US seeks to sanction criminals behind surging deforestation in Amazon rainforest

The United States is planning to slap sanctions on deforestation perpetrators in the Amazon rainforest in a bid to tackle the climate crisis.

Under outgoing president Jair Bolsonaro, deforestation hit a 15-year high as the right-wing leader unwaveringly supported record levels of mining and commercial farming in the Amazon.

But people behind the deforestation are set to be threatened with Magnitsky sanctions which would freeze any US assets and block all American and US companies from dealing with sanctioned individuals and businesses.

Mr Bolsonaro however has one foot out of the door and will be replaced with climate-conscious Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva who will take office from January 2023, and has already pledged to end deforestation at Cop27 earlier this month.

But a shaky history between Lula and the US raises questions on how the left-wing leader will respond to the sanctions plan. Lula has himself said that he believes the US sought to impair him politically and played a part in him being jailed.

Nevertheless, Lula’s commitment to tackling environmental catastrophe is a positive sign for the mutual desire between the US and the president-elect to bring down deforestation levels.

“Let’s fight for zero deforestation,” Lula said in his first speech as president-elect.

Brazil is ready to resume its leading role in the fight against the climate crisis, protecting all our biomes, especially the Amazon Forest.

“Brazil will fight for a living Amazon; a standing tree is worth more than thousands of logs. That is why we will resume the surveillance of the entire Amazon and any illegal activity, and at the same time we will promote sustainable development.”

Trees stand alongside a burned area, left, of the Amazon rainforest in Prainha, Para state, Brazil (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
Trees stand alongside a burned area, left, of the Amazon rainforest in Prainha, Para state, Brazil (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
An area of forest on fire near a logging area in the Transamazonica highway region, in the municipality of Humaita, Amazonas state, Brazil (AP)
An area of forest on fire near a logging area in the Transamazonica highway region, in the municipality of Humaita, Amazonas state, Brazil (AP)

Popularly known as the “lungs of the world”, the Amazon forest cleans the air we breathe, stores around 76 billion tonnes of carbon in total, and releases 20 billion tonnes of water into the atmosphere each day.

A US official told Reuters that the process of identifying and investigating specific targets has already begun.

The US Treasury department, which is responsible for Magnitsky sanctions, declined to comment to Reuters. Neither Bolsonaro’s office nor Brazil’s Justice Ministry responded to requests for comment. Lula’s transition team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.