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The Amazon Is a Carbon Bomb: How Can Brazil and the World Work Together to Avoid Setting It Off?

Policy Briefs 19-15


The fires in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest in the summer of 2019 represent a government policy failure over many years, especially recently, as Brazilian public agencies that are supposed to curb man-made fires have been deliberately weakened. In keeping with his far-right nationalist campaign promises, President Jair Bolsonaro’s government has intentionally backed away from efforts to combat climate change and preserve the environment, which has emboldened farmers, loggers, and other players to engage in predatory activities in the rainforest. De Bolle calculates that if the current rate of deforestation is maintained over the next few years, the Amazon would be dangerously close to the estimated “tipping point” as soon as 2021, beyond which the rainforest can no longer generate enough rain to sustain itself. The tragic fires have demonstrated that protecting the Amazon rainforest is a global cause. The international attention provides an opportunity for the governments of Brazil and the United States to stop denying climate change and cooperate on strategies to preserve the rainforest and develop ways to sustainably use its natural resources. The international community should revive and expand the Amazon Fund to invest in ways to reduce deforestation through the possible use of payments for environmental services. Brazil should adopt and enforce regulations on land use in the Amazon region while cracking down on illegal uses, such as logging and mining, and should restore conditional rural credit policies to fight deforestation.

Note: The estimates for 2019 to 2021 were calculated by maintaining the rate of increase in deforestation estimated between January and August 2019 by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE). The numbers and scale of figure 1 have been corrected from an earlier published version to reflect the conversion from square kilometers to square miles. The conclusion regarding the tipping point in 2021 remains unchanged.

Data Disclosure:

The data underlying this analysis are available here.

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