Brazil Renounces Environmental Leadership

By Luisa Chainferber
Staff Writer

Brazil’s president-elect Mr. Jair Bolsonaro has chosen Ernesto Araújo as the country’s new foreign minister. Araújo believes climate change is a plot of “cultural Marxists,” reports The Guardian. His appointment represents an unfortunate regression in Brazil’s leadership in the global climate movement.

Araújo’s appointment indicates a significant shift in the country’s ability to act as a global leader. The Guardian reports, Brazil was the host of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, which represented the first time the international community gathered to discuss reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Previous Brazilian diplomats have also been key players in the development of the 2015 Paris Agreement. With this new foreign minister, Brazil will no longer take the lead for climate change.

In fact, the international community is already questioning Brazil’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Araújo’s appointment indicates a new Brazilian strategy that privileges economic development over environmental protection. According to Voice of America, Brazil withdrew its offer to host a large UN Conference on climate change due to concerns for current fiscal and budget constraints. Brazil is the seventh largest emitter of greenhouse gases and hosts the Amazon rainforest. Global targets on climate change need Brazil’s cooperation.

Given that Brazil’s actions are critical for climate change, this issue provides Brazil the opportunity to be a global leader, more than any other international issue. One of Brazil’s major NGOs, Observatório do Clima, states that “with the abandonment of international leadership in this area, lost are also opportunities for business, investment, and job creation,” reports The Rio Times. Policies that protect the Amazon are a dual-win for Brazil: the country will be able to have a better international standing, while also guaranteeing the protection of future generations. As Brazil steps down from leadership on climate change, it will struggle to find any other issue that will bring as many opportunities for leadership as this topic does.

Incorporation will not only mean a missed opportunity for Brazilian leadership, but also a threat to the rest of the world. Brazil’s future president promised to remove restrictions on the agri-business sector that is known to cause destruction to the Amazon rainforest, reports Al Jazeera. Recently, annual deforestation reached its highest level in a decade. Christian Poirier, the program director of Amazon Watch, stated that Mr. Bolsonaro’s plans to industrialize the Amazon will bring destruction to the world’s largest rainforest and disaster for the global climate, says Business Insider. If Brazil refuses to cooperate for climate change, it will risk political backlash and isolationism.

Mr. Bolsonaro’s plans for the Amazon are also a threat to future economic growth. Without future deforestation, the Amazon could provide Brazil $8.2 billion of annual revenue, says Vice. This number includes the sustainable industries that operate in the rainforest as well as the economic benefits from the environmental influence like carbon dioxide absorption. Brazil’s next president may be tempted to allow deforestation to create short-term growth, but the benefits of future growth are ultimately better for the economy and the environment.

As Brazil reduces its commitment to environmental issues, the whole world loses. Any climate change agreement that can bring positive impact rather than empty promises will likely need to include Brazil as it is the country that hosts a majority of the Amazon. Unless the elected government changes its position, Brazil will lose an incredible opportunity for global leadership and will install policies that will hinder its own long-term economic development.

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