The rainy season has come to the tropical forests of South America’s Amazon basin, and the annual “burning season” has therefore come to an end. But as international news organizations shift their focus to other global issues, the world’s largest surviving tract of equatorial forest remains under threat.
Data released by the Brazilian government shows that the radical policies introduced during 2019 by the country’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, have already had a devastating impact upon what environmentalists call “the planet’s lungs”.
The new figures indicate that by the time this year’s dry season was drawing to a close, during the first eight months of 2019 almost 10,000 square kilometers of Brazil’s Amazon forests had been lost to the burning and clearing perpetrated by the country’s farming and ranching sectors, the logging industry, and small and large scale mining concerns. According to monitoring conducted by Brazil’s own National Institute for Space Research (INPE), this represents an increase of almost 30% on the same figure for the previous year, and an annual total not seen since 2008.
It seems clear that what the Brazilian government has instituted during the first year of Jair Bolsonaro’s presidency merely constitutes the beginning of a policy that will continue for at least the entire first four-year term of the country’s new leader. This means that, far from achieving its goals under the terms of the Paris climate accord, Brazil is now on course to distance itself ever further from that critical global initiative. In fact, according to the NGO The Climate Observatory, the increase in deforestation seen this year is the third highest ever recorded, and the highest since the final decade of the 20th century.
Despite the fact that the Amazon basin is also shared by Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Suriname, Venezuela and Peru, what happens in Brazil really matters, because not only does almost sixty percent of the Amazon lie within Brazil’s borders, as the continent’s biggest economy the example it sets is followed inevitably by other countries in the region. The record levels of forest burning and clearance seen in neighboring Bolivia this year have already been attributed in part to that landlocked nation’s imitating of Brazil’s populist anti-environmental agenda. And of course, Peru is facing many problems similar to those being experienced by its regional partners.
As ecotourism operators in the Amazon basin of southeastern Peru, close to the border with Brazil, where we work to protect our own Tambopata Private Conservation Area, we find ourselves forced to remain ever vigilant against multiple threats to the forest we conserve. Those threats come in many forms, ranging from land invasion to illegal logging and the illicit gold mining operations that have polluted many of the Madre de Dios region’s waterways.
At Tambopata Ecolodge, as 2019 draws to a close and a new year approaches, we will continue to do all we can to conserve one small corner of the Amazon basin, and to set an example based upon conservation and sustainable ecotourism that we hope more and more of our fellow Peruvians will choose to follow.