picture by Lilo Clareto

The crisis of Brazil

Insight / 28 May 2021

With over 450,000 dead from Covid-19 and deforestation at record levels, leading voices from Brazil discuss the environmental, social and health crises in the world’s fifth largest nation

“What happens in Brazil doesn’t stay in Brazil and what happens to Brazil doesn’t necessarily start in Brazil.” The words of the Guardian’s international environment editor Jonathan Watts at a webinar hosted by Global Canopy and The Oxford Centre for Tropical Forests (OCTF), the School of Geography and the Environment at the University of Oxford and the Oxford Biodiversity Network. It shone a light on a nation in crisis. Almost half a million Brazilians have died from Covid-19, the second highest death toll in the world. Deforestation is at its highest level in 12 years and the country is facing a growing economic emergency.

The webinar (recordings below) also paid tribute to Lilo Clareto, the celebrated Brazilian photographer who spent much of his life documenting the beauty of the Amazon and the damage being done to the world’s largest tropical forest. He died from Covid-19 in April this year.

Acclaimed journalist Eliane Brum pays tribute to her friend and colleague Lilo Clareto

The event is part of a series run by Global Canopy aiming to bring the Amazon and its voices to the centre of discussions about the climate emergency.

Brazil is key to the world’s aims of combating climate change. The Amazon alone absorbs 2 billion tons of CO2 per year – that’s 5% of the world’s annual emissions. But it’s being destroyed at an alarming rate. Erika Berenguer, senior research associate at The Environmental Change Institute of the University of Oxford, told the webinar that in 2019, ten thousand square kilometres was deforested – an area twice the size of Rio. That destruction is causing other problems too – namely drought – and that has consequences for Brazil agri-businesses. “Without forests you don’t have rain. It is my duty as a scientist to share this data with civil society to reverse this grave devastating scenario.”

Sônia Guajajara is the executive co-ordinator of Brazil’s Articulation of Indigenous Peoples (APIB). Her organisation represents around 300 indigenous ethnic groups in Brazil. It is these groups that are being hit hardest by the environmental, health and economic crises in the country. “In this moment, we face many interconnected viruses, bullets coming from all over against those who fight against deforestation, fires and human rights violations. The coronavirus has only added to this. And the political situation is aggravating all of these viruses.”

In Brazil many people feel that environmental protections and organisations protecting both the forests and indigenous communities are under threat from the current government. A day after speaking at the Earth Day Summit promising to protect the forests, President Jair Bolsonaro approved a large cut to the environment budget for 2021. 

In recent months UK supermarket chains have written a letter to the Brazilian legislature demanding it rejects a bill which could legalise the private occupation of public land. Adriana Ramos, Policy and Law Coordinator of Instituto Socioambiental (ISA) said there had been a huge increase in land grabbing. She urged international actors who want to help to work with civil society and not the government. “We would like the world to understand that helping Brazil at the moment means helping Brazilian civil society.” 

In November some of the most powerful people on the planet are expected in Glasgow for the climate summit. World leaders will need to come up with solutions to stop the twin emergencies of climate change and biodiversity loss. Brazil’s vast natural resources and traditional peoples are a vital part of the puzzle. In the run up to the summit Global Canopy will host a series of events to foster dialogue and increase international visibility for Brazilian initiatives and voices. In doing this we can make sure that the essential voices of the Amazon are heard at COP26.

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Find the full webinar recordings below, in English and in Portuguese. The videos are also available on our YouTube channel.

Recording of the webinar in English
Recording of the webinar in Portuguese

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