Brazilian President Bolsonaro is wrong to think rainforest destruction is purely an internal matter. The patrimony of the natural world is at stake.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro recently told a gathering of the foreign press corps that "the Amazon is Brazil's, not yours." He didn't hold anything back. And then he added: "deforestation figures on the Amazon are false." It was a confirmation of what his National Security adviser General Augusto Heleno Pereira had said months before, that "the idea of the Amazon as global heritage is nonsense. Foreigners must stop interfering."
The Brazilian leader and his adviser are mistaken. Even if it is physically located mostly in Brazil's territory, the Amazon rainforest is part of the global heritage, in large part because it is indispensable in safeguarding the life of the planet and of humanity. This is the largest forest reserve on the planet, "the lung of the world," which extends over 7.4 million square kilometers and contains 60% of the world's biodiversity.
Precisely because it is part of the world's patrimony, the Amazon poses certain unavoidable demands on the Brazilian state. This is especially true today that the environmental balance has come apart, threatening the survival of millions of people. Bolsonaro and his adviser thus have a duty to protect the Amazon and avoid deforestation. Failure to do this would be a violation of human rights and they cannot argue that foreigners have no right to express their opinion on something affecting all human beings. They must keep the world informed on how they are treating the Amazon's animals, plants and native inhabitants.
Deforestation affected 1% of the Amazon in the 1970s, today it affects 18%.
Yet Bolsonaro's environmental policy ignores the heavy pressures currently exerted on natural ecosystems. The government is easing protective rules to favor mining and big farming groups. It wants to double soy production over the next decade, which will lead to more deforestation. All of this is made easier by the fact that the environment ministry became part of the agriculture ministry, which will in turn be responsible for the demarcation of indigenous land, as the government has said that "indigenous people have already too much land."
Local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international agencies are concerned. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) issued a report in October 2018 showing that one-fifth of the Amazonian rainforest had disappeared over the past 50 years. Greenpeace stated separately that while deforestation affected 1% of the Amazon in the 1970s, today it affects 18%. Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE) found that Amazonian deforestation was 88% higher in June, compared to June 2018. This is no fake data.
Instead of addressing the gravity of the issue, the Brazilian president prefers to admire the United States' withdrawal from the Paris Agreement to curb global emissions. Bolsonaro imitated U.S. President Donald Trump during his electoral campaign and promised he would take Brazil out of the agreement. That may be why the French president has threatened to block the recent Mercosur-EU trading pact if Brazil does not show a clear commitment to curbing deforestation, which evidently includes staying in the Paris Agreement.
The world is facing serious environmental challenges. The acceleration of industrialization, urbanization and global trade are placing extreme pressure on ecosystems. Species are disappearing and original forests are substantially reduced, with signs that woodlands are absorbing less CO2. Fertilizers and pesticides are applied far above tolerable levels, hurting plants, waterways and fish.
The Amazon, which should be one of the principal bastions of biodiversity, is being destroyed. This will affect Brazil, surrounding countries and people far beyond, over several generations. This destruction will reduce CO2 absorption capacities, boost warming and threaten subsistence worldwide. Bolsonaro will have to answer to humanity for his role in all this.