Bolsonaro denies Brazil is burning, blames Indigenous People for fires in disturbing speech at UNGA

by Katie Nelson

September 22, 2020

Bolsonaro deflects responsibility for deforestation while the Amazon burns

New York, New York In a surreal speech addressing world leaders at the 75th United Nations General Assembly, Brazilian far-right President Jair Bolsonaro denied the environmental crisis facing Brazil as fires rage across the country, which have already burnt millions of hectares across the Amazon rainforest, the Pantanal wetlands, and the Cerrado savanna grasslands. The President also falsely blamed Indigenous People for fires that, in reality, are primarily a result of cattle ranching and land grabbing and ignited often within large properties.

Satellite images and data show that 2020 is the worst fire season in a decade in the Amazon and the worst ever recorded in the Pantanal wetlands, the biggest wetland in the world despite a ‘ban’ on fires instituted in July. This year, the Pantanal has already burnt 185% more than in 2019, and the Amazon 12%. [1] 

Deforestation and fires skyrocketed across Brazil since Bolsonaro came into power in January 2019. According to Global Forest Watch, Brazil was the country that destroyed most forests that year, a trend that only worsened in 2020. [2]

“Bolsonaro denied Brazil is burning, while at the same time blaming Indigenous People for the fires in an outlandish, disturbing, yet unsurprising speech. The destruction of ecosystems in Brazil which are vital for our survival on this planet is the consequence of the Bolsonaro administration’s radical anti-science and anti-environmental agenda, which has been dismantling environmental protections and enforcement from day one,” said Mariana Mota, Public Policy Coordinator at Greenpeace Brazil. 

The fires ravaging across Brazil are not natural, but are most often illegally set by farmers and land-grabbers to clear land and expand agribusiness. These blazes are not only a threat to climate and biodiversity, but the smoke adds another threat to the health of people living in a country still strained by the COVID-19 crisis. The impacts of these two crises combined could be devastating, especially for vulnerable groups, like Indigenous Peoples and traditional communities like the Quilombola. [3]

“While Bolsonaro’s policies are causing irreparable damage, his government  dismisses the environmental catastrophe facing Brazil and attacks those working to protect life on this planet. Bolsonaro uses hate speech and rhetoric as a smokescreen to divert people’s attention from the real danger his government poses not only to Brazil, but to the global climate. Global political and business leaders must immediately condemn his call for violence and demand an end to this destruction,” concluded Mota.

Bolsonaro’s speech this year coincides with a historic public hearing held by the Brazilian Supreme Court to scrutinize the current environmental crisis in Brazil and its implications for the fight against climate emergency.

“Without forests, we are without a future. Bolsonaro’s dismantling of environmental protections has led to more deforestation and the Amazon Rainforest is on track to hit a ‘tipping point,’ in which it could fail as an ecosystem, with grave implications for the climate,” said Daniel Brindis, Greenpeace USA Forests Campaign Director. 

“Corporations like BlackRock who invest in the sectors responsible for destroying nature are also responsible as they have failed to hold Bolsonaro accountable and continue to profit from extinction, forest destruction, and the climate apocalypse,” continued Brindis. 

Yesterday, face-masked activists brandished banners at the New York UN Headquarters reading “Brazil in flames” (“Brasil em Chamas”) and “No forest; No future.” The protestors called attention to the record fires that are destroying ecosystems in the Brazilian Amazon. 

Photos are available here: 


[1]  In the first three weeks of September alone, the Pantanal recorded 5,966 hot spots, an increase of 107% compared to the entirety of September of last year. In addition to the Pantanal, the Amazon has also recorded 27,660 outbreaks between September 1 and September 20, an increase of 38% over the entire month of 2019.

Analysis based on data from INPE (Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research) and


[3] Indigenous Peoples face a mortality rate from COVID19 150% higher than the rest of the Brazilian population. Bolsonaro has vetoed measures to support Indigenous Peoples during the pandemic. According to a report released on August 26 by Human Rights Watch, “fires resulting from unchecked deforestation are poisoning the air millions of people breathe, affecting health throughout the Brazilian Amazon.”


Katie Nelson, Strategic Communications Specialist, Greenpeace USA: +1 (678) 644-1681, [email protected] 


Katie Nelson

By Katie Nelson

Katie Nelson is a Senior Communications Specialist at Greenpeace USA.

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