The Amazon rainforest, home to over 30 percent of the world’s species, is often referred to as the “lungs of the planet.” Every year, the world emits approximately 40 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere. The Amazon rainforest absorbs 2 billion tons of carbon per year, making it a significant player in preventing climate change. Due to the vital nature of the Amazon, the forest fire that took place in August 2019 raised serious concerns around the world. Wildfires in the Amazon are not unusual, but their method of spreading was alarming. Throughout the Amazon’s history, the rainforest was comparatively fire-resistant due to its natural humidity and moisture. Wildfires in the Amazon today are the result of a combination of regional deforestation and anthropogenic climate change. That being said, Amazon countries should reembrace environmental diplomacy while applying a carrot-and-stick approach to deforestation. By imposing fines on illegal ranching, mining, and farming and offering economic incentives for companies embracing green supply chains, the effects of regional deforestation and anthropogenic climate change can be curbed.
Brazil has been a persistent leader in environmental diplomacy and effective climate policies. The international conventions on climate change and ecological diversity, for instance, originated during the historic 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. There, Brazil played a vital role in addressing disputed issues between environmental conservation and international trade. Brazil also emphasized the important role indigenous people play in conserving the environment through traditional practices. That legacy is now under threat. Since Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, took office in January, various government departments committed to climate change have been shut down. The former army captain and far-right leader prioritizes economic development over environmental security, with an emphasis on Brazil’s massive agricultural industry. During his presidential campaign, Bolsonaro received the backing of the agribusiness lobby, which is one of the country’s most dominant congressional associations. Concerns about the Amazon rainforest have remained consistent since Bolsonaro’s presidential victory in October 2018.
During his first 100 days, Bolsonaro replaced the staff of the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Natural Resources (IBAMA) with military officials. The IBAMA is responsible for monitoring deforestation of the Amazon by ranchers, loggers, and illegal miners. On April 11, 2019, Bolsonaro issued Presidential Decree No. 9760 to investigate environmental fines imposed by IBAMA for environmental damage, an effective measure to deter illicit deforestation of the Amazon and other fragile biomes. The removal of the Amazon’s few protections, including the suspension of indigenous reservations such as Raposa Serra do Sol, has also been recommended based on the justification that the area is too big for its natives. Brazil’s indigenous people occupy 13 percent of land area, which is under high risk of multinational companies that export beef to places including Hong Kong, China, and the European Union. Brazil is the largest exporter of beef globally, supplying 20 percent of the world’s total exports. Last year, the country transported 1.64 million tons of meat – the highest amount in history – producing $6.57 billion in revenue according to the Brazilian Beef Exporters Association.
Deforestation in the Amazon is pushing the forest into a drier, savanna-like ecosystem with weak biodiversity. In the states of Pará and Mato Grosso, where Brazil’s agricultural development has spread into the forest basin, wildfires and deforestation have increased. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that 27 percent of the Amazon will be without trees by 2030 if the current rate of deforestation persists. Additional factors escalating deforestation include the increase of soy plantations and cattle ranching in the Andean Amazon nations, including Peru and Bolivia.
The Amazon’s deforestation problem is not the responsibility of a single country; it is crucial to have combined policies and actions across and beyond the borders of Brazil. By placing restrictions on Bolosonaro’s harsh climate policies, the international community can enforce sanctions on companies with corrupt supply chains, target leading lawbreakers, boycott products, and support public protests. Simultaneously, one of the most effective ways to preserve the Amazon is by working with beef and cattle industries. Many international importers and exporters are raising concern over greening their supply chains, by abiding to zero-carbon standards as the backlash over the Amazon continues. The Responsible Commodities Facility, the world’s first green chain promoting sustainable trading and production, disclosed its intent to issue low-interest credit channels to Brazilian corn and soy producers. Farmers who abstain from clearing forests for food production are eligible to gain up to $1 billion over the next four years.
There is no doubt that a combination of incentives and fines is necessary to promote better governance of the Amazon basin. A healthy Amazon is not only a priority for the international community, but also for Brazilians at a local level, who risk experiencing disrupted water supplies and severe droughts due to the effects of rising deforestation. If the Amazon is destroyed, the increasing emissions will accelerate global warming. The outcome of a one-degree increase in temperature is already being felt through heatwaves across Europe, floods in India, and melting ice sheets in Greenland. Deforestation does not end at mutilated trees and razed forests; it very much affects our daily lives. It may seem that deforestation in the Amazon is only impacting the region or neighboring locations but, if the rate of exploitation continues, it will profoundly impact lands that extend far beyond South America.