A group of senior military leaders said deforestation in the Amazon region could alter rainfall patterns in Brazil, affecting hydropower plants – the country’s main source of energy – and water supplies to major urban centers. Brazil’s armed forces could also be under strain as they respond to an increase in humanitarian crises caused by climate change in the country, officials said in a report by the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS). .
“Brazilian leaders should make climate change and the fight against deforestation a security priority,” said Oliver-Leighton Barrett, Council Liaison for the Americas, during an online presentation of the report.
Brazil is heavily dependent on hydropower, with around 63% of the country’s electricity coming from water-related sources, according to government data from 2019.
The country is also already struggling to cope with the worsening drought, which has helped spark fires that have burned 30% of its vast wetlands in western Pantanal this year.
Between 2014 and 2016, Brazil’s most populous state, Sao Paulo, faced unprecedented water shortages that led to street protests.
“If it had lasted much longer, it would have been a major humanitarian crisis,” Barrett said of the drought in Sao Paulo.
Soldiers called on to help in humanitarian crises
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro openly criticizes efforts to tackle climate change and has also said he wants to develop the Amazon region out of poverty.
The president, a former army captain, has relied on the Brazilian military to ease humanitarian crises in the country and to monitor the Amazon, where deforestation has increased again after years of progress in reducing losses.
The report says entire military forces across Latin America are regularly called in to help deal with humanitarian crises, and “this will continue as climate change causes more disasters.”
The Amazon rainforest – the largest rainforest in the world – is a major absorber of carbon dioxide that heats the planet.
Its continued loss threatens to accelerate global climate catastrophes – from worsening droughts, floods and storms to soaring temperatures and rising sea levels.
Key to sustainability for Amazon
To preserve the forest and protect Brazil’s water supply, the country must develop the Amazon, but in a sustainable manner, said Raul Jungmann, Brazilian Minister of Defense from 2016 to 2018.
The Brazilian armed forces are conservationists, he said – but they regard the protection of national security, including against foreign interference, as a top priority.
“The armed forces have environmental actions as subsidiary. This is not their main goal, ”Jungmann said. “The armed forces are primarily concerned with national sovereignty. ”
He said he believed Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Mourao, who heads the Amazon Government Council, was dedicated to stopping deforestation, but lacked support in government.