The Amazon rainforest is threatened with collapse. If nothing is done about deforestation, a chain reaction will be set in motion that will cause the unique ecosystem to disappear forever and further fuel climate change. But the election of Lula da Silva as president of Brazil gives hope. Lula announced his intention to end the deforestation of the Amazon.

Lula, a trade unionist and former president, won the presidential election with 50.9 percent of the vote against far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro. This narrow victory could be one of the most important political decisions of our time. Because: Brazil is home to a good 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest. The largest forest area on earth influences the climate all over the world by binding CO2 and producing oxygen. This ecosystem is on the verge of an irreversible tipping point, the reaching of which would change the world’s climate forever. With the continuation of Bolsonaro’s environmental policies, this point would undoubtedly be reached. However, Lula now announced his intention to fight for an end to deforestation in the Amazon:

 “Brazil is ready to resume its role in the fight against the climate crisis and protect all ecosystems, especially the Amazon. Our government once managed to reduce forest destruction by 80 percent. Now let us all fight together for zero deforestation!”

In just one month, the Amazon shrinks by more than twice the area of Vienna

This is sorely needed, as the Amazon has been badly affected in recent years. When Lula first moved into the presidential palace in 2003, he launched an ambitious program to save the rainforest. He and his successor Dilma Rousseff, who like Lula comes from Brazil’s leftist Workers’ Party, succeeded in reducing deforestation by 80 percent to a historic low. But when Bolsonaro came to power in 2019, Brazil did an about-face on environmental policy.

Bolsonaro readily awarded concessions to allow corporations to clear rainforest for soy and palm oil farming, as well as cattle ranching and mining. Illegally cleared areas were legalized by Bolsonaro, and forest fires were fought only half-heartedly. In September alone, 40,000 fires raged. They were the most severe forest fires in over 10 years. Environmental organizations called Bolsonaro a “cancer” that must be killed. Under his government, clearing increased by 70 percent and reached a sad record this October: 904 square kilometers of rainforest were destroyed in just one month. In just 30 days, twice the area of Vienna plus once the area of Linz was razed to the ground.

For the first time, the Amazon emits more Co2 than it can absorb

Bolsonaro’s policy has far-reaching consequences. The climate balance of the Amazon has been reversed: For the first time, it emits more CO2 than it can absorb. This is the result of a study by researchers at the French National Institute for Agronomic Research. The scientists mainly analyzed satellite data documenting the plant biomass in the rainforest and its deforestation. The result: the Amazon basin released about 16.6 billion tons of CO2 into the environment, but only absorbed about 13.9 tons. This 2.7 billion ton difference is roughly Austria’s consumption for 35 years. If this trend continues, there is a threat of a further massive intensification of climate change, because the entire ecosystem is in danger of collapse.

The whole ecosystem could topple

At present, the Amazon has a perfectly functioning water cycle: regions in the interior actually have too little precipitation for a tropical rainforest. But the trees suck the groundwater upwards, it evaporates and rains down again over the huge forest area. This cycle could be permanently disrupted by further deforestation. The rainforest would slowly die, turning into savannah and changing the climate around the world.

This process would release as much CO2 as the entire world consumes in seven years. The unique ecosystem that is home to 10 percent of all species would be irretrievably lost. Its CO2-binding effect, as well. Scientists assume that this tipping point is reached at a deforestation rate of 20 to 25 percent. Currently, we are at 18 percent.

Lula must fight conservative parliamentary majority

Lula’s election and his promise to end the deforestation of the rainforest thus come not a moment too soon. The newly elected president has already proven once that he knows how to protect the rainforest, even though it is an immense economic factor for Brazil. A study now confirms that Lula’s plans actually have the potential to reduce deforestation in the Amazon by 89 percent. In any case, Lula will not have it easy: The left-wing president still faces a conservative majority in parliament.