Deforestation in the Amazon in August, 2020. © Christian Braga / Greenpeace
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Two hundred civil society organizations in Brazil sent an open letter to the United States government asking it not to support the destructive environmental policies of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

The US government is bringing together world leaders for an online Climate Summit on 22-23 April to discuss combating the climate crisis. The climate summit is part of US President Joe Biden’s efforts to reposition his country as an international leader in the fight against climate change. 

But President Biden cannot achieve any position of climate leadership if he participates in behind-the-scenes negotiations with the government of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

Behind closed doors, Brazil and the United States are negotiating the transfer of billions of dollars’ worth of resources intended to curb deforestation in Brazil. However, there is no guarantee that the money from the US will actually go towards protecting forests in Brazil. On the contrary, the agreement could make the Biden government complicit in the environmental destruction promoted by the Bolsonaro government.

Forest Fire in the Amazon in Novo Progresso (PA). © Lucas Landau / Greenpeace
Fire in the city of Novo Progresso, Brazil, in August 2020. © Lucas Landau / Greenpeace

In hopes of dissuading Biden from enabling forest destruction, Greenpeace Brazil joined 199 organizations in Brazil and sent a letter to John Kerry, the US special envoy for climate, asking the Biden government not to sign a “blank check” for Bolsonaro.

Since being elected in 2018, Bolsonaro’s administration has promoted deforestation in the Amazon and rewarded environmental criminals. Any transfer of resources from the US to Brazil would legitimize and strengthen the anti-environmental policy of Bolsonaro and his Environment Minister, Ricardo Salles. Any secretive deal with Bolsonaro’s government would also prevent the money from reaching those who most need aid, such as Indigenous Peoples, Quilombolas, and family farmers.

There is no doubt that resources are needed for environmental protection, but the current Brazilian government has shown it cannot be trusted with the protection of the largest tropical forest on the planet.

Fires have devastated 23% of Pantanal's biome © Leandro Cagiano / Greenpeace
Fires have devastated a third of Pantanal wetlands, home of unique species such as the spotted jaguar and macaws © Leandro Cagiano / Greenpeace

Here are just a few of the ways Bolsonaro’s government has failed to prevent deforestation:

  • Since 2019, the Brazilian government has stopped spending $500 million from the Amazon Fund and $96.5 million from the Green Climate Fund. These funds could have been used to protect forests and Indigenous Peoples and small landowners. Instead, the Bolsonaro government intends to direct any US funds indiscriminately to large landowners.
  • In December 2020, the Brazilian government announced climate commitments that were less than those put in place by the Paris Agreement. As part of this unambitious plan, the government claimed it needed resources from developed countries to fulfill even these diminished goals.
  • In 2021, Brazil’s National Congress, with the support of Bolsonaro, is preparing to vote on a huge package of setbacks in environmental protection. Recently, despite the efforts of Greenpeace Brazil and other organizations, the National Congress also passed the smallest budget for the environment in 21 years.

It is difficult to imagine a solution for the Amazon proposed by the government responsible for a historic increase in deforestation and which repeatedly supports bills that are harmful to Indigenous Peoples, conservation groups, and small farmers.

Indigenous People Protest with Lights in Brazil. © Leo Otero / MNI
Thousands of Indigenous People formed a light banner with the word “justice” in Portuguese, in Brasília, the capital of the country. The demonstration happened the Free Land Camp gathering in 2019, where Indigenous Peoples from all over Brazil joined to demand the protection of their rights. © Leo Otero / MNI

Any effort to defend forests in Brazil must support Indigenous Peoples, widely recognized as guardians of the forest. Likewise, a genuine effort to defend forests must curb environmental crimes and not compensate the large landowners and land grabbers who have been emboldened by Bolsonaro to advance over the forest.

By reaching an agreement with the Bolsonaro government, the US would be legitimizing the regressive policies that have increased inequality in Brazil, aggravated the global climate crisis, and prioritized political interests above the protection of the population which is suffering the consequences of intersecting climate and health crises.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were elected by US voters on the promise of listening to science and resuming the fight against the climate crisis. By negotiating with the Bolsonaro government they would be endorsing the sort of anti-human rights and anti-science policies that were a reality in the United States under Donald Trump. Repairing what has been destroyed takes more than good speeches and photos in the newspapers.

Fabiana Alves is a Climate and Justice campaigner with Greenpeace Brazil