Umer Ahmed is a second year student of International Relations. His article focuses on the worrying environmental implications resulting from the recent election of Right-wing Populist Jair Bolsonaro as President of Brazil
“Brazil’s Foreign Minister says Climate Change is a Marxist plot” was the first news notification on my phone this morning. The second read “California wildfires: More than 1000 missing in Camp Fire”. Only last month, I read a special report by the IPCC outlining the deadly consequences of a global temperature rise of 1.5°C.
The refusal to accept what climate change is and what its implications are is not new. American president Donald Trump, arguably one of the largest refuters of climate change, evidently claims on his Twitter that “Global warming was created by and for the Chinese”, that it is “bullsh*t” and “nonsense”.[ii] Trump is not the only powerful leader in denial of climate change; Although he has now completely reversed his stance, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi was quoted as saying, “The climate has not changed. We have changed. Our tolerance and habits have changed”[iii], in 2014. Thus, for the new foreign minister of Brazil – Ernesto Araújo – to come out and deny climate change should not be a surprise. Arguably, with the incoming president-elect Jair Bolsonaro, this denial may have more to do with his government’s admiration for Donald Trump than an opposition to climate change. In fact, both Araujo and Trump air the same message, that this climate change “conspiracy” is a ploy by none other than China to promote its growth.
Otherwise, for Brazil to oppose the role of climate change not only globally but also domestically would be rather ill-advised and short-sighted. The Amazon rainforest which covers an area of approximately 3,300,000km of Brazil is listed as one of the most threatened areas globally due to climate change. According to the WWF, deforestation, mining and unsustainable farming in the area result in catastrophic damage. This coupled with rising sea levels and reduced rainfall leaving the region on the verge of turning into a dry savanna [iv]. Consequently, Brazil would not only experience a grave long-term economic loss but also a colossal reduction in environmental- and bio-diversity, something which Mr Bolsonaro ignores to address and simply does not care about, respectively. The long-term consequences of the mass destruction of ecosystems, indigenous tribal losses and emigration out of the country’s western regions would be economically disastrous for Brazil.
Brazilians, although unsurprised with what was said by the newly-elected right-wing President, (known for his misogynistic, xenophobic and homophobic comments) will certainly be shocked at the complete U-turn taken by the country. In fact, Brazil was the venue for the first international talks of climate change in 1992 and played a significant role in the 2016 Paris climate agreement. Although Mr Bolsonaro’s government has swayed many times over whether to leave or stay in the Paris climate agreement, he has (thankfully for all environmentalists) decided to stay put.
However, environmentalists should hold their horses. For Brazil, the choice of electing a right-wing government is to say that their domestic economic importance outweighs global environmental importance. Seen through a short-term economic lens, the choice seems understandable, with the threat of declining beef and soya sales in Europe as well as the economic turmoil due to the involvement of former president Lula in the Petrobras Scandal, it is no wonder 57.7% of Brazilians elected a man targeting the improvement of the economy at all costs. Unemployment rates have been dropping steadily since the Petrobras scandal. As of July of this year, the figure stood at 11.9%, almost double the less than 6.5% rate at the end of 2013. Furthermore, the jobs causing the decline are mainly in the informal sector. Therefore, for loggers, miners, farmers and squatters in indigenous land, here was a choice between a man stood promising jobs and wealth beneath the indigenous ground, and those contrastingly calling for their imprisonment.
In summary, the Amazon has been elevated to a global geopolitical battleground between globalists/environmentalists and nationalists/ruralists. What must be understood is that Mr Araujo’s decision to say what he did has its consequences internationally. Moreover, the president-elect’s decision to merge both the environment and agriculture ministries will only go further in troubling the international community. The risk of losing a majority of the Amazon rainforest for short-term economic gains may have even graver long-term economic consequences than predicted. The loss of rich ecosystems, as well as land for indigenous people to live, will most certainly cause emigration out of the Amazon region but also would be a sorrow site for any nature-lover. Whether the incoming Brazilian government is out to appease Donald Trump or whether it simply does believe that climate change is a conspiracy, one thing is for certain: the world should be keeping a close eye on Jair Bolsonaro.
“Destroying rainforests for economic gain is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal” – E. O. Wilson
[ii] Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump), 7:15PM GMT 06/11/2012
Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump), 6;44AM GMT 29/01/2014