55.1 million over three years to protect old-growth forests in B.C. The budget said the funding was conditional on a matching investment from the provincial government. “Our government will continue collaborating with the province to get a good deal to protect B.C.’s beloved nature,” Power wrote. Asked if the provincial government will accept and match the federal old-growth funding, the B.C. Ministry of Forests referred the Narwhal to the B.C. Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship. In an emailed response to questions, the land ministry said the province is working with the federal government to develop a Nature Agreement that will, among other aims, “advance reconciliation by supporting Indigenous leadership on conservation efforts.”“The proposed agreement presents an opportunity both for a more collaborative, long-term relationship between the federal and provincial governments and to build an integrated, landscape-based approach to nature conservation and stewardship,” the land ministry wrote.  Old-growth funding a chance to end the ‘war in the woods’  B.C. is known throughout the world for the giant, old-growth trees that grow in moss-carpeted rainforests in coastal regions and in the rare inland temperate rainforest in the province’s interior. Following decades of industrial logging, most of the province’s unprotected old-growth forests have been logged. Low-elevation old-growth valley bottoms — home to the biggest trees and the greatest biodiversity — are the most at risk of being clear-cut. They have been identified as priorities for protection to avoid irreversible biodiversity loss.  During the 2020 provincial election campaign, the B.C. NDP promised to fully implement the recommendations of an old-growth review panel that called for a paradigm shift in the way B.C.’s forests are managed.  The panel, led by two foresters, said the province’s forests should be managed for ecosystem values, not for timber. Among other recommendations, the foresters said the government should support forest sector workers and communities as they adapt to changes resulting from a new forest management system.  Ken Wu, executive director of the Endangered Ecosystems Alliance, said the federal money, matched by B.C., would be a “game-changer” for old-growth protections.  Ken Wu, pictured here on a cedar stump in the Walbran Valley on Vancouver Island, says the federal government’s multi-million dollar offer could be a “game-changer” for B.C. forests. Photo: TJ Watt / Ancient Forest Alliance Old-growth logging has long been an issue of contention in B.C. More than 800 people were arrested in 1993 during months of logging protests, which became known as the “war in the woods,” in Clayoquot Sound on Vancouver Island. Since 2021, more than 1,000 people have been arrested trying to stop old-growth logging in and around Fairy Creek on Pacheedaht territory on southwest Vancouver Island.  “The B.C. government has a chance to finally put an end to the war in the woods by embracing the federal money, kicking in their own funding and directing it to the right places — the grandest, most at-risk old-growth forests — and to the right parties,” Wu said in an interview. The right parties are First Nations, who require funding for sustainable economic development initiatives linked to protected areas, he said, and not corporations. “If they do that on a big enough scale, then they will have solved the war in the woods on the conservation side. And on the labor side, simultaneously they can be building a value-added, second-growth, smart forest economy with the right incentives and regulations.” Yet even $100 million – $50 million from each of the federal and provincial governments – is not nearly enough to permanently protect B.C.’s old-growth forests, Wu said. Adding considerably to the pot would be B.C.’s share of $2.3 billion in federal funding to support nature conservation measures across the country, including Indigenous-led conservation. Wu estimated B.C. could receive between $200 million and $400 million from that fund.  “If B.C. were to match that, and then direct it in the right places, to the right parties, it could actually end old-growth logging in British Columbia and protect most endangered ecosystems.” Wu also cautioned the use of federal money could still “go sideways” if the end result is to protect alpine and subalpine areas, “leaving out the valley bottoms and the big trees.”  The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs has also called on the federal and provincial governments to finance old-growth forest protection, Indigenous protected areas and land use plans.  Protests over old-growth logging at Fairy Creek in Pacheedaht First Nation territory became the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history. Photo: Taylor Roades / The Narwhal Conservation financing needed for First Nations B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau said it’s ironic the B.C. government keeps asking Ottawa for money for health care, yet it hasn’t accepted federal funding to protect old-growth forests. “It’s really disappointing that the B.C. NDP are not taking the federal government up on this offer, as it is the necessary condition for getting different outcomes when it comes to protecting all growth in this province,” Furstenau said in an interview. Furstenau also underscored that conservation financing for First Nations is essential to creating sustainable economic solutions. “Right now, what the province is doing is offering one avenue — which is log the old-growth — for economic activities for First Nations.” The B.C. government needs to explain to British Columbians why it hasn’t accepted the federal money to permanently protect old-growth forests, Furstenau said. “A government tells you its priorities by how it spends money. And what this government is showing right now is that spending money to protect old-growth is not a priority.” The B.C. NDP has long been divided on conservation issues, with an environmental wing of the party facing off against an historically more powerful labour wing.  During the recent NDP leadership race, United Steelworkers local 1-1937, representing about 6,000 forestry workers on Vancouver Island and B.C.’s mainland coast, urged members to join the NDP to vote for leadership candidate David Eby to defeat the “green” candidate, Anjali Appadurai.  “We believe by electing Eby and reducing the percentage of the vote for the anti-logging candidate, we can push back on the green agenda,” the Steelworkers local said in a letter to members. Supporting Eby “gives us leverage with him after he’s elected,” the local added.  Appadurai, the only other person running for party leader, was eliminated from the race after the NDP concluded she had improperly coordinated with third-party environmental groups.  Wu speculated that the province’s reluctance to accept the federal money is related to internal B.C. NDP divisions.  “The B.C. government knows that a flood of federal money targeting the productive old  growth and going to First Nations would destabilize the status quo of old-growth liquidation,” he said.  “All this federal money to expand protected areas, including the subset that’s targeting the best old-growth, they know would be the game changer.” David Eby will be sworn in as premier on Nov. 18. “More details on steps to be taken in the first 100 days will be coming soon,” the statement from the Ministry of Forests said.

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