Clearing a path
Can international pressure stop Bolsonaro’s trampling of the Amazon?
Arms outstretched, thumbs pointed skyward, far-right populist Jair Bolsonaro was the vision of optimism in October 2018. During a divided time for Brazil’s young democracy, his victory appeased those tired of socialist policies and the deprivations of Brazil’s longest recession. But Bolsonaro’s victory would also leave the Amazon open to four years of industrial pressure. In 2020, Amazonian deforestation hit the worst level in a decade.
In 2009, Brazil signed its National Policy on Climate Change, committing to reducing deforestation rates in Amazonia by 80 per cent by the end of 2020. To succeed, forest losses would have to stay below 3,925 square kilometres. However, PRODES, a programme that continually monitors the Amazon with satellites, estimates that 2020 saw 11,088 square kilometres of deforestation – 182 per cent higher than the target established in law. The failure is the inevitable result of Bolsonaro’s axing of environmental regulations. On gaining power, his first target was the land ownership laws of the Forest Code. The president added a loophole in December 2019 that allowed land speculators to use past deforestation, much of which was illegal, to register their occupation of public lands. The administration said the bill would make it easier for small rural families to register land occupation. However, conservation publication Mongabay estimates that the policy led to the secession of 40–60 million hectares of public land to private landowners in 2019, a fifth of which can now be legally deforested.
Next, Bolsonaro revoked a decree that halted the expansion of sugarcane into sensitive areas such as the Pantanal wetlands and Amazonia. He also announced in mid-2019 that the agriculture ministry database would no longer be publicly available, hampering independent investigations.
Meanwhile, IBAMA – the administrative arm of Brazil’s Ministry of the Environment – has been systematically neutered. Between August 2019 and July 2020, the number of fines imposed by IBAMA dropped by 42 per
6 . Geographical