Brazil’s Trump: What the New President Means for the Environment
by Meagan Torello
In late October of this year, contentious and polarizing Jair Bolsonaro was elected Brazil’s newest president. Bolsonaro generated fierce support among many of Brazil’s voters who are frustrated with continued issues of corruption among politicians and government officials as well as the country’s abysmal crime rate. Although he remains untouched by financial scandal, he drew widespread resistance from the Ele Não campaign, which highlighted his disturbing and inappropriate comments about women, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, as well as his racist undertones. In addition, he has openly advocated for the implementation of torture and has threatened to defund and delegitimize the work of NGOs in Brazil. Some analysts have labelled him the Donald Trump of Brazil due to his deeply conservative social beliefs and apparent disregard for international precedent.
In addition to these parallels, Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro also share their distrust of climate change science. In late November, President Bolsonaro made the sudden decision just two months after winning the bid to host the COP25 conference in 2019 to withdraw as the host. This decision reinforces his campaign promise to remove Brazil from the Paris Climate Agreement and supports the fears of environmentalists around the globe. Although Brazil’s exit from the Paris Agreement relies on a reversal of the decision by its congress, these minor decisions and statements cements the likely possibility of irreversible environmental damage.
Brazil’s Amazon rainforest is of immense importance to the Earth’s ecological well-being serving as the “lungs” of the planet, making its rising deforestation an international issue. Annually the Amazon absorbs 2.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide, but studies have shown that due to mounting deforestation rates, it is only absorbing 30% of the CO2 it was 10 years ago. Brazil’s rainforest is an essential function of the Earth’s biological ability to moderate the effects of climate change as a carbon sink.
Jair Bolsonaro has been an advocate in reducing the protections surrounding the Amazon, particularly in areas protected for indigenous peoples. His position is supported by corporate farmers who aim to exploit the Amazon by selling clear-cut timber and creating expanded farmland and pastures for livestock. Bolsonaro’s likely decision for deforestation to continue unchecked will not only impact Brazil, a country who is already experiencing the effects of climate change, but will amplify climate devastation in the world’s most poorly equipped countries to deal with its effects.
As the Amazon continues to shrink, the amount of CO2 which goes unabsorbed erodes our protective atmospheric layers, allowing our polar ice caps to melt at alarming rates. This in turn creates a rise in sea levels which is beginning to impact poorer countries whose populations are unprepared to deal with the consequences of wealthier states’ unsubstantial environmental policies. Bangladesh, one of the world’s poorest nations, is a perfect case which demonstrates the adage that everyone suffers the effects of climate change but not equally. In June of 2017, more than 41 Bangladeshis were affected by flooding which has intensified as the consequences of climate change have risen. Bangladesh emits next to no greenhouse gases in comparison to European States, the United States, and rapidly developing countries like Brazil and India. However, it is countries like Bangladesh who suffer the brunt of the effects of climate change.
As exemplified through Bangladesh, the environmental policies adopted by individual states have a profound effect on other countries. As a result, environmental policy is no longer an exclusively domestic issue. As the new head of one of the most important ecological systems in the world, Bolsonaro cannot turn a blind eye to climate change science if he wishes to continue to reap the long-term benefits of the country (and planet) he calls home. Not only should Bolsonaro make a dramatic shift in his own policies regarding climate, he must call on other climate-denying leaders to act. Since the environment is not the sole responsibility of one state and its effects are worldwide, world leaders must begin to expect accountability from one another regarding its protection.
The likelihood of Bolsonaro adopting this attitude towards climate change is highly unlikely, and thus the impetus will fall on other states. Thus far, the United States, one of the largest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions, has shown no interest and has been hostile towards the idea of implementing green policy changes. The Trump administration neglect of climate science coupled with Bolsonaro’s parallel beliefs will place extra pressure on wealthier states to compensate for their lack of action. Many states are unprepared to handle this undue burden without U.S. or Brazilian cooperation, thus forwarding the responsibility largely to European states, Canada, and Japan to bankroll climate policy change in developing countries. However strong their efforts, ultimately altering the course of climate change is impossible without Brazil and the United States. States must find ways to incentivize these two countries to cooperate or it will be to everyone’s detriment.
As Bolsonaro displays desire to employ discriminatory social policies within Brazil, the effects of climate change remain indiscriminate. Without Brazil’s participation in mitigating the effects of climate change, there is a strong likelihood that the entire planet will suffer as a result of these policy decisions.
Meagan Torello is a second-year M.A. candidate at Seton Hall University’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations. She specializes in International Law and Human Rights and Global Negotiation and Conflict Management. She currently serves as the Editor-in-Chief at the Journal of Diplomacy. She also has research experience in women’s rights in Morocco and racial/religious disparity in France.