Brazil’s Pledge to End Deforestation is Already in Doubt

By Thalia Rivet, 2L

On November 12, 2021, following two weeks of intense negotiations, the 26th session of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) ended. The Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration of Forests and Land Use, initiated at COP26 and signed by over 141 countries, aims to conserve and restore forests over the next decade. Among the signatories is Brazil, which accounts for 12.2% of the world’s total land area covered by forest.

Brazil’s Environment Minister, Joaquim Leite, announced a target of zero illegal logging by 2028. This pledge expedited the 2030 target proposed by Brazil’s President, Jair Bolsonaro, at the White House-led climate summit in April of this year. However, activists, diplomats, and scientists believe this promise to be one with little meaning given the rise in deforestation under Bolsonaro, a rise last seen in 2008. Most notably, given that the Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest, Bolsonaro has faced significant scrutiny over his decision not to attend COP26.

Before Bolsonaro took office in 2019, the Brazilian Amazon had not recorded more than 10,000 square kilometers of deforestation in a single year for over a decade. In fact, the annual averageas 6,500 square kilometers between 2009 and 2018. But within two years of Bolsonaro’s term, it averaged 10,500 square kilometers. Bolsonaro has raised concerns among environmentalists by backing legislative measures to loosen land protections, calling for development within the Amazon, and dismissing global complaints about the Amazon’s destruction as a plot to hold back Brazil’s agribusiness. Despite his promise at the White House Earth Day Summit and the UN General Assembly, Bolsonaro has blocked environmental law enforcement, deployed an ineffective army intervention to stop anti-logging operations in the Amazon, and overseen staffing cuts at several environmental agencies. His actions contradict Brazil’s speech at COP26, where its representatives stated that illegal deforestation was already being fought with increased resources and patrolling.

Brazil’s pledge is in doubt with the recent news released by the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (INPE). INPE released preliminary deforestation data for the month of October, which shows that deforestation rose for the second consecutive month. According to INPE’s deforestation alert system (Deter), 339 square miles were deforested, a 4.9% increase from last year and the highest indicator for the month in five years. In a statement by the Climate Observatory, “the data from Deter is a reminder that the same Brazil that circulates in the corridors and halls of COP26, in Glasgow, is the same where land grabbers, illegal loggers and miners have a government license to destroy the forest.” Leite commented that he will focus on INPE only when he returns to Brazil, but he has not seen these numbers as his concentration is on the COP26 negotiations.

Brazil’s declarations are unconvincing, and while Brazilians want to contribute, poverty has unfortunately risen due to the pandemic, causing their concerns to shift. Factoring in the economic and political crises, the COP26 feels a long way from the reality of most Brazilians.


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