Brazil is home to more than 60% of the Amazon forest, which is being cleared at an increasing rate to create more cropland. Deforestation in Brazil has accelerated since Jair Bolsonaro became President of Brazil in January. Clear cutting in the rainforest has gone up 88% in June compared to the same time last year. Deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon now stands above three football fields a minute.
Like Donald Trump, Bolsonaro wanted to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, but was dissuaded because if he did so the European Union might decide Brazil is not keeping its side of a trade deal currently being negotiated which includes a commitment to slow deforestation.
Also like Trump, Bolsonaro cannot tolerate criticism. The Brazilian National Institute for Space Research has reported the increasing deforestation and says his right-wing administration’s pro-agrobusiness policies are to blame. So Bolsonaro fired the agency’s president Ricardo Galvao in early August 2019. Bolsonaro also emulates Trump by lying while accusing his enemies of doing so. He says the institution published “absurd” figures, and had manipulated real facts to implicate the government in further criticism. But Galvao has strongly denied manipulating statistics, and has received backing from scientists and academics since his dismissal.
The amazon basin, most of which sits within the borders of Brazil, contains 40% of the world’s tropical forests and accounts for 10-15% of the biodiversity of Earth’s continents. Since the 1970s nearly one fifth of Brazil’s original 4m km² of Amazon forest has been lost to logging, farming, mining, roads, dams and other forms of development—an area equivalent to that of Turkey. Over the same period, the average temperature in the basin has risen by about 0.6°C. This century, the region has suffered a series of severe droughts.
Thomas Lovejoy, an environmental science and policy professor at George Mason University, says that climate change and fires (which deforestation itself exacerbates) are accelerating forest loss and pushing the rainforest to a tipping point—a degree of deforestation at which the rainforest can no longer generate its own rainfall by recycling moisture and thus begins to transform into other, drier ecosystems. It is thought the tipping point could be reached within 15 to 30 years if things continue on their current trend.