As the fires in the Amazon threaten to dramatically accelerate climate change, right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has bowed to political pressure from the European Union and finally mobilized the country’s military to fight the blaze.
This is not only a major step in the efforts to protect the global climate but a powerful reminder of how international sanctions can be a highly effective tool in facilitating change that can and should be extended further in Brazil as well as other countries that are contributing to the destruction of the environment. The EU and the wider world need to use their economic-might to push the world in a greener direction.
The Amazon, which has been called “The Lungs of the Planet,” produces 20% of the planet’s oxygen and scrubs 2.4 billion metric tons of Co2 from the atmosphere every year. It is difficult to overstate the importance of the forest in preventing climate change.
The nearly 73,000 fires in Brazil so far this year represent an increase of around 80% from 2018.
The world cannot stand to lose the rainforest, and tolerating its destruction would dramatically accelerate climate change, something already spiraling out of control. In addition to the ecological effects, 100,000 indigenous people live in the Amazon and are frequent targets of violence in order to displace them.
Bolsonaro has long been a vocal proponent of deforestation, and the controversial practice has grown worse due to his removing of environmental protections.
Bolsonaro’s decision followed EU countries such as France, pushing to levy heavy sanctions against Brazil, with Finland calling for a union-wide ban of Brazilian beef.
Beef ranching has long been the primary financial motivator for the destruction of the Amazon, with the majority of the land cleared being used for cattle ranching.
Even the discussion of these sanctions was enough to motivate action from a notoriously obstinate leader.
Sanctioning countries is a controversial practice; critics have described it as immoral and have questioned its efficacy citing the large number of sanctions that ended in failure.
While it is true that many sanctions, such as the embargo of Cuba by the United States have failed, others, such as the economic isolation of South Africa have resulted in sweeping changes.
The deciding factor is global unity. Cutting off South Africa was a major force in ending apartheid because the vast majority of major world economies refused to do any business with the nation. Whereas failed attempts like Cuba lacked international support meaning the economic impact was far less severe.
An EU that collectively boycotts products directly affecting climate change would hurt the economies of both the EU and the sanctioned state, but a slight economic downturn is nothing in the face of the pain that climate change will bring if practices like the Amazonian deforestation are not stopped as soon as possible.
While ideally, the US would assist, it is the world’s largest economy, President Trump’s administration is notoriously anti-environmental protection and represents almost as much of a threat to global climate change as Bolsanaro’s Brazil.
While this may change in the 2020 election, for the time being, the EU is largely alone in the fight against climate change. Despite this they have already made a massive impact, time will tell if they continue to push the world in the right direction.