The Impact of Brazil's forest fires

As you’ll have seen across the news and various social media posts, the Amazon rainforest is on fire and has been for some time. While this time of year is typical of “fire season”, the amount of burning – especially man-made burning – that’s taking place has spiked considerably.

BBC News stated that there’s been an 84% increase in the amount of fires year on year with over 9,000 fires taking place during a one week period according to the Telegraph.

Why has there been an increase? 

A large factor for this increase, is the Brazilian President Bolsonaro’s anti-environment rhetoric and de-funding environmental agencies, states Christian Poirer, Director of Amazon Watch.

He told the Financial Times  that many farmers and ranchers “understand the president’s message as a licence to commit arson with wanton impunity, in order to aggressively expand their operations into the rainforest.”

Earlier this year, the Guardian released an investigation on the link between cattle ranching and illegal deforestation, finding that much of the beef responsible for deforestation is exported to China, Hong King and the European Union.


Environmental Impact of the Amazon burning

In truth, the environmental impact is staggering.

The Amazon currently removes around a quarter of the CO2 removal from the world’s forests and holds around 10 year’ worth of total global greenhouse gas emissions.

These fires aren’t just preventing its function as a carbon sink, they’re releasing a huge amount of CO2 – Reuters believe that these ongoing fires could push us past the climate change tipping point.

Initially it was believed that the tipping point was 40% destruction, but climate scientist Carlos Nobre argues that with current global warming temperatures this figure is more likely 20-25%. Total destruction so far is estimated at being 15-17%.  

While these fires are having an impact on climate change, it is not climate change that is the cause, rather it is the humans who are deliberately starting the fires to clear land for farming.

If this tipping point is hit, the rainforest will experience a self-sustained cycle of forest dieback, moving from a rainforest to a savannah – a change that is likely to happen over 30 to 50 years and release 200bn tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.

What does this mean for carbon offsetting projects?

With this huge threat to the ecosystem, carbon offsetting projects may not be at the top of most people’s priority, but there’s a significant concern here.

A carbon offsetting project allows an individual or company in another country to pay to write off their emissions by doing things like preserving trees in the Amazon. While having financial backing could help to deliver improved protection in these areas, it is not a guarantee that offsetting is able to work.

These fires highlight the fragile nature of these projects, as they are susceptible not only to changing political stances but also to disasters, such as the wildfires.

As most offset projects use the lifetime carbon capture of a tree, for example, if that tree is destroyed within 100 years then the offsetting is effectively void. This in turn makes offsetting credits a loophole rather than a movement that delivers environmental benefits.

The political reaction

As expected, many world leaders have had their say regarding the Amazon situation.

French president Emmanuel Macron called the situation “an international crisis” and urged G7 members to “discuss this emergency”. In addition to this, France said they would oppose an EU trade deal with the Mercosur bloc of South American nations “in its current state”.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar supported France on this decision, saying, “there is no way that Ireland will vote for the EU-Mercosur free trade agreement if Brazil does not honour its environmental commitments.” 

London mayor, Sadiq Khan took to social media to call the burning “an act of shocking environmental vandalism with global consequences” and asked the UK government to call on Brazil to stop the fires.

US President Donald Trump did not make a stance to revoke trade deals, but did offer assistance with the Amazon Rainforest fires.

The G7 collectively agreed to offer an immediate £16m aid package to help the Amazon countries fight the wildfires and launch a long-term initiative to protect the rainforest.

Under intense international pressure, President Bolsonaro sent military aircraft  and 44,000 troops to help put out the fires caused by unlawful environmental destruction.

So, what can we do?

This is a very important question and there’s been a lot of noise going out around many different solutions.

 A lot of people are calling for a boycott on Brazilian imports, looking to force a change by potentially damaging their economy.

Others are calling for people to go vegan, due to the amount of deforestation caused by beef. It’s also a good idea to avoid soya, another Brazilian export responsible for the deforestation.

If you don’t want to go vegan, make sure everything you buy and consume is ethically sourced. Making these kind of decisions shifts the power towards the consumers and forces businesses and corporations to be more sustainable in their practices.

One of the best thing you can do is to donate to causes that look to protect the area – such as the Rainforest Trust, Greenpeace or the WWF.

Also, think about how you vote. While there’s a lot of other aspects to consider, we need to ensure that our votes do not put politicians who are climate deniers or are accountable to corporations in power.

This article comes from the “Not the Norm” section of our Monthly Markets Report, which you can have for free by signing up here.

NewsJoe Hickman