Bolsonaro’s defeat sparks renewed hope to quell Amazon deforestation
Brazil's new president could help restore the Amazon if he sticks to his pledge.
A deforested and burnt area is seen on a stretch of the BR-230 (Transamazonian highway) in Humaitá, Amazonas State, Brazil, on 16 September 2022. Photo: MICHAEL DANTAS / AFP
The fate of one of the world’s most important carbon sinks could depend on Brazil’s new president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Facing intense deforestation, coupled with runaway wildfires and climate change, deforestation in the Amazon rainforest could decline by 89% over the next 10 years, an analysis by Carbon Brief has revealed.
This translates to more than 75 000km², if Da Silva, known as Lula, sticks to his pledge of promoting zero deforestation, and restoring degraded areas.
Not up to code
Brazil has had a Forest Code since 1965, legislation meant to protect land while preserving nature and ecosystems. But the code has not always been adhered to or enforced.
The code is designed to preserve areas of vegetation earmarked as critical to the preservation of essential ecosystems. Rural landowners must designate and maintain varied portions of their land as Legal Forest Reserve, to conserve biodiversity, the code reads.
Vox reports Brazil lost more than 34 000km² of vegetation during Jair Bolsonaro’s four years as president.
This despite government having a significant budget to preserve Amazonia, of which very little was reportedly used.
Budgets benefitted land owners, at the expense of the rainforest.
Along with funding cuts in science and education, a toxic mix was created that further stripped the rainforest, to make space for beef and soy agriculture.
This has particularly affected eastern Amazonia, with its role as a carbon sink declining to the point where it is now emitting more carbon dioxide than it is able to absorb.
Carbon sink weakening
By 2019, 17% of the Amazon was deforested, 14% of which was used for agriculture, namely pastures and a few crops.
The ability of the mighty rainforest to retain carbon emissions has also weakened by roughly 60% over the last 30 years.
In the first six months of this year alone, satellite data showed an area five times the size of New York City was cleared in the Brazilian Amazon in the name of farming, Washington Post reported.
From 2001 to 2021, Brazil lost 28.2 megahectares of primary forest, representing a decrease of 8.1%, according to Global Forest Watch.
ALSO READ: 2020 another grim year for Brazilian Amazon
Lula to the rescue?
When Lula was in power, between 2003 and 2010, Carbon Brief reports deforestation decreased.
But he left office in 2010 after being imprisoned for 18 months on now defunct corruption charges.
His manifesto reads that between 2004 and 2012, deforestation was reduced “by almost 80%”.
“We are already committed to the future of the planet, without any legal obligation, and we will again.”
He has committed to combating environmental crime committed by land grabbers and loggers.
“Brazil has one of the greatest biodiversity on the planet. It is our duty to see the Amazon, the cerrado, the Atlantic forest, the caatinga, the pantanal, the pampas and other biomes and environments conserved.
“Equally essential is to know and conserve our exclusive economic zone, in the Atlantic Ocean, our Blue Amazon and coastal areas,” Lula said.
Research fellow for nature-based solutions initiative Oxford Net Zero, Dr Aline Soterroni, told Carbon Brief that should the Forest Code continue to be ignored, annual deforestation rates in the rainforest could “stay above 10 000km², on average, this decade.”
This would have been the likely scenario should Bolsonaro have clinged to power, but Lula’s return to presidency could see promising declines in deforestation.
A chart created by Carbon Brief’s analysis found deforestation levels could drop by 89%, from 13 038km² in 2021 to just over 1 400km² at the end of the decade.
Whether change will be implemented at a pace necessary for the Amazon to be given a chance to regenerate remains to be seen, but for an area ravaged by man, any glimmer of hope is welcomed.