Last updated on December 8, 2020
“Until now, Donald Trump served as a support for the Brazilian president to act irresponsibly. Now with the U.S. adding to Europe’s pressure, Brazil is more isolated, and the government will find it harder to stay on this foolish path.” Alessandro Molon, the opposition Brazilian Socialist Party
The Amazon is half the world’s tropics, and some areas of the rainforest in this vast expanse have tipped from a carbon sink to a carbon source. That is just one of the nine horrifying tipping points that are currently active, and the loss of this critical piece in the climate system will increase the warming of the planet and threaten a livable planet.
The possible survival of the Amazon rainforest became a possibility during a debate between Trump and the president-elect. Joe Biden criticized Brazil’s President Jair Bolonaro for his role in the destruction of the Amazon. Bolsonaro was anything but amused. He is motivated purely by greed and genocide. They don’t call him the Trump of the Tropics for nothing. He ignores science to the detriment of all.
This extensive forest’s carbon sink, along with the world’s oceans, pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and store it in the biodiverse richness of trees in the tropical forests. The ocean’s carbon storage is at the sea-floor. James Anderson of the University of California Irvine explains the role of “Deforestation and fire-driven forest degradation affect the carbon cycle in two ways. First, there is a direct release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in the conversion process. Second, the loss of forest reduces the ability of the forest as a whole to absorb carbon. More forest fires in the Amazon will accelerate the buildup of greenhouse gases, and we will have higher levels of global warming”. Unfortunately, deforestation and fires for clearing land will turn the rainforest into a savannah.
These are astounding developments in the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss. I hope this diary gets more eyes. I have found that the Amazon rainforest is a rating killer at Daily Kos, and if this diary scrolls into oblivion, remember to have Biden’s back when folks argue that he doesn’t get it or his policies are too incremental. This is our last chance, say some, and this is just one of a few opportunities that can be accomplished by twisting some arms. The same pressure should be applied to the Congo and SE Asia.
In place of a traditional message of congratulations, Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro met Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory with a strange and provocative message. “We saw recently a great candidate to head of state say that if I don’t put out the fires in the Amazon, he will put up commercial barriers against Brazil,” Bolsonaro said at an event a few days after the presidential race was called for Biden. “How do we deal with that? Diplomacy alone is not enough. When words fail, one has to have gunpowder.”
The apparently flippant threat — a reaction to Biden’s call during a debate in September for Brazil to face “economic consequences” for failing to combat deforestation in the Amazon rainforest — underscores what may become a major fault-line in Brazil-U.S. relations under President Biden.
Last year Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research recorded 2.4 million acres deforested in the Amazon — an almost 30% increase on 2018, the year before Bolsonaro took office, and 2020 has seen record numbers of forest fires. The president simultaneously rejects any blame for the blazes, and argues that the Amazon is a resource the country can and should make money from in order to develop its economy. His critics say that belief has led to a culture of impunity for farmers and other land grabbers who set fires to clear the trees. Attempts by leaders in Germany, Norway and France to leverage economic muscle to force Brazil to take action have been unsuccessful, eliciting little more than barbs from the president. Last year, Bolsonaro told German Chancellor Angela Merkel to “reforest Germany” rather than obsess over the Amazon.
But environmentalists hope the change of administration in the U.S. may play a role in halting deforestation in the Amazon, right when scientists say it is approaching a tipping point from which it can never recover. The loss of Bolsonaro’s hero and ally Donald Trump — who praised his administration’s handling of the Amazon — combined with possible economic consequences for Brazil’s business community will add to international pressure and, maybe, move the needle.
Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest has skyrocketed to a 12-year high in 2020. Government data released showed more than 11,000 square kilometers have been wiped away https://t.co/pWEJvjRCFq pic.twitter.com/Lz8lIT39t0
— Reuters (@Reuters) December 1, 2020
Though Biden’s climate plan does not mention Brazil by name, it does promise to “impose carbon adjustment fees or quotas on carbon-intensive goods from countries that are failing to meet their climate and environmental obligations”. While it’s too soon to say if the new administration will apply those kinds of penalties to Brazil, there are range of trade levers the U.S. could pull, says Lisa Viscidi, director of the Energy, Climate Change and Extractive Industries Program at the Inter-American Dialogue, a think tank focused on relations between Wasgington and Latin America. “It could, for example, try amending existing trade deals between the two countries,” she says. Viscidi cites the renegotiation of a free trade deal between the U.S., Canada and Mexico in 2017, which added new environmental condition after pressure from campaign groups.
— Bradshaw Foundation (@BradshawFND) November 30, 2020
Astrini says the real impact of the change in government in the U.S. will be a new dynamic in intergovernmental forums. “Trump has served as a kind of “greater evil” on climate. Brazil might have been a problem, but the U.S. – historically the world’s largest emitter and largest economy – was the focus of the international community and at the U.N.’s climate arm.” Now, with Biden pledging to re-enter the Paris Agreement and the West more united on climate ambitions, and even China promising to drastically reduce its emissions at home, Brazil will be “scandalously isolated,” Astrini says.
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