At home and abroad, the environmental policies being adopted in President Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil are leaving the country increasingly isolated, especially now his climate-denying idol Donald Trump has been replaced by the climate-friendly U.S. President Joe Biden.
After two years of record deforestation and forest fires, the government’s proposed budget for environment agencies in 2021 is the smallest for 21 years, according to a report by the Climate Observatory, a network of 56 non-government organizations (NGOs) and other groups.
The Observatory’s executive secretary, Marcio Astrini, believes this is deliberate: “Bolsonaro has adopted the destruction of the environment as a policy and sabotaged the instruments for protecting our biomass, being directly responsible for the increase in fires, deforestation, and national emissions.
“The situation is dramatic, because the federal government, which should be providing solutions to the problem, is today the centre of the problem.”
Greenpeace spokesperson Luiza Lima says the problem is not, as the government claims, a lack of funds: “Just a small fraction of the amount which has gone to the army to defend the Amazon would provide the minimum needed by environment agencies to fulfil their functions.”
And she recalls the existence of two funds, the Climate Fund and the Amazon Fund, which have been paralyzed by the government because of its anti-NGO stance, expressed in Bolsonaro’s phrase: “NGOs are cancers”.
Not only has Bolsonaro attacked NGOs, but he is also accused of deliberately neglecting Brazil’s Indigenous peoples, who number almost a million. He has refused to demarcate Indigenous areas, even when the lengthy and meticulous process to identify them, involving anthropologists and archeologists, has been concluded.
Invasions of Indigenous areas in Bolsonaro’s Brazil increased by 135% in 2019, with 236 known incidents, and it is these invaders, usually wildcat miners, illegal loggers, or land grabbers, who have helped to spread the coronavirus. Rates of COVID-19 among Indigenous peoples are double those of the population in general, and 48% of those hospitalized for COVID-19 die, reports one of Brazil’s top medical research centres, Fiocruz.
The green light given by the government, aided by the prospect of impunity thanks to a drastic reduction in enforcement, which will be made worse by the budget cuts, caused massive deforestation in some Indigenous areas—exactly when the virus was spreading. Indigenous areas are often islands of preservation, surrounded by soy farms and cattle ranches.
This situation led Indigenous leaders Raoni Metuktire and Almir Suruí to file a complaint at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, calling for an investigation of Bolsonaro and members of his government for crimes against humanity, because of the persecution of Indigenous peoples.
They also denounced his environmental policies and asked the court to recognize ecocide—the destruction of the environment causing danger to human life—as a crime against humanity.
William Bourdon, a French lawyer who presented the accusation, said: “We have exhaustive documentation to prove that Bolsonaro announced and premeditated this policy of the total destruction of the Amazon, and of the community protected by the Amazon.”
At the same time, nine former environment ministers sent a letter to the heads of state of France, Germany, and Norway with an “urgent cry for help”, saying the Brazilian Amazon is being devastated by a double public calamity, environmental and health.
They wrote: “In 2020, the region suffered an unprecedented increase in deforestation and fires, the worst in a decade. Large-scale criminal fires during the dry periods enormously worsened the respiratory problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, contributing to the high death rate in the Amazon.”
Many of those who died were holders of traditional knowledge about its natural resources, they said. The ex-ministers asked for donations of hospital equipment and oxygen cylinders for Amazon hospitals.
On another front, the Climate Action Network (CAN), representing more than 1,300 organizations, has sent a letter to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), expressing its “deepest concerns” about the updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) submitted by Brazil December 9.
Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, NDCs are intended to show how individual governments will cut their greenhouse gas emissions to help to achieve the internationally agreed target of preventing climate heating from exceeding 1.5°C above its historic level. Brazil’s NDC clearly falls short of that target.
Biden’s New Direction
“As the sixth-largest global greenhouse gas emitter, Brazil has an important role to play in tackling climate change,” CAN says. “Being a regional leader and an important economy in Latin America, it has the necessary resources to step up climate action”.
But instead, CAN says, Brazil’s NDC is a regression from the previous one and was decided without consultation, transparency, or the participation of civil society, scientists, and other stakeholders.
CAN asks the UN body not to accept Brazil’s NDC, which would send the wrong signal to other countries, but to ask Brazil to improve its targets.
Finally, and probably the most important contribution to the isolation of Bolsonaro’s Brazil as a climate pariah, is the change in direction of the U.S. government.
During the election campaign, then-candidate Biden said there would be economic consequences for Brazil if it did not protect the Amazon rainforest. At the summit of climate leaders Biden is planning to host on Earth Day, April 22, Bolsonaro could find himself in the dock, at least figuratively, for his policies.—Climate News Network