With 10–18% of the global biota, Brazil is the biologically most diversified country in the world. However, because of pollution, overexploitation, habitat degradation, and poor conservation regulations, biodiversity is quickly diminishing.
Brazil, with a population of over 180 million and a landmass encompassing over half of South America, is the world’s fifth-largest country in terms of both people and area.
Around 80% of Brazilians today live in metropolitan areas, contributing to the country’s high rate of urbanization, which has led to serious social and environmental problems in and around these cities.
São Paulo, one of Brazil’s biggest cities, is infamous for having high levels of poverty, overpopulation, and pollution.
The Amazon River Basin, the world’s largest rainforest, is also located in Brazil. The Amazon River Basin is hot and humid throughout the day and is home to many undiscovered species in addition to thousands of known plant and animal species.
The Amazon rainforest is home to a diverse range of plants and animals, but it also acts as a significant carbon sink, storing a significant portion of the world’s carbon dioxide.
Table of Contents
12 Most Prominent Environmental Issues in Brazil
Environmental issues in Brazil include, among other things, deforestation, illegal wildlife trade, poaching, contamination of the air, land, and water due to mining operations, wetland degradation, pesticide use, and large-scale oil spills.
Brazil is home to over 13% of all known species, making it one of the planet’s most diverse collections of plants and animals. This biodiversity is in danger due to the nation’s industrialization and agricultural effects.
- Purposeful Environmental Destruction
- The Cattle Problem
- The Paper Pulp Problem
- Endangered Species
- Air Pollution
- Industrial Pollution
- Water Contamination
- Climate Change
1. Purposeful Environmental Destruction
We discover that the deforestation of the Amazon is a unique issue. There, intentional environmental degradation is driven by greed and disrespect for traditional people or conservation.
We examined tens of decisions, executive orders, and decrees detailing the Bolsonaro administration’s reduction of Brazil’s environmental agencies’ financing, capacity for monitoring, and rights to enforce laws through a thorough document analysis.
Even while the Amazon’s deforestation had been increasing since 2014 due to land grabs, agriculture, and mining interests, things significantly worsened under Bolsonaro.
In a cabinet meeting in April 2020, later made public by Brazil’s Supreme Court, the environment minister explicitly suggested clearing up environmental limitations away from public view by making use of the fact that COVID-19 had distracted media attention.
This presents an example of misgovernance straight out of a textbook, where the issue is primarily political and ethical rather than technical or purely managerial. It has to do with activities that purposefully go against accepted standards and objectives in a given field.
Because of this, it cannot be handled on a global scale by conventional help programs like aid or capacity building.
The main cause of deforestation in the Amazon is the greed of industries like mining and agribusiness, which depend on export markets and receive foreign funding.
In other words, investors, traders, and consumers have all participated in Bolsonaro’s actions despite the Sustainable Development Goals being claimed. These participants haven’t just stopped endorsing environmental mismanagement in Brazil but also profited from it.
Brazil has the greatest rate of deforestation in the world, so it is a serious problem.
Globally, deforestation has contributed significantly to pollution, loss of biodiversity, and greenhouse gas emissions; however, in Brazil, deforestation has been the main driver of ecological and environmental deterioration.
More than 600,000 square kilometers of Amazonian rainforest have been lost since 1970, and between 2000 and 2010, deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest’s protected zones rose by more than 127%.
More demand abroad for Brazilian beef, wood, and soybeans has recently encouraged more devastation of the Amazon Rainforest.
In addition, some environmental regulations have been reduced as of 2019, and important government agencies have seen staffing and financial cuts which included the firing of the head of agency’s state bodies.
Brazil was ranked 38th out of 172 countries in the world with a mean score of 7.52/10 on the 2018 Forest Landscape Integrity Index. The main hazard to these enormous, but finite, natural regions is the frequently catastrophic spread of soy, a vegetable that is a bean.
With more than 21 million hectares under cultivation, soy was Brazil’s principal agricultural crop by harvested area in 2004, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Cocoa is another crop that should worry you because it has been linked to extensive deforestation in Brazil. The development of this crop during the 1970s cocoa boom contributed significantly to the decline of Brazil’s threatened Atlantic Forest habitat, of which just 10% – hardly – survives now.
3. The Cattle Problem
Cattle ranching is a threat to Brazil’s vast woodland savanna habitat, the Cerrado. There are major worries about how this sector may affect delicate ecosystems because there is a strong correlation between the rise in soy agriculture and the growth of cow grazing.
Concerns have also been raised concerning the growth of hog and chicken farming in the Cerrado.
4. The Paper Pulp Problem
Some of the world’s most diverse ecosystems have been transformed into rapidly expanding plantations in Brazil’s Atlantic forests. Millions of hectares of exotic plantations, primarily composed of non-native eucalyptus, may be found in Brazil.
While some plantations bear the Forest Stewardship Council certification, there have been ongoing disputes over land rights with indigenous peoples in other estates. Exports to Europe account for 40% of Brazil’s bleached pulp production.
5. Endangered Species
More than 6% of the world’s endangered species are found in Brazil. 97 species have been identified as vulnerable, reduced risk, near threatened, endangered, or severely endangered in Brazil, according to a species assessment carried out by the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species.
Brazil is home to the ninth biggest number of endangered species in the world, with 769 species documented as of 2009. Rapid industrialization and deforestation in Brazil and the countries it precedes are largely to blame for this trend.
The environment minister of Brazil, Carlos Minc, has observed that preservation areas are not receiving the necessary protection because the human population is growing in protected regions.
The growing number of endangered species is mostly due to changing environmental variables. Given the significant consequences that industrialization and deforestation have had, it is obvious that these negative effects can be undone by enacting more regulations and policies.
Many of Brazil’s native species are under increased strain as a result of illegal poaching. Hundreds of species in the nation are currently listed as endangered; these include the ring-tail monkey, jaguar, and sea turtle.
To solve this problem, Brazilian authorities fined 18 people in September 2017 for poaching endangered Amazon river turtles and their eggs, which came to a total of USD 2.3 million.
With a consistent growth rate of 0.83% for its population as of 2012, waste management in Brazil faces challenges related to the availability of sufficient money from the government.
Despite a lack of funds, legislators and local government officials are working to enhance the waste management systems in their respective communities.
In reaction to the absence of a comprehensive national waste management law, local officials are taking individual measures.
There are collection services, although they mostly serve the southeast and south of Brazil. Brazil does, however, regulate hazardous waste products like pesticides, tires, and oil.
Even though waste collection in Brazil is gradually getting better, most waste ends up in insufficient landfills.
In Europe, waste-to-energy systems are usually chosen over landfills as the final resort for disposing of trash; but, in Brazil, landfills are preferred since they are thought to be effective disposal methods.
The development of alternate waste disposal techniques has been hampered by the preference for landfills. This reluctance is frequently caused by the upfront expenses associated with implementing novel solutions.
For instance, the cost of buying, running, and maintaining incinerators makes them unfeasible for most cities in Brazil. As a result of new rules and regulations, landfill consumption will start to decline.
Municipality officials in Brazil are closing more dumps in favor of sanitary landfills as they become more aware of the dangers and environmental risks associated with open-air landfills. But these policy adjustments won’t take effect unless sufficient funding is secured.
9. Air Pollution
Brazil’s air quality problems are mostly related to emissions originating from ethanol because of its special status as the only region in the world to use ethanol substantially.
Approximately forty percent of the fuel used in Brazilian cars comes from ethanol, hence the country’s air pollution is different from other countries where natural gas or petroleum-based fuels are widely used.
Brazil has higher atmospheric amounts of acetaldehyde, ethanol, and perhaps nitrogen oxides than the majority of other countries in the world due to their emissions being higher in vehicles using fuels.
Ozone generation and photochemical air pollution are largely caused by nitrogen oxides and acetaldehyde, which is why the bigger cities of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Brasilia have serious ozone problems.
Conversely, following the widespread adoption of unleaded fuels in Brazil in 1975, lead levels in the air had dropped by almost 70% by the mid-1990s.
Air pollution levels in urban areas are strongly influenced by the number of automobiles and the degree of industry in Brazilian cities. These factors have a significant impact on the health of large population groups residing in major Brazilian metropolitan regions.
Based on annual statistics on air pollution collected between 1998 and 2005 in the cities of Vitória, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Fortaleza, Porto Alegre, and Belo Horizonte, air pollution levels in these cities were shown to be responsible for 5% of all annual deaths in the age groups of adults 65 and older and children five years of age and under.
Based on data from the World Bank and UN about emissions and air quality in 18 megacities, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo were evaluated as the 12th and 17th most polluted cities, respectively.
None of the pollutants particular to the effects of ethanol fuel use on air quality were included in the multi-pollutant index utilized to conduct the evaluation.
10. Industrial Pollution
Due to its proximity to the Port of Santos, Cubatão was named the “Valley of Death” and “the most polluted place on Earth” by the Brazilian government, which also classified it as an industrial zone.
Numerous industrial facilities, including a steel mill owned by COSIPA and an oil refinery owned by Petrobras, have traditionally been located in the neighborhood.
Operating these plants “without any environmental control whatsoever” resulted in several disastrous incidents in the 1970s and 1980s, including birth deformities and mudslides that may have been caused by the region’s high levels of pollution.
Since then, initiatives have been taken to enhance the local ecology, such as COSIPA’s $200 million investment in environmental controls since 1993.
Cubatão’s center recorded 48 micrograms of particles per cubic meter of air in 2000, compared to measurements taken in 1984 that recorded 100 micrograms per cubic meter.
Brazil has a large concentration of export sectors that produce a lot of pollution, most likely as a result of trade liberalization. Research indicates that this is proof of Brazil being a major site of pollution.
Metallurgy, paper and cellulose, and footwear are among the export-related industries with the greatest levels of pollution intensity.
11. Water Contamination
Brazil’s large and medium-sized cities are dealing with a growing amount of water pollution. Upstream residential and industrial waste contaminates feeder rivers, lakes, and the ocean, affecting coastal cities like Rio de Janeiro and Recife. Only 35 percent of the collected wastewater was treated in 2000.
For instance, the pollution levels in the Tietê River, which flows through the 17 million-person São Paulo metropolitan region, have reverted to what they were in 1990.
Increased levels of unregulated sewerage, phosphorus, and ammonia nitrogen discharged into the river have caused the level of dissolved oxygen to return to the critical level of 1990 at 9 mg per liter, despite the IDB, World Bank, and Caixa Econômica Federal supporting a US$400 million cleanup effort.
According to estimates made in 2007 by the state-owned water provider Sabesp, cleaning up the river would cost at least R$3 billion (US$1.7 billion).
Water scarcity affects Brazil’s south and southeast owing to overuse and exploitation of surface water resources, which is mostly caused by high pollution from sewage, leaking landfills, and industrial waste.
According to an investigation by Unearthed, between 2016 and 2019, Brazil registered more than 1,200 pesticides and weedkillers, 193 of which contained compounds that were prohibited in the EU. The manufacture of ethanol also contributes to water pollution.
Owing to the industry’s scale, the agroindustrial activities involved in cultivating, collecting, and processing sugarcane lead to water pollution through the use of agrochemicals and fertilizers, soil erosion, cane washing, fermentation, distillation, energy-producing equipment installed in mills, and other small sources of wastewater.
12. Climate Change
The primary cause of climate change in Brazil is the country’s increasing heat and dryness. Brazil has an increase in wildfires as a result of the Amazon rainforest being hotter and drier due to the greenhouse impact of extra carbon dioxide and methane emissions. A portion of the jungle could turn into a savanna.
Brazil is among the nations that release a significant quantity of greenhouse gases, with its per capita emissions above the global average.
About 3 percent of global emissions of greenhouse gases occur each year in Brazil. First, as a result of the Amazon rainforest’s tree-cutting practices, which in the 2010s released more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than it took in.
Secondly, from sizable livestock ranches, where methane is belched by the cows. Brazil committed to lowering its emissions as part of the Paris Agreement, but the Bolsonaro administration has come under fire for not doing more to slow down or prepare for climate change.
From the environmental issues we have seen that are prevalent in Brazil, it is important to note that one of the major ways of handling this menace is for Brazil to adopt an environmental policy modification or change, or perhaps a change in government to a government that cares about the wellbeing of the environment as the focus is also on financial prosperity.
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A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.