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Deforestation in Brazil has seen massive changes recently due to President Jair Bolsonaro’s plans for the future of the Amazon rainforest. Bolsonaro, a far-right politician and strong supporter of agribusiness growth, has announced major plans for reorganising the Brazilian government. Expanding infrastructure, including roads, is set to take priority over environmental protection.

The Amazon is currently the largest tropical rainforest in the world, often referred to as the ‘Lungs of the World’. It has enormous carbon storage potential and over 20% of all oxygen in the world originates there. Amazonian deforestation figures have been released for the 3-month electoral campaign, revealing a staggering 48.8% increase in deforestation. Over these 3 months 1674 square kilometres of forest was cut down, an area more than double the size of New York City.

While it is noted that illegal deforestation figures have historically risen in Brazil at the time of its presidential campaign season, this number is significantly higher than normal. This higher increase in deforestation has been attributed to Bolsonaro’s supporters anticipating the government’s retreat from environmental protections. This is supported by the fact that most of the illegal clearing during this period was linked to cattle ranchers, who are among Bolsonaro’s most notable supporters.

Bolsonaro also has a documented dislike for the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA). Bolsonaro himself was fined by the IBAMA in 2012 for fishing in a protected area. He denied the charges despite photographic evidence.

This event led to Bolsonaro publicly criticising IBAMA for holding back Brazilian agribusiness growth, arguing they withheld too many areas as protected or indigenous locations. Since assuming power on January 1st, Bolsonaro has issued a decree placing the minister for agriculture in charge of designating indigenous lands. The Ministry for Agriculture has strong ties to the farm industry, logging, and mining. As a result, this move has been widely regarded as undermining indigenous rights.

Bolsonaro made agricultural expansions a key part of his campaign strategy, despite reports by the Zero Deforestation Working Group (ZDWG) that concluded Brazil already has a surplus of 15 – 20 million hectares of cleared forest. These areas, currently unused, could be utilised to expand agribusiness without clearing any more trees.

One of the largest issues with these changes and planned amendments to environmental protection is the effect they will have on avoided deforestation. Avoided deforestation projects protect native forests from being cleared for expansion reasons, and the forest provides carbon sequestration by storing carbon in its woody biomass and soil.

Avoided deforestation projects require constant monitoring to ensure they continue to be legitimate and are not being compromised by (especially illegal) clearing over the span of the project crediting period. If the new government openly plans to reduce protection and open up the Amazon through the building of new roads, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) projects become even more important.

The Portel-Para avoided deforestation project in the Brazilian rainforest produces Verified Carbon Units, meaning it is accredited by Verra under its Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) – REDD Certification. The site is monitored to check progress and prevent illegal clearing or tampering, proper methodology is used to ensure carbon removal has taken place, and the site is credited for a 30 year period.

For more information on Verified Carbon Units, including avoided deforestation projects in the Amazon rainforest: https://carbonneutral.com.au/verified-carbon-units/