Brasilia: If Brazil’s far-right President-elect Jair Bolsonaro wants to make good on his promise to reboot the economy, he should stop his attacks on the environment, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
The former army captain, who won the giant Latin American country’s election Sunday, will merge the agriculture and environment ministries, an adviser confirmed Tuesday — infuriating environmentalists, who warn the latter will be neutered by business interests.
Bolsonaro, who is backed by the powerful agro-industry lobby, has vowed not to let the environment get in the way of kick-starting a flagging economy.
That has drawn warnings from environmentalists about the potential impact his policies will have on Brazil’s natural resources, and particularly the Amazon rainforest, known as the “lungs of the planet.”
Service economy, jungle-style
Taking a step back from the debate, the WWF insisted that a strong economy and healthy environment in fact go hand in hand.
The vital role forests play in purifying our air and water should be seen as “environmental services,” said Andre Nahur, coordinator of the group’s climate change and energy program in Brazil.
“They guarantee that important sectors of the economy such as agribusiness and energy continue producing and contributing to GDP,” he told AFP in an interview.
“In today’s world, where our main biomes (such as the Amazon) are reaching the point of no return in terms of biodiversity loss, it’s vital the new president recognise the role that socio-environmental issues play in maintaining economic growth.”
The Amazon, which is being deforested at an annual rate of some 52,000 square kilometres (20,000 square miles) — an area the size of Costa Rica — is vital to the exchange of oxygen for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a check on global warming.
Worryingly, about 20 per cent of the rainforest has been lost in the past 50 years, according to WWF.
Most of the Amazon is located in Brazil, which has taken major steps in recent years to curb deforestation.
Yet Bolsonaro’s electoral platform made no mention of the words “Amazon,” “deforestation” or “climate change” — part of the hardline conservative worldview that has earned him the nickname “Tropical Trump.”
In fact, saving the Amazon ought to be apolitical, Nahur argued.
“Sustainable development needs to be a cross-party concern,” he said.
Paris accord threat
“These days, in any country in the world, development, GDP growth, expanding employment, and improving people’s quality of life are a priority,” said Nahur.
“The thing is, we have to recognise that it’s impossible to maintain people’s quality of life without environmental balance.”
During the campaign, Bolsonaro pledged to follow US President Donald Trump’s lead and pull Brazil from the Paris climate accord signed by 195 countries in 2015.
He has since backtracked, though he says he wants a guarantee the deal will not strip Brazil’s sovereignty over the Amazon.
There is nothing to fear on that count, said Nahur.
The Paris deal “doesn’t violate national sovereignty or create the slightest risk of losing territory. That doesn’t exist. It’s not in the treaty,” he said.