After its own National Institute for Space Research (INPE), published a report this month indicating that once again unprecedented levels of burning and deforestation are being recorded in the Amazon basin –up even on the record figures for 2019- Brazil’s government has been forced into a U-turn by a letter issued by a group of international business organizations.
In response to the letter, the Brazilian government has agreed to halt the burning of the Amazon forest for a period of 120 days. If properly enforced, the ban would mean a drastic reduction in deforestation during the rest of the dry season, when historically most burning has occurred.
Addressed to Brazil’s vice-president, Hamilton Mourão, the letter called for immediate action to address the “environmental irregularities and crimes in the Amazon”. International observers have long been concerned that the Brazilian government intended to give an even freer hand to those responsible for record levels of forest burning and clearance last year, with the world now focused on the global health emergency.
Since president Jair Bolsonaro came to power in January of last year, he has continually played to his populist base by encouraging the expansion of forest clearance, settlement, ranching and farming in the Amazon basin, while rolling back Brazil’s previously strict environmental laws. Now, facing a threat to the Brazilian economy which could potentially far outweigh the economic advantages from increased colonization and exploitation of the Amazon, Bolsonaro’s government has been forced to review its position.
The letter, endorsed by international conglomerates including Bradesco, Alcoa, Bayer, Shell and Siemens, was published just a few short weeks after the commencement of this year’s annual fire season. In total, 38 transnational companies from the agricultural, industrial, mining and services sectors, as well as four major business associations, have signed the letter of protest and threatened to review their business interests in Brazil. The Brazilian government is also facing additional pressure from the European Union, with France’s Emmanuel Macron particularly vocal when it comes to protecting the Amazon basin, and threatening to veto the EU-Mercosur trade agreement. Last month, a group of 32 investors with equity in Brazil valued in excess of US$4.5 trillion announced that it would end investment in the country if accelerating deforestation in the Amazon is not curtailed.
Bowing to this unprecedented international pressure, Hamilton Mourão announced the 120-day moratorium on forest burning, and deployed Brazilian army units to oversee the measure. The government has also announced that the measure could be extended beyond the initial 120-day period, subject to the level of burning detected in the coming months.
In 2019, a 60-day moratorium was introduced by Brazil’s government under pressure from abroad. It is to be hoped that the fierce criticism leveled in 2020 at Brazil’s recent environmental record from so many quarters will bring better results than those seen last year.