Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has been a longstanding concern, but recent figures indicating a notable 22.3% reduction from August 2022 to July 2023 present a glimmer of hope. This decline marks a positive shift from previous records, yet environmentalists caution against downplaying the persistent threats lurking in the Amazon rainforest, covering a vast 59% of Brazil’s terrain.
President Lula da Silva’s ambitious target to achieve zero deforestation by 2030 “marks a considerable political shift,” commented the fundraising director at a multinational environmentalist NGO. While this reduction is encouraging, it’s vital to contextualise this progress against the backdrop of previously heightened deforestation rates during the prior administration.
“Brazil’s international efforts to curb deforestation in the Amazon has become dangerously politicised, particularly after [former President Jair] Bolsonaro accused Western countries of trying to interfere in Brazil’s domestic affairs.” The environmental and sustainability services senior analyst continued, “President Lula has embraced the cause as part of its political strategy to win the [2023 general election], but he is an ‘extractivist’ at heart.”
The government’s claim that diminished deforestation averted the emission of 133 million tonnes of CO2, constituting 7.5% of the country’s total emissions, is commendable. However, environmental groups stress concerns about a surge in fires linked to severe drought conditions in the Amazon. “What is uncommon is the repetition of these extreme events and the impact on local population,” explained the senior analyst. “Fires in the Amazon increased by almost 60% last year .”
Also in 2023, October witnessed the worst month for Amazon fires in 15 years, experiencing a 59% spike in outbreaks compared to the previous year. “Marina Silva [minister of environment] already warned about a potential extreme drought in the country in 2024 due to El Niño which will add fuel to the often intentional fires started by cattle ranchers, illegal miners and logging,” expanded the fundraising director. “The federal government bans have not been enough to prevent these illegal fires and 2022 saw the largest increase in fires hotspots for the last decade with more than 33,000,” cited the environmental and sustainability analyst.
“potential extreme drought in the country in 2024 due to El Niño will add fuel to the often intentional fires started by cattle ranchers, illegal miners and logging.”
Fundraising director at a multinational environmentalist NGO, São Paulo
Scientists warn of the Amazon’s tipping point, where continued deforestation may cause irreversible drying out of the rainforest. The drought has affected over 600,000 people, disrupting food supplies and electricity production at hydroelectric dams. The Brazilian government has declared a state of emergency, committing significant funds to aid affected regions. Non-governmental organisations are providing relief packages via air, water and land transport to sustain communities impacted by the crisis. Small change for big money problems?
To counter deforestation, President Lula has proposed a reforestation scheme granting concessions on federal land for native tree planting. This initiative aims to balance conservation efforts with controlled commercial activities, fostering profitability through sustainable practices like oilseed, fiber and resin production.
Environmental experts and fundraising directors from environmental NGOs stress the importance of comprehensive measures to combat deforestation. “We need heterogeneous ideas and policies to combat them all and these require government action, education, technology and a deep understanding of the local culture,” exclaimed the environmental analyst, all essential to curtail illegal activities like wildfires and logging.
“We need heterogeneous ideas and policies to combat them all and these require government action, education, technology, and a deep understanding of the local culture.”
Environmental and sustainability services senior analyst, São Paulo.
Regional cooperation remains insufficient, urging the need for joint efforts among neighbouring countries to combat deforestation. “The most recent Amazonia Summit [Belém, Pará; 4-9 August 2023] was a first step for regional neighbours to up their currently insufficient common efforts to fight deforestation,” remarked the fundraising director. There needs to be “common deforestation goals, a specific set of measures and restrictions in oil and gas exploration.” Unfortunately, Brazil’s international initiatives to protect the Amazon, though encouraging, have been overshadowed by political rhetoric, hampering effective global collaboration.
Essentially, as the fundraising director highlighted, “if we want to prevent deforestation through international efforts we need local accountability, private sector compliance, fiscal incentives and economic development in the region” to safeguard this critical ecological asset. But when “most of the economies which form the Amazon remain underdeveloped, it is very difficult to ask families to refuse easy money when the disasters of deforestation become only obvious after years.” Money might not grow on trees, but our future certainly does.