From 2004 to 2012, the rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon dropped more than 80 percent, even as Brazil’s agricultural production continued to grow. But that progress in protecting a fragile and essential ecosystem reversed in recent years, before the outlook got even worse.
First, U.S. President Donald Trump launched a trade war with China, shifting more Chinese demand for soybean products from the United States to Brazil, potentially leading to more deforestation to meet the demands of Brazilian agriculture. Then, last month Brazilians elected the far-right Jair Bolsonaro as president, a major supporter of agribusiness who has vowed to put economic growth over environmental protection. That combination could mean a surge in deforestation in the Amazon with serious implications not just for the Brazilians most directly affected, but for the wider world.
The Amazon basin is home to the world’s largest rainforest. Its trees release carbon dioxide when cut down or burned, and sequester it when planted or left in place. The pace of deforestation, especially in tropical areas like Brazil, has become a major contributor to climate change, as large in the aggregate as the European Union’s greenhouse gas emissions. Reversing those trends could reduce global emissions by even more—as much as 30 percent according to some estimates.