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Fri Dec 7, 2018, 01:30 AM

Tropical forest conservation in the Bolsonaro era (commentary)

Commentary by Dan Nepstad, João Shimada, Jonah Busch, Oswaldo Carvalho Jr. on 6 December 2018

Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s President-elect, represents a globally significant threat to the world’s biggest tropical forest conservation legacy and the biggest tropical forest. If he does what he says he will do, our chances of avoiding extremely dangerous climate change will be considerably smaller.

But even under this radically different government, Brazil’s historical gains in forest conservation can be secured and new wins achieved. The key is to demonstrate to farmers and Brazilian society more broadly that Brazil’s achievements in slowing deforestation benefit them and that they will be worse off if environmental policies and protected areas are weakened.

Forest conservation in Brazil has reached the limits of a strategy that has been very successful, but that has depended on command-and-control measures that are supported and implemented by a sympathetic national government. It is a strategy that is strong on sticks and weak on carrots. And when the political will to wield sticks vanishes—as it just did—they are relatively easy to shelve, a point that advocates of an even greater focus on command-and-control approaches miss. Fortunately, there are some good opportunities to expand support for forest conservation, as I explain below.

Jair Bolsonaro won 54% of the popular vote nationwide in the run-off election against Fernando Haddad, the candidate of the Workers’ Party (PT) that has controlled the presidency for 14 of the last 16 years. He was elected on a wave of frustration, anger and fear that grew out of the rise in crime and associated violence, economic stagnation and the “lava jato” (car wash) corruption scandal that snared dozens of the political elite. He was elected on strong anti-environmental positions, promising to free the farm sector from environmental regulations, open up indigenous lands to development, and defund environmental groups.


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