In 1988, an extreme burning season in the Amazon rainforest made news worldwide and created unprecedented international pressure on the Brazilian government. A scorching North American summer and a landmark hearing in the US Senate fuelled media concerns with the climate crisis – and the clearing of the Amazon was already seen as a key source of emissions. Calls for a boycott were rife, and multilateral banks threatened to suspend loans to development projects. Brazil reacted by launching an ambitious satellite monitoring program and creating a federal environmental agency.
Three decades later, the fate of the world’s biggest tropical forest is again the reason for global alarm. Deforestation soared by 34 per cent in 2019 – the biggest jump in this century – and preliminary official data points to a similar increase in 2020. The 2019 fire season, boosted by increased clear-cutting, put Brazil in the centre of an international crisis. This year’s fire season is off to a hot start, with a drought that could make it even worse than last year’s if nothing is done. As a result, retailers are threatening to boycott Brazilian products and some of the world’s biggest investment funds are on the verge of divesting from Brazil.
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