Brazil’s Incumbent President Spells Disaster For Environmental Efforts


Under the direction of far-right president-elect Jair Bolsonaro Brazil has declined to host the 2019 United Nations global summit meeting on climate change, COP 25. This comes just 2 months after winning the bid to do so. The move marks a distinct change in policy direction for Brazil, which has previously positioned itself as both a world and regional leader in environmental action, setting ambitious greenhouse emission reduction goals in 2009, as well as taking decisive actions to quell both sanctioned and illegal deforestation of the Amazon.

Withdrawing its candidacy to host COP 25 Brazil’s Foreign Service Ministry sited budgetary constraints and difficulties with the “transition period” for the new government, which is expected to take office on the 1st of January 2019.

The executive secretary of the Brazilian Climate Observatory (BCO), an independent environmental group, has warned that the “climate and the environment are the only issues where Brazil is a leader in global terms” and that by vowing to support environmentally unsustainable Mr. Bolsonaro is jeopardizing Brazil’s global standing. The resulting impact on the Amazon, the world’s largest store of carbon, is that deforestation has increased 13.7% in 2018 compared to the previous year yet this still represents a 72% reduction in overall deforestation since the practices peak in 2004. Though many feel the dedication of the incumbent Bolsonaro government to dam building, mining, and farming ventures throughout the Amazon will lead to increased rates of deforestation, perhaps back to rates akin to 2004.

The reasons behind the decision is both economic and ideological in motivation and represents a significant change in policy direction. This signifies that the government will support environmentally destructive economic operations in the Amazon. Though many believe by committing to traditional forms of economic development Brazil “would forgo any investment, business deals and cooperation agreements to advance low carbon growth at the time when Brazil needs an economic boost” as analyzed by Latin American expert at the Climate and Development Lab at Brown University, Guy Edwards.

Ideological  it reflects a rise of far-right populist rhetoric. Less than a month ago, the Ministry of Environment confirmed that it’s candidacy to host COP 25 “reflected the consensus of Brazilian society on the importance and urgency of actions that contribute in combating climate change.” Yet, since then Mr. Bolsonaro’s incumbent foreign minister, Ernesto Araújo, has decried the climate movement’s “scientific dogma,” propagating a Marxist conspiracy to heighten the regulatory powers of government and augment China’s growth.

These comments mirror those of Donald Trump’s who has claimed that climate change is a “Chinese hoax” and has committed to withdrawing from the UN Paris Agreement on climate change. In contrast, China’s becoming a world leader in environmental development, commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 65% from 2005 till 2030. Jair Bolsonaro, a far right former army captain, has aligned himself closely to Trump with similar anti-globalist language. This may signal that with the rising power of populist movements globally, environmental accords and commitments may be discarded drastically setting back efforts to curb the effects of climate change, as well as constructing a global left-right political antagonism over environmental policy.

Callum Foote

Undergraduate studying a Bachelor of Arts with the University of Sydney, majoring in Philosophy, Government and International Relations.
Callum Foote

About Callum Foote

Undergraduate studying a Bachelor of Arts with the University of Sydney, majoring in Philosophy, Government and International Relations.