- The Guardian
- Issue #2040
Welcome to Green Notes, a fortnightly column which will cover climate change, environmental issues and biodiversity and their impact on humanity including indigenous populations, health, and the planet.
The Amazon is 10 million years old, and its vast river basin runs across South America. Its rich biodiversity and hundreds of millions of trees are unrivalled anywhere in the world. It is often described as one of the lungs of the world. Around 60 per cent of the rainforest’s total area lies within the territory of Brazil where deforestation and loss of biodiversity have reached crisis proportions.
For much of the past fifty years, millions of people have been encouraged to colonise the Amazon. Land clearance accelerated with corruption and violent expulsion of indigenous people from their lands destroying their means of subsistence, source of traditional medicines, and cultural connections. Logging, cattle ranges, and soy crops pushed into indigenous lands and national parks. Scientists estimate that at the current rate of land clearance more than 25 per cent of the Amazon Forest will be cleared by 2030 and 40 per cent by 2050.
From 2004-2012, when Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and the Workers’ Party was in office, the rate of deforestation declined by 80 per cent.
But that was not to last. In particular, the election of the right-wing climate sceptic Jair Bolsonaro in 2019 saw the rate of deforestation increase by 92 per cent. He dismantled the mechanisms that had achieved the reduction in deforestation – satellite monitoring, personnel on the ground, and legislation to punish offenders and demarcate indigenous land and conservation areas. He promoted the interests of corporations and agribusiness that were wrecking the forest with impunity. His rule fuelled violence and corruption, including the narcotics trade.
Scientists monitoring the impact of land clearing and resultant changes in weather patterns say the forest has reached a tipping point – reduced rainfall, drought, and fires are on the rise. Beyond this point changes will be irreversible, and there will be serious global consequences.
Some life has been breathed into the Amazon with the election of former president Lula in October 2022. Tackling deforestation and reenforcing environmental protections were central to Lula’s election campaign commitments. He also promised to give formal recognition to land rights and to resurrect the Amazon Fund that had been frozen by Bolsonaro. The Fund was created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon.
Lula has a difficult job ahead of him, with a violent backlash already under way from pro-Bolsonaro forces and those with a vested interest in deforestation, but he has the backing of the people.
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