Brazil Sued Over Amazon Deforestation - Constitutional Climate Case Brought Before Brazil's Supreme Court
The Brazilian federal government under President Jair Bolsonaro is facing a new lawsuit – filed November 11 in Brazil’s Supreme Court – challenging the country’s rapid deforestation of the Amazon that is contributing to climate change and degrading the environment to the detriment of the Brazilian people. The legal challenge is grounded in a section of Brazil’s constitution (Article 225) that protects the right to an “ecologically balanced environment” for present and future generations.
A coalition of 10 nongovernmental organizations, including Greenpeace Brazil and other groups, is behind the constitutional lawsuit, which is formally presented by seven political parties as plaintiffs due to procedural requirements. The NGOs are participating as friends of the court.
“The coalition is simply demanding that the Brazilian government complies with the Constitution, which protects present and future generations as well as the Amazon,” Fabiana Alves, Climate and Justice Coordinator at Greenpeace Brazil, said in a press release. “Even under a totally unambitious contribution to the international Paris Agreement, Brazil is now lacking public policy, budget and staffing to guarantee the application of our national laws. We need to stop this free fall.”
The NGO coalition points to the Brazilian government’s abandonment in 2019 of a policy aimed at curbing deforestation, called the Action Plan for Prevention and Control of the Legal Amazon
Deforestation (English translation, acronym PPCDAm). Deforestation rates in Brazil have recently been on the rise, increasing roughly 34 percent annually since 2018. The PPCDAm policy has helped mitigate tropical forest loss, and the NGO coalition says the government’s failure to continue the successful program threatens the rights of Brazilians to a healthy environment and contradicts Brazil’s climate commitments.
“The lawsuit asserts that the Government, through its inadequate implementation of PPCDAm and uncontrolled deforestation in the Amazon, is significantly contributing to dangerous climate change. The plaintiffs also claim that the Government has violated the fundamental right of the populations living in the Amazon and throughout Brazil, particularly the rights of Indigenous Peoples and traditional communities, as well as those of present and future generations,” an executive summary of the legal action (English translation) states.
Deforestation is one of the drivers, along with burning fossil fuels, of the global climate emergency. Tropical forest loss accounts for about 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The Amazon rainforest is a critical carbon “sink” or resource that absorbs the greenhouse gas CO2, so preventing the destruction of the Brazilian Amazon forests are key in efforts to tackle the climate crisis.
“Brazil and the world can no longer wait. Supported mainly by the Brazilian Constitution, but also by international agreements, we plead for deforestation in the Amazon to be combated immediately, in order to safeguard an ecological and climate balance for present and future generations,” said Mauricio Guetta, legal adviser at Instituto Socioambiental, one of the NGOs involved in the lawsuit.
The Brazilian lawsuit is part of a growing wave of litigation around the world seeking to safeguard human rights in the face of the climate emergency. Citizens, organizations and communities are increasingly turning to courts to challenge environmentally destructive activities that worsen climate change – from youth in Queensland, Australia suing to stop an expansive new coal mine, to a lawsuit currently before Norway’s Supreme Court opposing the Norwegian government’s licensing of new offshore oil drilling in the Arctic.