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Amazon fires and deforestation

As the Amazon burns, Brazilians disrupt Minister of the Environment to demand climate action
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Amazon fires and deforestation

Over the past days, forest fires have been ravaging the Brazilian Amazon region. The number of fire outbreaks recorded in the Amazon in 2019 is one of the largest in recent years; between January and August 20, the number of fires has increased 145% compared with the same period in 2018.

The fires were reportedly started by farmers who explicitly stated that they were encouraged by Bolsonaro’s rhetoric to open more rainforest for agriculture. One of the organisers of a coordinated ‘Fire Day’ protest that called for coordinated fires to be set across the Amazon said, ‘We need to show the president that we want to work and the only way is deforesting. It’s to create pastures by [clearing forest], and with fire.’

‘The unprecedented fires ravaging the Amazon are an international tragedy and a dangerous contribution to climate chaos. This devastation is directly related to President Bolsonaro’s anti-environmental rhetoric, which erroneously frames forest protections and human rights as impediments to Brazil’s economic growth. Farmers and ranchers understand the president’s message as a license to commit arson with wanton impunity, in order to aggressively expand their operations into the rainforest.’

Amazon Watch’s Program Director

Protests over climate policy

Today (21 August), citizens disrupted the Brazilian Environment Minister to highlight the lack of action on fossil fuels and forest protection in addressing the climate crisis.

As the Amazon continues to burn at an unprecedented pace in Brazil, citizens disrupted the minister responsible at a panel of the Latin American and Caribbean Climate Change Week event.

Holding banners and shouting phrases such as ‘We want our forests alive’, the protesters highlighted the failed environment and climate policies of the current government during the speech of the Minister of the Environment of Brazil, Ricardo Salles.

‘The recent data about fires in the Amazon is showing that the current environmental policies are leading us to even more carbon emissions. Scientists, Indigenous Peoples, students and other groups are clearly saying that they want a quick and thorough transition to clean energy, stronger measures for forest conservation and real participation of the communities in the government decisions.’

350 campaigner

Holding posters with the messages ‘Yes to life’ and ‘No more dismantling of environmental policies’, 350 campaigner Suelita Rocker sat quietly on a chair in the middle of the front row and held her signs in a place where the minister could see, rejecting the protocol to stand. A considerable part of the audience also booed Salles.

Some messages on the signs were related to forest conservation, in the context of a sharp increase in the deforestation and burning rates in the Amazon. Other banners had slogans pointing to recent attempts by the government to reduce civil society’s participation in decisions related to the environment.

‘Indigenous people of the Amazon have been sounding the alarm about risks to the rainforest for years and resisting the destruction – sometimes at the cost of their own lives. Now that the world is finally paying attention, it’s important to also understand that governments and companies around the world are emboldening Bolsonaro’s toxic policies when they enter trade agreements with his government or invest in agribusiness companies operating in the Amazon.’

Amazon Watch’s Finance Campaign Director

Lack of representation

In a panel shortly after the protests, a representative of the Brazilian NGO Engajamundo, which organises mobilisations across the country, spoke about the urgency of solutions for the climate crisis and the lack of space for youth in decision making processes.

She also criticised the insufficient representation of Indigenous Peoples, black communities and women in discussions, including the Latin America Climate Week itself.

‘Governments have to ensure the participation of the most vulnerable people in the dialogues and decisions about the climate crisis. In this sense, it is essential that all sectors of society invest in projects that make climate education a reality.’


Fires and food

The number of forest fires is higher in the Amazon regions most affected by deforestation practices, as fires are one of the main tools used for deforestation, including by farmers.

Eight out of the 10 municipalities most affected by fires have also recorded the highest numbers of deforestation alerts, according to data from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

‘We’re witnessing the true cost of our meat and dairy addiction – huge areas of forests burned to the ground to graze cattle and grow crops like soya, nearly all of it used for animal feed. It’s a complete disaster for forests and for the climate.

‘If we’ve any hope of reversing the climate emergency, we need to replace the vast quantities of meat we eat with plant-based foods. Governments need to step up and brands like McDonalds, KFC and Burger King, whose supply chains are riddled with animal feed from Brazil, have huge leverage and a responsibility to intervene.’

Head of Forests at Greenpeace UK

A vicious circle

In recent days the water from the Rios Voadores, which carry moisture from the Amazon to the south and centre-west of the continent, has been replaced by smoke, which has been spotted in the states of São Paulo and Paraná.

Forest fires and climate change operate in a vicious cycle: as the number of fires increase, so do greenhouse gas emissions, increasing the planet’s overall temperature and the occurrence of extreme weather events, such as major droughts.

In addition to increasing emissions, deforestation contributes directly to a change in rainfall patterns in the affected region, extending the length of the dry season, further affecting forest, biodiversity, agriculture and human health.

‘Those who destroy the Amazon and let deforestation continue unabated are encouraged by the Bolsonaro government’s actions and policies. Since taking office, the current government has been systematically dismantling Brazil’s environmental policy.’

Greenpeace Brazil

Donations blocked

Recent attacks by the Brazilian government against the Amazon Fund have already resulted in blocking R$ 288 million in donations from Norway and Germany. This will have serious consequences for the fight against deforestation and forest fires in the Amazon.

At the end of 2018, monitoring actions and forest fires prevention represented 47% of the amount allocated to projects supported by the Fund, totalling R$ 891 million.

Of this total, about 90% went to projects implemented by entities of the Brazilian public administration (federal, state and municipal governments), revealing the strategic importance of the Fund for the conservation of the Amazon.

Click here to read our article on why Cargill has been named ‘the worst company in the world’ for its role in deforestation and environmental destruction.

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