New threats to the Amazon

By Steven Allain

Photo Credit: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/Agência Brasil - Wikimedia Commons

Brazil has recently celebrated the election of its new President Jair Bolsonaro, but with the far-right President-elect comes potential new threats to the Amazon.

Bolsonaro plans to merge the current ministries of agriculture and the environment, which to us may not seem like a bad idea, after all DEFRA has a very similar role here in the UK. It is the radical ideas about how Bolsonaro wishes to change Brazil, which threaten both the Amazon and most importantly—the world. Just like Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro had committed to quitting the Paris Climate Agreement. One of the main aims of this agreement is to ensure that the increase in global average temperature is kept below a 2°C rise above pre-industrial levels. This may not sound like much, but it requires the cooperation of all world governments in order to substantially reduce the risks and effects of climate change. Thankfully, this is one idea that was quickly over-turned by national pressure.

Bolsonaro’s plans for Brazil include stripping back the amount of environmental protections for the Amazon rainforest. The loss of environmental protection of the Amazon opens up existing land to mining, agriculture, and logging which will create irreversible damage and push species to the brink of extinction. The Amazon region is mostly contained within Brazil and holds the largest remaining tropical rainforest in the world. It is home to thousands of plant and animal species, some of which are still being discovered by scientists. For example, Brazil has over 1,000 species of amphibians which is 1 in 8 of all amphibian species known to science.

Photo credit: Golden Saint International - Flickr

A more selfish way to look at things would be to look at the benefits the Amazon may provide, an example being the medicines that are derived from plant species. A cure to certain types of cancer or debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer’s could be lost due to the destruction of plants before we get the opportunity to study them. The Amazon is also a huge carbon sink that helps to lock away some of the carbon dioxide that we produce, turning it into oxygen for us to breathe which has earned the rainforest the nickname of ‘lungs of the planet’.

Deforestation rates hit an all-time low in 2011, but trends seen only a few decades ago may return. With them will be the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, along with the indigenous peoples that still thrive in the region. Unfortunately for environmental activists, the new government plans to persecute anyone that aides them. Brazil already has a notoriety for its high murder rate of environmental activists – with 57 murders/assassinations in 2017 alone.

Despite the pessimistic outlook for Brazil in the coming years, there is still hope. Bolsonaro has already changed his mind in terms of the Paris Climate Agreement, with growing pressure from inside Brazil and the rest of the world perhaps there is still a chance that the future of the Amazon can be safeguarded.