Nine environmental facts about Brazil

By Anders Lorenzen

On the day that arguably the largest sporting event of the year begins, we bring you nine environmental and green facts about Brazil. The run-up to the tournament has been dominated by criticism directed towards Brazil’s government, led by Prime Minister Dilma Rousseff, as a wave of protests have aimed to highlight that ordinary Brazilians will not gain anything from the World Cup. But aside from that, what are the environmental challenges facing the world’s 5th largest country?

1) Brazil is home to the world’s largest rainforest, the Amazon, which is also said to be the most biodiverse tropical forest in the world. The Amazon rainforest stretches over nine different countries, but the majority of the rain-forest (60%) is in Brazil.
Aerial photo reveal the scale of deforestation. Photo credit: Planet Investigations.
2) But human impacts have brought on many risks to the rainforest ranging from logging, cattle ranching, soybean, and palm oil productions, to mass dam constructions. All these factors have resulted in the Amazon rainforest losing 600,000 square kilometers to deforestation since 1970. There is a ray of hope, as the speed of deforestation has slowed down in the last ten years, but despite this, if current trends are to continue, by 2030 the rain-forest will have reduced to 40% of its original size.
3) The Amazon river is the largest river in the world carrying more freshwater than any other river, it accounts for one-fifth of the world’s river flow.
4) Climate change is having a massive impact in Brazil, which could have large economic implications. The coffee bean is just one example. Brazil as one of the world’s largest coffee producers, and the coffee bean is already suffering the impacts of climate change. This has been reflected in coffee prices which are rising dramatically due to the impact drought is having on production.
A worker by a sugar cane plantation. Photo credit: Science for Brazil.
5) Brazil is the world’s second largest ethanol fuel producer. Ethanol fuel is a biofuel and is produced from sugar cane, of which the country is one of the world’s largest producers. Ethanol fuel like many other biofuels has been controversial, as it takes away land that could otherwise have been used for food production.

6) In November 2011 the US oil company Chevron leaked 416,400 liters of oil 370 km off the Brazilian coast which is also near the holiday destination Rio de Janeiro.
Aerial photo displaying magnitude of the 2011 Chevron oil spill off the Brazilian coast. Photo credit: Skytruth.
7) Brazil is the world’s third largest producer of hydroelectricity. Much of this is produced from large mega dams, some in the Amazon rainforest. Its construction has demanded deforestation and the operation caused flooding and has driven indigenous communities away from their settlements, therefore is not seen as environmentally sustainable.

8) Brazil is the 12th largest oil producer in the world and today over 50 different companies are operating in the country; it is a net oil exporter. They also have the second largest known shale oil resources in the world.

9) Despite large potentials for both solar and wind power, very little capacity has been installed. However, it’s estimated that 30 gigawatts (GW) of operating wind power capacity could be deployed. It’s estimated that potential for solar power in Brazil is among the highest in the world.

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