The Amazon rainforest is the world’s most incredible natural resource. It absorbs and stores billions of tons of carbon each year, making it one of the greatest air purifiers on the planet. It releases billions of tons of water through its rivers, irrigating and providing life throughout Brazil and beyond. It also holds 25% of the world’s terrestrial diversity, representing over half of the planet’s rainforests with the largest variety of animal and plant life in existence.
Unfortunately, the world’s largest rainforest is also the site of extensive cattle and crop farming, as well as logging and crude oil drilling. Around a quarter of the 3,000,000 km2 forest has been compromised, with 80% tied up in unsustainable farming practices, which result in wasted soil that becomes useless land within a few short years of cultivation. Right now, the Amazon is at a crucial tipping point that may decide the fate of the unfortunate rainforest. And, for the first time in years, there may be the hope of change for the ‘planet’s lungs’.
The Amazon is divided across several countries, including Peru and Colombia. Still, a massive 60% of it is held within Brazil, enough to tip the balance on forest stability. Under President Jair Bolsonaro, leader of the country’s far-right movement, the Amazon has seen a staggering increase in the amount of land cleared, and CO2 released into the atmosphere. Within Bolsonaro’s first three years in office, 33,200 km2 of the forest was removed, with a further 11,568 km2 cleared between August 2021 to July 2022. At the current rate of deforestation, the Amazon’s biodiversity will collapse before the turn of the century, losing 27% of its total area by 2030. This much devastation would change the biome of the entire forest to something resembling a degraded savanna, with longer dry seasons lasting an additional four to five weeks. For a forest that relies on heavy annual rainfalls, such a dry period would spell extinction for much of the region’s animal and plant life.
The hope lies with the recently elected President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, whose campaign is a far cry from Bolsonaro’s promise to increase extractions from protected areas in the Amazon. Lula, who originally served two terms in office between 2003 to 2010, has promised to reverse the environmental destruction caused by the former President and to put the country back on track for its zero deforestation and carbon reduction commitments.
All of this comes at the perfect time after the tepid performance of leaders during the COP27 climate summit in November last year, in which negotiations were strengthened but little policy was implemented. With Lula at the helm, negotiations with surrounding countries integral to the Amazon have begun, including talks with Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Germany and Norway have also pledged support in starting a funding program to support Amazon’s regrowth.
Unfortunately for Lula, the problem doesn’t stop there. The forest protection program could come at the cost of one of the country’s major exports; crude oil. And while attempts are being made to reduce the dependence on this export, it may take some years yet to implement. Lula has also found pressure in attempting to reinstate the Amazon Fund, which was frozen under the previous government’s administration.
If the actions of his predecessors aren’t enough to deal with, the President will be competing with increasing lawlessness in the Amazon’s ‘wild west’. In the last few years, the Amazon has seen an increase in illegal fishing and logging, with many culprits carrying guns and threatening the relatively small and unprotected border security. As recently as last year, indigenous rights activist Bruno Pereira and journalist Dom Phillips died at an outpost frequented by illegal fishers. As the loan resident of the outpost, Juan da Silva, states; “The fishermen get very angry if we don’t let them through… …sometimes I can’t stop them, because if I did they would kill me.”
Whether Lula’s plans to crack down on legal deforestation will increase lawlessness is unclear, but his recent election will undoubtedly lead to more good than evil. If deforestation continues, the Amazon rainforest will not be able to recover. With it, the world would lose much of its natural ability to absorb carbon dioxide, leading to a rapid increase in global warming, which could trigger a runaway greenhouse effect. The imbalance would also increase extreme weather events, overshadowing the current climate crisis with flooding, wildfires and widespread devastation. The loss of the world’s biodiversity may also lead to more significant impacts worldwide as, even now, we still struggle to understand our planet’s complex food chain.
While it’s early days yet for recently sworn-in President Lula, the outcome looks much better. Since his election to office, Lula has shown no sign of slowing down or recanting his promise for zero deforestation by 2030. We can hope that his example will lead to others joining the campaign, one in which the outcome will decide whether we humans can halt the rising global temperature.
See the link here for a full list of President Lula’s new changes, which aim to protect the environment and the rights of indigenous Amazonian populations. Or, if you want to help Brazil restore thousands of hectares, check out the Eden Reforestation Project and pledge a donation.
- Cuff, Madeleine. “COP27: Brazil's Lula promises zero deforestation in the Amazon by 2030” on NewScientist. Date Published: 16th November, 2022. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3kkl8ni.
- Koch-Weser, Caio, Nobre, Carlos. “As Lula takes office, it’s time for Brazil to create an ‘economy of standing forests’” on Fortune. Date Published: 12th November, 2022. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3kftrky.
- Laughland, Oliver, Kaz, Roberto. “Amazon wild west: where drugs, fish and logging are big money but life is cheap” on The Guardian. Date Published: 1st July, 2022. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3Zyf1vZ.
- Limbong, Andrew. “Can Brazil's Lula save the Amazon?” on NPR. Date Published: 7th January, 2023. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3H0kg09.
- “Lula’s victory in Brazil comes just in time to save the Amazon – can he do it?” on The Conversation. Date Published: 2nd November, 2022. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3X9CxOp.
- Malleret, Constance. “Lula faces stiff challenge to fulfil vow to reverse Amazon deforestation in Brazil” on The Guardian. Date Published: 5th December, 2022. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3GE8Yxe.
- Pagliarini, Andre. “Can Lula save the Amazon? His record shows he might just pull it off” on The Guardian. January 3rd, 2023. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3GG9M4J.
- Phillips, Tom. “Lula names staunch Amazon defenders as ministers in Brazil” on The Guardian. Date Published: 29th December, 2022. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3XoZywc.
- Reid, Jenni. “Lula’s victory in Brazil sparks optimism on deforestation, with ramifications for the world” on CNBC. Date Published: 31st October, 2022. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3iDlFk0.
- “What Would Happen If We Lost The Amazon Rainforest?” on WorldAtlas. Date Accessed: 14th January, 2022. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3iE8Khy.
About the author - meet Earthan James McCulloch
James is a literary student and environmental enthusiast who likes thinking about the better futures we could have (and those we best avoid). When not playing with other people’s dogs or taking long, mindful walks, he’s usually found reading and writing, often at the local library. You can check him out on his blog for something a little different, where he talks about all things literary or otherwise.