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Bolsonaro’s Empty Promises to Protect the Amazon

Brazil Should Deliver Results in Reducing Deforestation and Impunity for Environmental Crime and Violence

Speaking at the Leaders Summit on Climate convened by the United States today, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro insisted he’s committed to protecting the Amazon and even pledged more resources for environmental law enforcement. But since taking office in 2019, his administration has done nothing but accelerate the destruction of the rainforest. Unless he is willing to take concrete measures to reverse the damage of his disastrous environmental policies, his climate commitments cannot be taken seriously.

The Bolsonaro administration has sabotaged environmental law enforcement agencies, falsely accused civil society organizations of environmental crimes, and undermined Indigenous rights. These policies have contributed to soaring deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon, an ecosystem vital for containing climate change.

In response to overtures from the administration of US President Joe Biden, Bolsonaro and members of his cabinet have expressed interest in working with the United States to address climate change – and sought US funding for this purpose.

However, if they think they can paper over their actual record, they are mistaken. Last week, several US senators said that any financial assistance to Brazil related to the Amazon should be conditional on the Brazilian government making “significant and sustained progress” in “reducing deforestation and ending impunity for environmental crimes and acts of intimidation and violence against forest defenders.” Delivering results on these issues would also be a key factor in determining support for Brazil’s bid to become a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), they said. US Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry said he looked forward to Bolsonaro’s “immediate actions” so that his pledges could “deliver tangible results.”

What immediate actions could Bolsonaro take? To begin, his administration should reverse policies that have relaxed inspection requirements for timber exports and facilitated individuals securing lands in Indigenous territories that are awaiting official recognition from the government. It should also address the massive backlog of unpaid fines for environmental law violations, heeding the concerns of environmental agents on the frontlines. And it should withdraw its support for proposed legislation that would open up Indigenous territories for mining, and facilitate land grabbing and illegal deforestation in the Amazon.

These steps would signal to the organized criminal groups driving deforestation and violence in the Amazon that the Bolsonaro government will no longer tolerate their crimes. And they would help Brazil start getting back on track to meet its obligation to protect the Amazon.

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