There is a global threat that hasn’t made the headlines amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic, but is just as dangerous: the destruction of the Amazon rainforest that is s was produced during the first four months of this year.
According to Brazil’s national space research institute INPE, a government agency, 754 square miles of the Brazilian Amazon were destroyed between January and April, a 69% increase from the same period in 2021.
In April, the clearing of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest by loggers, cattle ranchers and miners hit a new high for that month. Studies show that several parts of the Amazon are already releasing more carbon dioxide than they are absorbing, worsening the global climate crisis.
Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups blame right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro for the rampant destruction of the Amazon. Bolsonaro pledged to end illegal logging in the Amazon by 2030, but, at the same time, he suggested that more agriculture and mining in the region would help reduce poverty.
“The continued spikes in deforestation are a direct result of President Bolsonaro’s sabotage of environmental law enforcement in Brazil,” André Freitas of Greenpeace Brazil said in a statement. “Individuals who perpetuate illegal deforestation enjoy impunity as only 2% of deforestation alerts have been investigated by authorities in recent years.”
Criticism of the Bolsonaro government’s weak law enforcement in the Amazon has grown following the recent disappearances of British journalist Dom Phillips and Bruno Araújo, an expert on indigenous peoples. They disappeared while traveling in a remote area of the forest to report illegal fishing and hunting.
Last week, senior U.S. and Brazilian officials discussed alarming new Amazon deforestation figures in side meetings at the June 6-10 Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles.
In an interview after the summit, I asked President Biden’s top climate change envoy, former Secretary of State John Kerry, if the Bolsonaro government had the political will to stop the destruction of the rainforest.
Kerry told me that in his discussions with Brazil’s justice minister and environment minister at the summit, “both ministers acknowledged that indeed [deforestation] increased and there was a problem.
Kerry added that he was working with the two ministers to create a group of Brazilian and American experts to identify specific ways to improve Brazilian law enforcement. “Both ministers were deeply committed to this,” Kerry told me.
The Summit of the Americas agreed to provide up to $50 billion from several regional financial institutions such as the Inter-American Development Bank over the next five years to support climate change goals in Latin America and the Caribbean.
“This is a very, very important announcement, one of the most important announcements of the summit, and it will have a profound impact,” Kerry told me. The funds will mainly go to solar, wind and other green energy projects, he said.
Environmentalists welcome the $50 billion pledge, but warn that such pledges are often delayed due to bureaucracy or legal hurdles. They say environmental groups and the public must pressure their governments for the prompt and proper disbursement of these funds.
Bolsonaro’s critics fear that current rates of destruction in the Amazon will worsen further in the coming months. Brazil will hold presidential elections in October and Bolsonaro may seek as much economic growth as possible in the Amazon for electoral reasons.
“If we look at what has happened in recent years, obviously we have to be very skeptical about Bolsonaro,” says Javier Sierra, spokesman for the Sierra Club. “He has been one of the most destructive agents in virtually the entire global climate community.”
Whether or not that statement is too harsh, there is no doubt that the Amazon is being destroyed at a record rate as the world focuses on other crises.
It’s time to put climate change and rainforest destruction at the center of the global agenda, right next to the invasion of Ukraine and COVID-19. Otherwise, governments will do very little and the global climate crisis will escalate much faster than expected.
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This story was originally published June 15, 2022 4:53 p.m.