20 October 2022

Brazilians choose their president and the fate of the Amazon forest as well


In Brazil the future of nearly 76 thousand sq. km of the Amazon depends on the October 30 ballot, a study released by Carbon Brief states. That is the amount to the expected deforestation decline if former President Lula succeeds

by Matteo Cavallito


A defeat of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil’s presidential election could save nearly 76 thousand square kilometers of the Amazon forest from destruction by the end of the decade, says a research released by Carbon Brief. The calculation, the environmental network claims, is based on the assumption that his challenger, former President Lula da Silva, “would follow through on a pledge to address illegal deforestation in the Amazon, in line with his previous presidency, while Bolsonaro would continue to oversee weak environmental governance that allows such activities to continue. It also assumes these conditions would remain the same out to 2030.”

The study, conducted by a team of researchers from the University of Oxford, the International Institute for Applied System Analysis (IIASA) and the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), looked at different models for implementing the Forest Protection Code already approved by Brazil but never fully implemented. The ballot between the two candidates is scheduled for Oct. 30.

The pace of deforestation has increased under Bolsonaro

According to a survey by the Brazilian NGO Instituto Centro de Vida, Greenpeace’s Unearthed and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, after experiencing widespread deforestation between 2000 and 2004 that led to the destruction of nearly 28,000 square kilometers of land, the Amazon has since experienced years of relative calm. So much so that from 2004 to 2012 tree cutting decreased by 84 percent.

The trend was already reversed during Dilma Rousseff’s presidency. But it was with Bolsonaro‘s election at the end of 2018 that forest destruction accelerated dramatically.

“For the past four years since his election, right-wing president Bolsonaro has weakened existing environmental protections and legitimised illegal activity,” Carbon Brief writes. The result, the organization says, is that the first three years of ruling by Bolsonaro, the Amazon has lost 34,000 km2, a territory larger than Belgium.

Durante la presidenza Bolsonaro la deforestazione dell'Amazzonia è aumentata a ritmi crescenti. Immagine: Carbon Brief Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

During Bolsonaro’s presidency, deforestation of the Amazon has risen at an escalating rate. Source of image: Carbon Brief Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

Two scenarios for the Amazon

Brazil’s current Code obliges landowners to preserve a certain amount of forest on their property by restoring land that has been illegally stripped. In recent years, the organization argues, changes to the text and generally poor enforcement have been a part of Bolsonaro’s policies. According to Aline Soterroni, one of the researchers involved in the study, if the legislation persists in being ignored, deforestation would continue at an average annual rate of more than 10,000 km2 between now and 2030.

Experts, writes Carbon Brief, believe there is “little reason” to think that the Basic Law for the protection of the Amazon will be enforced should Bolsonaro be re-elected.

If the Code were to be enforced –  which is possibile only if Lula wins, researchers say – annual deforestation levels would be reduced by 89%. from 13,038 km2 today (2021 data) to 1,480 km2 at the end of the decade.

Saving the forest is far from impossible

Lula’s expected commitment to Amazon protection, argues Carlos Rittl, senior policy advisor to the Oslo-based organization Rainforest Foundation Norway, is allegedly linked to his political rapprochement with former Environment Minister Marina Silva, “who oversaw much of his administration’s successes in the Amazon,” Carbon Brief writes. After having been far in recent years, says Rittl, the two met to discuss “proposals for a more sustainable Brazil.” Operations to protect the Amazon, by the way, would not entail huge costs. Quite the contrary.

According to a recent study by the Universities of Miami, Belém and Rio de Janeiro, transforming more than 80 percent of the forest into a protected area (as opposed to the current 51 percent) would entail an initial expense of between $1 billion and $1.6 billion.

The intervention would involve the additional protection of 130 million hectares. And would result in maintenance costs expected to range between $1.7 and $2.8 billion per year. This would ultimately be equivalent to about half the amount spent by the European Union to protect its conservation areas. Which cover just one million hectares.