Will A New President Be Enough To Save The Amazon Rainforest?

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Will a presidential election be enough to save the Amazon rainforest?

It’s a question that should be on everyone’s mind in the lead up to the United Nations climate conference COP27 in Egypt, and after Brazil’s 2022 presidential election saw former president Lula da Silva narrowly beat out far-right Jair Bolsonaro.

It was a defeat that Bolsonaro didn’t want to explicitly concede defeat too and that led to protests across major cities like Rio.

Now that Bolsonaro has accepted his loss, a new reality is sinking in for Brazilians and what this could mean for the rainforest, that for the past four years has been “threatened, attacked and destroyed” under a government happy to turn a blind eye to environmental crimes.

The Amazon is a force to be reckoned with. Accounting for half of the world’s remaining tropical rainforests, it covers 5.5 million square kilometres and is home to enormous biodiversity.

One-fifth of all the world’s freshwater is found in the Amazon basin. It’s also a massive carbon sink, because it absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases.

Preserving this natural wonder is actually crucial for limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees, something that will again be discussed during next week’s COP27.

In fact, the state of the Amazon could be a deciding factor for the entire planet’s future against climate change.

The only problem is that national political shifts have long impacted the Amazon from doing its job properly.

60 percent of the Amazon rainforest is located in Brazil. If we look back to Bolsonaro’s rule, who was elected back in 2018, deforestation soared to a 15-year high.

Not only did the former president promote the development of the rainforest, he allowed the extraction of resources from protected areas and stopped funding for key environmental institutions.

For example, the international Amazon Fund set up in 2008 that had generated billions of dollars for Amazon, was paused after Bolsonaro quite literally fired the fund’s committee.

Just in his first three years in office, 33,200 square kilometres of forest was cleared which is the equivalent of 2.5 times the size of the Greater Sydney region — the worst loss in nearly two decades.

There are worries that the Amazon rainforest might be nearing its tipping point if clearing rates don’t halt.

There was also a rise in land violence against Indigenous peoples and environmental activists in the Amazon. Organised criminal groups wanting to deforest the Amazon meant more land invasions.

All of the above are indicators as to why Lula re-entering the top job could not be better timed.

Brazilians already know the former president, who in stark contrast to Bolsonaro, during his first two terms of office in 2003 and 2010 he established much needed environmental policies.

Indigenous territories were expanded and protected, and there was a significant reduction in forest clearing. More than 80% between 2004 and 2012.

The president is not without his flaws though. He was part of a corruption scandal that actually ended him in jail for money laundering.

But it’s the president’s strong promises to protect the Amazon that are at the forefront of his win, and are unprecedented in Brazilian politics.

Lula has a big job ahead of him to fix up the environmental mess Bolsonaro has left him.

Only time will tell if the world’s most precious rainforest can truly be saved.