Why This Matters: The Lungs of the Planet
Brazil’s Election and the Future of the Amazon
By Allyn Summa, Executive Director
Brazilians head to the polls again on October 30 for a second round of voting in their presidential election. Current president Jair Bolsonaro will square off against the former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who won more votes in the first round. There could be significant consequences for democracy in Brazil… and around the world. (A topic we discussed with journalist Catherine Osborn in September.)
And if you are concerned about climate change, you should also take note. This election will have implications for the future of the Amazon rainforest.
Rainforests like the Amazon absorb carbon dioxide—a greenhouse gas which contributes to climate change—to provide the earth with much of its oxygen. That is why rainforests are often called the “lungs of the planet.” But over the years, wildfires spurred by warming temperatures (along with deforestation for agriculture) have reduced the size of rainforests. Scientists estimate that nearly a fifth of the Amazon has been lost in the past half-century.
Since most of the Amazon is in Brazil, either Bolsonaro or Lula will be responsible for much of its future. Under Bolsonaro’s government, environmental regulations and protections for the Amazon’s indigenous communities have been discarded, while deforestation has accelerated. Bolsonaro has attacked international attempts to curb these policies as an infringement on Brazil’s sovereignty.
Despite Lula’s own mixed record on the environment, his campaign has promised to address deforestation and climate change. Lula’s strong lead throughout the campaign has been attributed by some experts to the environment’s importance among Brazilian voters.
Though Lula could likely be an easier leader for the Biden administration to work with, disagreements elsewhere could interfere with cooperation on climate change. Any action to protect the Amazon could be an uphill battle. For example, laws cannot always be quickly reversed or undone, and the government must consider the economic impacts on people’s lives.
While it’s Brazilian voters who will decide their next president, America’s response to climate change could serve as a model regardless of who’s in charge. Though the United States faces its own obstacles, its return to the Paris Climate Agreement and the recent passage of the landmark Climate Bill set a pro-environment tone.
Still, there is more to do.
Though recent anti-democratic trends in the United States have not provided Brazilian politics with a good example (a topic we recently covered in this video), there is no better time for America to model how it tackles the climate crisis
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Written by Allyn Summa
Allyn Summa is the executive director of the Eurasia Group Institute for Global Affairs. Drop Allyn a note and let her know what global issues you think about.