As the clocks strike midnight on 31 December 2018, those fighting to protect the Amazon Rainforests may not be cheering too loudly. The next day, Jair Bolsonaro will take office as Brazil’s new president. Amazonian deforestation has already risen, although this is normal as around election times the appetite of authorities to enforce laws is reduced, but environmental and human rights groups are warning that worse is to come for forests and people. And their concerns seem justified… the incoming president’s newly appointed foreign affairs minister has called climate change a Marxist hoax.
While President-elect Bolsonaro is choosing his government in Brazil, important events are also happening in Europe. Talks between the current Brazilian administration, on behalf of the Mercosur trade block, and the European Union (EU) have recently resumed, and the Brazilian Trade and Investment promotion agency (APEX) has been touring some of the world’s capitals, including Brussels, to convince them that they are undertaking serious efforts to produce products such as beef and sugarcane more sustainably. Unfortunately, not all of the data Brazil is presenting can withstand a stringent – or even casual – peer review. For example, their announcement that they have already met their Paris Climate Agreement reduction target omits to mention that emissions from forest degradation, logging and burning are not yet accounted for.
The timing of the APEX mission and the resumption of Mercosur Free Trade Agreement (FTA) talks is important as the Mercosur block is keen to increase exports of agricultural goods, which amounted to EUR 124 billion in the period 2013 - 16. Luckily, France is continuing its recent advocacy for forests by calling for FTAs to only go ahead if countries uphold the Paris agreement and environmental standards.
But France cannot halt deforestation on its own, the EU needs to follow its lead by also standing up for forests. The most effective way to do this would be to enact an Action Plan to Protect Forests and Respect Rights, including binding legislation guaranteeing that no products or financial transactions linked to the EU lead to deforestation, forest degradation and human rights violations, in Brazil, or anywhere else on the planet.
As the incoming Brazilian administration begins to outline its policies, the EU must clearly signal that it is serious about halting climate change and deforestation by refusing to trade with countries that put profit and supply chains over people and the planet.