On Sunday, October 28th 2018, Jair Bolsonaro, of the PSL (Social Liberal Party), won Brazil’s general election in the second round with approximately 55 percent of the popular vote, defeating Fernando Haddad of the PT (Worker’s Party). Immediately, concerns have been raised regarding the impact that Brazil’s new president-elect will have on the future of the Amazon rainforest. Bolsonaro has already threatened to close down FUNAI (National Indian Foundation), the government agency responsible for indigenous affairs, and the protection of indigenous lands. Brazil’s newly elected president has also previously suggested that he would pull out of the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement, on the basis that the agreement compromised Brazil’s sovereignty over the Amazon region. He has backed away from these claims, but remains open to withdrawing. Paulo Guedes, his top economic advisor, confirmed that finance, planning, industry, and trade would be combined into a super ministry headed by Guedes. Bolsonaro has also proposed a 870 kilometer paved highway through protected forests, as part of his emphasis on development and economic activity.
Christian Poirier, program director for Amazon Watch, said, “The Bolsonaro victory is an utter catastrophe for the Brazilian Amazon rainforests and its indigenous and traditional peoples.” He added that “This has drastic implications for the rights of indigenous and traditional peoples in the Amazon, for their ability to continue living their way of life and continuing to steward these forests for our collective benefit.” Steve Schwartzman, leader of the Environmental Defense Fund’s tropical forests and economic incentives work, predicted that “The land-grabbers and illegal loggers and criminal gangs that are operating in the Amazon are going to be even more of a threat to the indigenous communities.”
The Amazon region has the world’s largest tropical rainforest, which is inhabited by diverse plant and animal species which are still being discovered. In Brazil, laws from 1965 declare that landowners must keep a percentage of terrain forested. Brazil, where 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest is found, has approximately 100 uncontacted tribes, which is a number greater than anywhere else in the world. The Amazon rainforest produces approximately 20 percent of the world’s oxygen, and its trees take in about a quarter of all the carbon absorbed by Earth’s land, which makes it a carbon sink. A 2015 study stated that the rainforest was absorbing a third less carbon than three decades ago, indicative of the issues that deforestation poses. Deforestation along with droughts could lead to the Amazon rainforest transforming from a carbon sink to a carbon source, which has been the overall pattern of global tropical rainforests. Brazil’s government estimated that 27,772 square kilometers of the rainforest were cleared in 2004 by illegal logging. Even though certain environmental policies helped drive these numbers down to 4,571 square kilometers in 2012, in 2017, that number rose to 7,000 square kilometers.
Ultimately, the election of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil poses a significant, and urgent threat to the Amazon rainforest, its ecosystem, and its indigenous populations. The official policies which will be adopted remain to be discovered. However, the objectives, statements, and attitudes of the upcoming Brazilian government are indicative of the urgency of action required from different stakeholders to pressure the new establishment to better protect this vitally important and vulnerable region. Looking beyond corporate profits, and short-sighted economic development, people must look to prioritize the health and well-being of the planet and its life forms.