Why we need to save the Amazon

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Birmingham

“The Brazilian government has been acting to destroy the Amazon forest and its Peoples.”

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We must protect the Amazon forest to have a chance against climate change. But how can this be done when the majority of Amazonian territory is controlled by a government that encourages its destruction? 

The Amazon is the centre of the climate emergency – it is home to 10% of the worlds known biodiversity and it stores 150-200 Pg of carbon, equivalent to between two and three times all the CO2 emitted by UK since 1750. This region is also culturally multi diverse - over 300 languages are spoken across the basin. 

The largest and most diverse tropical forest of the planet is under threat. After a decade of reduction in deforestation, numbers jumped from 2019, when the world was stricken by the large Amazonian fires which followed a period of high deforestation rates. These large fires and deforestation rates were a direct consequence of the rhetoric and actions from the then newly elected Brazilian president. Jair Bolsonaro was elected threatening to abolish the Environment Ministry and to facilitate mining and the expansion of agriculture. Bolsonaro’s government continuously attacked and drastically cut the funds of environmental agencies, research bodies and conservation programs, leaving those responsible for monitoring and protecting the forest completely unassisted.  

The Brazilian government has been acting to diminish the power of indigenous peoples over their land, and has particularly stimulated invasions of these territories for mining and illegal logging. A large portion of the Amazon forest are within indigenous territory and the tribes have autonomy over them. 

The Brazilian government has been acting to destroy the Amazon forest and its Peoples. A sanitary crisis that took place in the Amazon region was the epicentre of the Brazilian Covid health crisis with ca. 4,500 deaths per million – over twice the death toll of the UK. During the pandemic the Brazilian government has allowed evangelic missionaries to make contact with isolated indigenous tribes, helping to spread the virus to remote regions that lack basic medical infrastructure. Behind the scenes, whilst the pandemic hit the Brazilian Amazon extremely hard, the government acted to weaken environmental protections and relax the enforcement of environmental law.

Earlier this year, in the 2021 Leader’s climate summit Bolsonaro presented a speech completely different from all his government’s actions, in which he alleged to be concerned about the Amazon and its Peoples and requested international funds to preserve the Amazon. However, whilst claiming to protect the region, on the day following the climate summit Bolsonaro cut funds from the Ministry of Environment.

The humanitarian losses, threat to biodiversity and to the capacity to regulate climate are irreversible and too large for the rest of the world to sit back and wait for the next Brazilian elections. The solution to this imminent crisis lies with nations and companies that import products linked to deforestation, such as soy, meat and minerals to reconsider their agreements and impose sanctions to avoid the destruction of the Amazon. Individuals contribute by pressuring these organizations to act responsibly and work against the destruction of Amazonian forests. 

Whilst sanctions are the way to force the government to change its actions those fighting the crisis on the ground and being attacked by the government need support. Sanctions on those destroying the forest must come with funds to Amazonian communities and initiatives that protect the forest independently of the Brazilian government, such as tem gente com fome, apib and ISA. There is not time to waste - human lives and forests are being destroyed every minute and with them we lose our one chance to fight the current climate emergency – the World must act now.

Homepage image credit: Agência Amazônia Real, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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