You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

The Climate Is Doomed Without Brazil

The country's new president wants to increase development in the Amazon rainforest, which absorbs a massive amount of carbon emissions.

Ricardo Moraes-Pool/Getty Images

Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right nationalist who on Sunday was elected Brazil’s new president, has been called the “Brazilian Trump.” But he’s more extreme than that. His rhetoric is more explicitly violent and bigoted, and his rule threatens more than just the fourth-largest democracy in the world. The livability of the entire planet is at stake.

The Amazon rainforest, more than half of which is within Brazil’s borders, covers 4 percent of the earth’s surface and is a major regulator of the world’s climate. Its trees act as a sponge for carbon dioxide, absorbing the planet-warming gas from the atmosphere and re-emitting it as oxygen.

But Bolsonaro, according to HuffPost, “has committed to stop demarcating indigenous lands in the Amazon and further open the forest to mining interests. And he has pledged to loosen regulatory regimes over land-use and deforestation in the world’s largest tropical rainforest.” He also has strong ties to Brazilian agribusiness leaders who push for deforestation to make room for farming. He has said he’ll keep Brazil in the Paris climate agreement, but only if he can maintain control of the Amazon.

Many are now worried that Bolsonaro’s presidency could result in an accelerated deforestation of the rainforest, which would mean huge increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide and an acceleration of climate change.

Scientists from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research wrote earlier this month that Bolsonaro could do “extreme” damage to the global climate. “Under Bolsonaro’s proposed policies, from 2021 to 2030, accumulated emissions from clear cutting Amazon forest would attain 13.12 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent,” they wrote. That number is staggering—equivalent to approximately 3 percent of global emissions, and approximately 20 percent of the remaining amount of carbon humans can release before catastrophic impacts begin.

Deforestation in Brazil has already played a huge role in the current climate crisis. In 2005, the country’s portion of the Amazon had the highest deforestation rate in the world. Because of that, Brazil is one of the largest contributors to global warming compared to other countries—either the fifth- or sixth-biggest historical emitter, depending on the estimate. Any successful effort to slow climate change thus must include the country, toward the goal of preserving its climate-regulating rainforest.

The country has proven itself capable of acting in the world’s best interest. In 2005, officials realized how crucial their rainforest was to preserving a livable climate, and decided to stop massive rates of deforestation. Less than a decade later, in 2014, scientists reported that the country had reduced its deforestation rate by 70 percent—all while increasing agricultural production of beef and soy, two of the region’s most lucrative biggest products.

Brazil’s deforestation reduction efforts likely bought the climate a little bit of time. According to National Geographic, the cuts had the effect of taking all the cars in the U.S. off the road for more than three years. And while the country’s progress eventually slowed—deforestation rates have been climbing since 2014—that time hasn’t run out yet. After all, around 80 percent of the Amazon has yet to be chopped down.