Since 2019, the Brazilian Amazon has seen record-breaking levels of fires and destruction. While the “burning season” well precedes 2019, under the Bolsonaro administration, the levels of destruction have skyrocketed and continue to worsen each year as his rhetoric and policies encourage land grabbing, destruction, and violence against Indigenous peoples. This crisis is not only a threat to Brazil and the Amazon itself but to the global climate. Last year, the Amazon reached its ecological tipping point and will soon pass the point of no return if deforestation continues.
“On August 12, we received an alert that the invaders would set fires to clear land within the Karipuna Indigenous territory, and we went to the location and saw smoke rising from the forest. We found newly cleared lands and new trails that invaders and loggers are using. This isn’t only happening in one specific location within our land, but throughout it. We have been asking for measures to be taken regarding this situation in the Karipuna Indigenous territory. There have been numerous complaints about land-grabbing and invasions of loggers within our lands, but yet nothing has been done.”Adriano Karipuna
In the face of not only government inaction, but policies that encourage burning, community response to combat fires is critical. Direct financial support sustains these efforts, and through the Casa Socio-Environmental Fund, Amazon Watch and other international allies provide solidarity funds to strengthen fire brigades, develop integrated fire management, and also to support mobilizations, engagements with officials, and public denunciations. Our Amazon Defenders Fund will continue to send direct financial support. Contributions to Amazon Watch allow us to mobilize one-third of our budget every year toward rapid response efforts like this Amazon CeaseFire project.
According to volunteers from these Community Brigades, there has been a considerable increase in the intensity of droughts in recent years which has also been reflected in the intensity of fire advancing throughout the Amazon. With the altered rainfall pattern, a strong indicator of climate change in the region, local populations have witnessed year after year a worsening in the burning of the fauna and flora that sustain their traditional ways of life.
For example, within the PDS Terra Nossa – one of the settlement models that the Brazilian government uses to implement its agrarian reform policy – where the Chapleau/Serabi mining company is installed and where one of the defenders who are part of the Amazon Watch Brazil Defend the Defenders (DtD) program lives, is once again suffering from fire outbreaks. Terra Nossa was the settlement that burned the most on the infamous “day of fire” in 2019. The region burned again in 2020 and 2021. This year, 2022, the fires are being deliberately set on the land plots of those settlers denouncing land grabbing within the PDS.
Brazil’s presidential election will take place this October. Ahead of what will be a historic election with dire implications for not only Brazil’s indigenous peoples, but the Amazon itself deforestation is happening at record levels and there has been a dangerous spike in fires throughout the Amazon. Sadly, this is not by chance: Over the last four years, the Bolsonaro administration has systematically dismantled environmental legislation, and agencies overseeing environmental protection have been gutted to pave the way for a system of complete impunity for environmental destruction, all under the pretense of fostering “economic development” and business expansion.
“They paralyzed the Climate Fund, the Amazon Fund, the Plan for Preventing and Combating Deforestation in the Amazon [PPCDAm], which is largely responsible for the control of deforestation – that the country managed to do,” said Suely Araújo, former president of IBAMA (Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources) and Senior Specialist in Public Policies of the Climate Observatory.
Record levels of destruction, again
Last year, Brazil documented more than 75,000 Amazon fires. In 2020 there were 103,000 fires, up 51% from 2018, the year before Bolsonaro took office.
According to data from the Queimadas Program of the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), the rainforest faced a 14% increase in fires during the first 7 months of 2022 when compared to the same period in 2021. This was also reflected in the burned forest area, with fire reaching 7,625 square kilometers of the Amazon during the first six months of the year, a 53% increase compared to 2021. The Amazon was reported as the second Brazilian biome most affected by fires this August 2022, accounting for 15,519 fires (36.8%), second only to the Cerrado, a vast tropical savanna bio-region, which experienced 19,500 fires (46.2%).
Especially concerning is that many of these fires have been deliberately set in “Protected Areas.” The August 2022 data shows that 32 Indigenous Territories (TIs) and 55 Conservation Units (UCs) in Brazil were set on fire. The most affected states so far are all in the Amazon region are Pará, Amazonas, and Mato Grosso, with the TI Karipuna, TI Kayapó, and TI Andirá-Marau as some of the most affected Indigenous territories.
A new chapter for the Amazon?
Experts predict that forest destruction will increase before the October elections, as it has before the previous four elections because government officials seeking votes continually loosen environmental enforcement.
Former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known for having a tougher stance against environmental crime, is currently leading the polls. Analysts say this could encourage a wave of forest crime while Bolsonaro remains in office.
With the national elections coming up, we must secure explicit and tangible commitments from incoming leaders for the protection of the Amazon’s biodiversity and the rights of those who keep the forest standing. Brazilians deserve to know how the next president plans to make good on the prior commitments to end illegal deforestation by 2028.
But Indigenous peoples and the Amazon rainforest can’t afford to wait for elections to take place – we need an “Amazon CeaseFire” now! The global community needs to understand the level of devastation and its risks to our collective survival and we must provide direct support to those combating these fires across the rainforest. As part of our community, your contributions, solidarity, and voice provide support to communities on the front lines. Thank you!