President Jair Bolsonaro’s Role in the Increased Deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest


The Amazon Rainforest has often been referred to as the “lungs of the Earth,” producing 20 percent of the world’s oxygen while absorbing greenhouse gases from the air.[1] Although the Amazon is located in South America, it is an international resource that is of critical importance in the fight against climate change. However, exploitation of the Amazon as a powerful economic resource has been on the rise in Brazil.[2] On August 10, 2019, farmers in Novo Progresso, Pará began the surge of Amazon fires in Brazil by starting fire to their properties in order to clear the land and show support for Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro.[3] Since then, the fires became so widespread by the end of August 2019 that “smoke darkened the skies over São Paulo, thousands of miles to the south.”[4]

Following the surge in Amazon fires, the rainforest experienced an 84 percent increase in fires compared to the fires recorded in 2018.[5] Deforestation efforts by the agriculture, mining, and logging industries are largely to blame for the growth in fires after years of declining deforestation activities.[6] Bolsonaro has played a key role in instituting policies emboldening these industries to ramp up exploitation efforts of the Amazon. Bolsonaro was elected under the campaign promise to create economic growth through “other uses” of the Amazon.[7] His promise to use the Amazon to support Brazil’s economy has not gone unfulfilled. The National Institute for Space Research (INPE), a Brazilian government agency, recorded an 88 percent increase in deforestation during Bolsonaro’s first six months in office.[8] Bolsonaro dismissed the numbers as inaccurate and fake.[9] The INPE Director, Ricardo Galvao, was then fired for publishing inaccurate data and for bringing harm to Brazil’s reputation.[10] The removal of Galvao was not the first time Bolsonaro took action to dismantle Brazil’s environmental policies and to neutralize environmental government agencies. Bolsonaro cut the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Neutral Resource’s (IBAMA) budget by 24 percent and discussed rolling back the agency’s environmental protection duties.[11] He also appointed opponents to environmental regulations as leaders to other environmental agencies.[12] Prior to their appointments, these individuals engaged efforts to lift restrictions on certain pesticides, to lift restrictions on hunting endangered species living in the Amazon, and to alter borders of environmentally protected areas for economic gain.[13] Bolsonaro’s policies and promises allowed created a sentiment of industrial entitlement to the natural resources contained within the Amazon. With no regard for the Amazon’s ecosystem and the indigenous people that live within the Amazon, the economic exploitation of the Amazon runs a serious risk of irreparable damage to a global resource.

Bolsonaro’s refusal to recognize the seriousness of the Amazon fires and disregard for environmental protections drew international attention. At the annual G-7 summit, French President, Emmanuel Macron, was successful in producing 20 million dollars in financial aid from G-7 countries to help fight thee fires.[14] However, Bolsonaro rejected the aid because of a personal feud with Macron and stated he would not reconsider until Macron “with[drew] his words.”[15] Bolsonaro was referencing Macron’s statements the night prior to the G-7 summit in which Macron called the fires “ecocide” and threatened to block the June 2019 free trade agreement between the European Union and Mercosur.[16] The trade agreement is aimed at strengthening the economic relationship between the EU and Mercosur by creating “opportunities for growth and jobs for both sides” in the agriculture industry.[17] Even though the agreement is aimed at economic growth, the agreement also requires the EU and Mercosur to “commit to effectively implement the Paris Climate Agreement,” which includes a “pledge to stop illegal deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon and to reforest 12 million hectares by 2030.”[18] The EU is Mercosur’s primary foreign trade and investment partner and the advancement of this agreement would play a vital role in boosting Mercosur economies.[19] Bolsonaro’s policies directly conflict with the Paris Agreement pledge and pose a serious risk violating the trade agreement that would give much needed economic support to the entire region.

Bolsonaro has since accepted international aid and he has taken affirmative steps to fight the fires. On August 23, 2019, Operation Green Brazil enlisted the country’s armed forces and government agencies to begin integrated action to fight the fire outbreaks.[20] On September 13, 2019, IBAMA reported the agency donated 1,400 forest firefighting instruments to the Army. The decision to finally take action to protect the Amazon was likely the result of international pressure from the international community and private companies that have threatened to boycott Brazilian goods.[21] Countries also threatened to pull existing funding for rainforests conservation projects.[22]

In light of the global climate change crisis and growing international awareness, it is imperative that Bolsonaro and Brazil’s political leaders continue to support the preservation of the Amazon Rainforest. To lose this international resource for financial gain would be a tragedy. In the words of Grace Thunberg, “People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”[23]

  1. Rachael D’Amore, Amazon Rainforest Fires: What Caused Them & Why Activists are Blaming Brazil’s President, Global News (Aug. 21, 2019, 3:35 PM),
  2. Umari Irfan, Why it’s been so Lucrative to Destroy the Amazon Rainforest, Vox IAug. 30, 2019, 7:00 AM),
  3. Carol Pires, The Trump Ally Who is Allowing the Amazon to Burn, The New Yorker (Aug. 28, 2019),
  4. Id.
  5. D’Amore, supra note 1.
  6. Irfan, supra note 2.
  7. D’Amore, supra note 1.
  8. D’Amore, supra note 1. Bolsonaro took office in Brazil in January 2019. Id.
  9. Pires, supra note 3.
  10. D’Amore, supra note 1.
  11. Pires, supra note 3.
  12. Id.
  13. Id.
  14. Id.
  15. Id.
  16. Id. Mercosur is a trade bloc including Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay. Id.
  17. EU-Mercosur Trade Agreement, European Commission (Jul. 16, 2019),; Key Facts: EU-Mercosur Agreement, European Commission, (2019), [hereinafter Key Facts].
  18. Key Facts, supra note 17.
  19. Id.
  20. Ibama, Funai e Polícia Federal Desativam Garimpo Ilegal Próximo a Indios Isolados no Oeste do Amazonas, IBAMA (Sept. 13, 2019), [hereinafter Ibama].
  21. Irfan, supra note 2.
  22. Id.
  23. Grace Thunberg, Address at the U.N. Climate Change Action Summit (Sept. 23, 2019).