Brazil warns Biden not to trust Bolsonaro as he demands cash in exchange for climate action

Aerial view of a burning area of Amazon rainforest reserve, south of Novo Progresso in Para state, on August 16, 2020.  (AFP via Getty Images)
Aerial view of a burning area of Amazon rainforest reserve, south of Novo Progresso in Para state, on August 16, 2020. (AFP via Getty Images)
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President Joe Biden is receiving warnings from Brazilian state governors, indigenous leaders and environmental groups that the country’s president Jair Bolsonaro is not to be trusted on the issue of the climate crisis.

The United States is attempting to come to an agreement with Brazil on how to stop the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.

Delegates from the Brazilian government have been negotiating a deal with Mr Biden’s climate team since February. If they can agree on a plan to end deforestation and other environmental goals, the US could end up sending billions of dollars in aid to the country.

The rightwing firebrand Mr Bolsonaro, who was elected in October 2018 and entered office in January 2019, sent a letter to Mr Biden on 14 April vowing to end illegal deforestation by 2030.

Illegal deforestation makes up for an estimated 95 per cent of the practice.

Governors in 23 out of Brazil’s 27 states will send a letter to Mr Biden as he hosts a virtual climate summit on Thursday and Friday with dozens of world leaders. The letter, which is already publically available, doesn’t mention Mr Bolsonaro or his federal government but instead sets out a framework for possible cooperation between the US government and Brazilian states.

The letter says the states have “funds and mechanisms … available for the safe and transparent use of international funds, guaranteeing rapid and verifiable results”.

The governor of Brazil’s most populous state, São Paulo, told Time that Mr Bolsonaro “won’t even try” to keep his deforestation promise.

“Bolsonaro has demonstrated a total disregard for the environmental agenda and he hasn’t done anything to suggest he has any intention of changing his behaviour,” João Doria told the magazine.

Senate Democrats have already expressed hesitancy concerning a deal. More than a dozen of them sent a letter to Mr Biden on Friday blasting the environmental record of Mr Bolsonaro, and urging the US president to condition any support for Amazon preservation on meaningful progress.

A senior Biden administration official told The Independent that Brazil is an important partner when it comes to tackling climate issues, noting that the country is one of the world’s largest economies.

The official added that climate solutions need the leadership of Brazil. The administration is looking to the country to present its plans on illegal deforestation, its concrete goals and how they will involve civil society. Rather than looking at specific funding avenues, the conversation has focused on what actions need to be taken to address the issue, the official said.

Since taking office, Mr Bolsonaro has slashed the budget of environmental agencies and he has tried to weaken regulations as he slams foreign leaders who try to intervene.

In July 2019, he cancelled a climate meeting with the French foreign minister and got a haircut instead.

Several nations have cancelled or frozen donations to Brazil that were meant to help them halt the destruction of the largest rainforest in the world, 60 per cent of which is in Brazil. Smaller parts exists in neighbouring nations such as Peru, Colombia, and Bolivia.

Environmental advocates say Mr Bolsonaro’s actions have given free rein to loggers, farmers and miners to unlawfully cut down trees, lighting a fire under an issue that previous governments had managed to get under control.

More than 4,200 square miles of rainforest were destroyed between August 2019 and July 2020, a 47 per cent increase compared to a similar period leading up to July 2018, just before Mr Bolsonaro took the helm.

Mr Doria toldTime: “The US should not strike an agreement with the federal government because it won’t be fulfilled.

“They should make deals with state governments, one by one, with well-established commitments and independent, transparent auditing of how funds are used.”

Brazilian environmentalists and indigenous communities have also sent letters to Mr Biden. Along with 15 Senate Democrats, they have urged the president not to enter a deal that doesn’t include oversight by state governments and representatives from civil society. They argue that without these checks, Mr Bolsonaro could use the infusion of cash to take a stranglehold on the rainforest and boost his allies.

A spokesperson for the State Department toldTime: “We would very much hope President Bolsonaro would use this opportunity to demonstrate his seriousness in addressing climate change, including emissions from deforestation in the Amazon.”

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