Seven reasons to be cheerful about the Amazon in 2023 – and three to be terrified

Jonathan Watts

For anyone who cares about the Amazon rainforest, there will be an extra reason to celebrate the new year countdown in Brazil on 31 December because the first stroke of midnight will mark the last moment in power of Jair Bolsonaro. The defeat of the ultra-right former army captain, who unleashed a wave of forest burning and river poisoning during his four years in office, was arguably the world’s best environmental news of 2022. As he is replaced by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, here are seven reasons to be cheerful about the Amazon in 2023, and three reminders of why that’s no excuse for anyone to drop their guard.

1. The only way is up

Anyone would feel a relief after the firestorm that was Bolsonaro. Here is the baseline the outgoing president leaves. Data from Brazil’s space agency confirms no other leader has overseen such a sharp increase in deforestation – 59.5% over a presidential term – since satellite records began in 1988. Bolsonaro, who tried his hand at gold prospecting before he was in the army, has also overseen invasions of tens of thousands of illegal miners into the lands of the Yanomami, Munduruku, Kayapo and other Indigenous peoples, leading to violence, disease, wrecked landscapes and mercury contamination of the Amazon’s greatest waterways. His ministers trashed the government agencies responsible for protecting the forest, nature reserves and indigenous territories. Criminals enjoy a culture of impunity. Environmental fines are down 38%. The first job of the new government will be to glue back together the broken pieces of the environmental institutions Bolsonaro shattered….