Brazil’s election is a referendum on the planet’s future

deforestation in the Amazon
Richard Whitcombe
A close up of Richard Branson smiling, looking at the camera
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 30 September 2022

Every now and then, national elections have implications for the whole world - on global markets and trade, or on matters of peace of security. But few are more important for the future of the beautiful world we share quite like the upcoming presidential election in Brazil.

Brazil is home to the largest portion of one the world’s most and diverse ecosystems, the Amazon Rainforest. Stretching from the foothills of the Bolivian, Peruvian and Ecuadorean Andes all the way to Brazil’s Atlantic coast, the Amazon basin is often called “Earth’s green lung” – nearly seven million square kilometres of dense forest, wetlands and waterways that are home to an unmatched diversity of animal species and plants, including roughly 400 billion trees. Their moderating impact on both global and regional climate cannot be overstated. Some estimates say that up to 123 billion tons of carbon may be stored in the Amazon rainforest; it forms an essential, indispensable part of nature’s climate-regulating systems that also include the ocean, temperate forests, mangroves, and peatlands. To be perfectly clear: without the rainforest, global heating – already on a precipitous trajectory – will accelerate to the catastrophic and irreversible levels governments worldwide have pledged to avoid.

But the Amazon rainforest faces existential threats, which have increased in recent years. Deforestation for agricultural purposes, particularly cattle grazing, has surged to alarming levels not seen since 2006. More than 20% of the rainforest has already been lost, and scientists fear that we could soon reach a tipping point from which the Amazon, and with it the whole planet, cannot recover. And it’s not only Earth’s climate at risk. Logging and mining also threaten the existence and livelihood of the region’s Indigenous populations, nearly three million people that include most of the world’s remaining uncontacted tribes. These Indigenous groups have lived in and with the rainforest for millennia, and many are now leading the struggle against the greed, corruption and brutal violence that are destroying their land at a rate of five football fields every minute.

As far as preventing any further loss is concerned, the battle lines in this Brazilian election have been drawn. On one side are those who are willing to sacrifice the Amazon, and with it the future of the planet, for an ill-advised and myopic mantra of growth that is fundamentally at odds with the idea of sustainable development and will undoubtedly have devastating effects on Brazil and the rest of the world. On the other are those who see that the rainforest’s real value lies in its capacity to help keep the planet habitable for future generations and who are committed to ending further deforestation, and the corruption that plays such a big role in it.

I know many Brazilians in this wonderful country worry about the kinds of issues that bring voters everywhere to the polls - the rising cost of living, concerns about staggering crime rates and public safety, debilitating corruption, unemployment, or access to quality healthcare and a decent education for their children. But I am not giving up hope they will also come to understand this election as a referendum on the future of the planet and make the right choice. Short-termism is not the answer. Whatever the needs of the present, we must not compromise the wellbeing of our children and grandchildren.