Bolsonaro could easily destroy 15 million hectares of the Brazilian Amazon

Background: The right-wing President elect of Brazil has inspired fears of heavy handed policies that could cripple Indigenous peoples and protected lands, but a new study has revealed that a simple adjustment to private property regulations, and a small increase in Indigenous land designations could infact unleash a wave of destruction across the Amazon, as big as all the forest cover in the UK.
The Legal Loophole: The research focussed on the Brazilian Forest Act, a private property regulation that requires private landholders within the Amazon to set aside 80% of their land as legal reserves for nature. However, the act has a small loophole: if more than 65% of a state’s territory is protected public land (for example, public conservation units and indigenous reserves), private land holders only need to conserve 50% of their land. So if a state is “protecting” a lot  a lot of public land, private landholders don’t need to.
What this means: According to the researchers, some states are really close to their 65% threshold already. The researchers then highlight that; “depending on the outcome of land designation processes and political priorities, some 6.5–15.4 million hectares of private land previously protected as legal reserves may become available for legal deforestation.”
The study: Published this week in Nature Sustainability, the researchers collected the most up-to-date land databases in Brazil, the researchers measured the total private land that could suddenly be opened up for agriculture if this Forest act’s trigger is acted on.
Ilegal deforestation monitoring in Brazil. Photo: Felipe Werneck/Ibama
How to stop it: The researchers argue that with this impending deadline near (where some states are close to protecting 65% of their land in publicly conserved areas) it is critical for an immediate revision of “federal and state legislation” that eliminates this potential private land “trigger”.
Why that’s unlikely: Bolsonaro has openly stated that he plans to open up the Amazon to ever greater expansion of hydro-electric dams, highways and all but eliminate Indigenous protected areas altogether. He won the election on the back of the parliamentary meat lobby, and has inspired allies across the logging and mining industries keen to exploit as much land as possible.
In his early cabinet announcements, he has already named pro-meat ministers to head the Agriculture and Foreign Affairs departments. His proposed Agriculture minister, Tereza Cristina argued earlier this month that Brazil needs to end the “industry of fines” against those guilty of deforestation.
It’s already begun: Fabiano Maisonnave from Climate Home News has reported that during the 3 month election campaign, deforestation and in the amazon rose by 50%. In the state of Acre, it increased by 273%. The majority of this expansion was for pasture land. Clearly private landholders already feel like they have the green light they need to destroy massive expanses of the Amazon.
In an interview with O Estado de S.Paulo newspaper, the current Environment minister Edson Duarte already warned that the “increase in deforestation will be immediate”. It seems he was right.
What else could be done: International boycotts against Brazilian agriculture products like Soy and Beef could prove a powerful tool to limit Bolsonaro, Cristina and Araújo in their collective quest to desecrate the Amazon. Already France has made a strong move against imports linked to deforestation. It is thought that diplomatic pressure already led to Bolsonaro back-flipping on a promise to pull out of the Paris Agreement.
Similar measures to stop deforestation imports from European allies and Private sector buyers (like Nestle or McDonalds) during this week’s Biodiversity talks in Egypt could start a wave that may dim an otherwise fiery cabinet before they begin their official term on the 1st of January, 2019.