Jair Bolsonaro Wants to Deforest the Amazon – What Powers Does the UN Have to Stop Him?


Ash Murphy – The Conversation

Tarcisio Schnaider / shutterstock

12 Jul 2019 – Deforestation of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil is at its highest rate in a decade, according to new satellite data. This comes after President Jair Bolsonaro has loosened environmental regulations, cut enforcement budgets, and supported further development in the region.

Trees absorb carbon dioxide naturally, and are one of best tools we have to help stave off climate catastrophe – and the Amazon itself is a crucial carbon sink. This means responding to deforestation in Brazil has become a matter of international responsibility.

The primary purpose of the United Nations is to maintain international peace and security. With climate breakdown already causing conflict and undermining human security, it’s hard to argue the UN should not get involved.

So what could it do about Brazil’s deforestation? My PhD research examines the intersection between environmental governance and the UN Security Council. The council is a legislative body designed to safeguard international peace and security – it’s made up of five permanent members and ten non-permanent (elected) members. I want to consider three options available to it: the support of international law; intervention through force; and sanctions.

Option 1: Applying international law?

Brazil was one of the 195 signatories to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, which set global targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and keep global warming below 2℃ or ideally 1.5℃. Article 5 of the Agreement says that parties “should take action” to preserve forests due to their role as carbon sinks. The problem is the word “should”, which places very little legal obligation on parties.

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