Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro is trying to convince the world he cares about the environment

A less fiery Bolsonaro showed up at Davos.
A less fiery Bolsonaro showed up at Davos.
Image: World Economic Forum / Christian Clavadetscher
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As a presidential candidate, Jair Bolsonaro promised to water down protections for the Amazon rainforest and open it up to farming.

But at the World Economic Forum on Tuesday, his first major international appearance as president, he instead highlighted his country’s efforts to take care of the world’s largest rain forest.

“Brazil is a paradise,” he said. “We are the one country that most preserves the environment.”

Bolsonaro, who’s known for his far-right views, climate science skepticism, and offensive rhetoric, struck a more sedate tone at Davos that seemed to be designed to distract investors from his presidency’s rocky start.

He said his goal was to balance environment and biodiversity with economic opportunities, pointing out that less than 30% of the country’s territory is dedicated to agriculture and ranching. “No other country in the world has as many forests as we do,” he said.

What he left out is that Brazil’s forests have been shrinking. Last year, the Amazon lost more than 3,000 square miles, the highest deforestation rate in a decade, according to government data. That is reducing the Earth’s carbon dioxide storage capacity, which is critical to counteract climate change. He also left out his own plans that experts expect will harm the Amazon.

Others are not so confident that Brazil will be a good Amazon steward under Bolsonaro, including speakers at at a panel on deforestation held across town shortly after the Brazilian president’s speech.

“We’re all worried about the new administration in Brazil,” said Jane Goodall, the famous primatologist and conservation advocate. “Brazil has this enormously important part of the Amazon rainforest, with all this biodiversity of life.”