Brazil has said that it would reject a USD 20 million aid package from G7 nations to help deal with the Amazon crisis, according to the Brazilian news site G1 Globo. The South American nation has been in the news in recent weeks because of massive fires that have been raging in the Amazon rainforest, 60% of which falls in Brazil.
As an increasing number of people, governments, and international forums such as the G7 are now closely observing the environmental catastrophe, fingers are being raised towards the policies of Brazil’s newly elected leader, Jair Bolsonaro.
Bolsonaro on the environment
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been in office since January 2019, after running a vitriolic campaign that drew criticism for its far-right positions on issues such as race, gender relations, and the environment.
Bolsonaro, like US President Donald Trump, is a staunch climate change sceptic. During his election campaign, Bolsonaro has called climate change predictions a hoax, and advocated allowing businesses to expand by rolling back environmental safeguards.
The Brazilian leader has also held controversial views about the land rights of indigenous communities that populate the Amazon forest. He also harbours serious disdain for environmental activists and NGOs.
Brazil’s past track record on the environment
Until recently, Brazil was praised for its efforts in slowing down deforestation in the Amazon, which is believed to provide 20% of the world’s oxygen.
In 2016, Brazil ratified the Paris Agreement, and promised to cut down emissions by 37% until 2025 and 43% by 2030. It also set a target to restore almost 1.2 lakh square kilometres of the rainforest by 2030.
In 2018, Brazil met a target that it had set for itself for cutting back CO2 emissions ahead of schedule.
After Bolsonaro took office
Although Brazil’s environmental policy received some criticism even in the past, activists have been particularly irate since Bolsonaro has come to power.
A Brazilian government agency reported a 39% increase in deforestation from the same period the previous year. The number of running fires is known to have increased by 84%.
Critics have blamed Bolsonaro’s policies for enabling the destruction. His government has scaled down the deterrent measures that were earlier in place. Fines by Brazil’s environmental agency have been slashed by over 30%.
In a controversial move, Bolsonaro transferred the job of demarcating indigenous zones from the country’s Justice Ministry to the Agriculture Ministry, the latter being run by a favourite of Brazil’s agribusiness lobby. The decision was later overturned by Brazil’s apex court.
The leader has called UN climate goals “unachievable”, and has said: “Brazil does not owe the world anything when it comes to environmental protection.”
The Bolsonaro administration even cancelled the country’s previous decision of hosting the 2019 United Nations conference on climate change. The session will now be held in Chile in November this year.
In the wake of the Bolsonaro government’s apparently lackadaisical attitude towards environmental matters, Germany and Norway suspended funds demarcated for conservation projects in Brazil.
Bolsonaro reacted strongly to the announcement, and said that Norway could “take the money” so that Chancellor Angela Merkel might “reforest Germany.”