Climate change creating major security threat for Brazil, military experts warn

Climate change will increase the burdens on Brazil’s armed forces and endanger the country’s energy and water security, military experts predicted Monday.

A group of senior military leaders said deforestation in the Amazon region could alter rainfall patterns in Brazil, hitting hydropower plants — the country’s major source of energy — and water supplies for major urban centres.

Brazil’s armed forces also could be stretched thin as they respond to an uptick in humanitarian crises caused by climate change in the country, the officials said in a report by the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS).

“Brazilian leaders should make climate change and counter-deforestation a security priority,” said Oliver-Leighton Barrett, the council’s liaison for the Americas, during an online presentation of the report.

Brazil is highly dependent on hydropower, with about 63 per cent 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 worsening drought, which helped drive fires that scorched 30 per cent of its vast western Pantanal wetlands this year.

Between 2014 and 2016, Brazil’s most populous state of Sao Paulo faced unprecedented water shortages that led to street protests.

“If it had gone much longer it would have been a major humanitarian crisis,” Barrett said of the Sao Paulo drought.

Military called in to help in humanitarian crises 

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro is an outspoken critic of efforts to curb climate change, and also has said he wants to develop the Amazon region to lift it out of poverty.

The president, a former army captain, has relied on Brazil’s military to alleviate humanitarian crises in the country and to monitor the Amazon, where deforestation has surged again after years of advances in cutting losses.

Deforested and burned area is seen in the municipality of Lábrea, Brazil in the south of the Amazon in August. (Sandro Pereira/Fotoarena/Sipa USA/The Associated Press)

The report said that whole military forces across Latin America are called in regularly to help with humanitarian crises, and “this will continue as climate change drives more disasters.”

The Amazon rainforest — the world’s largest tropical forest — is a major absorber of planet-heating carbon dioxide.

Its continuing loss threatens to accelerate global climate-related disasters — from worsening droughts, floods and storms to soaring temperatures and rising sea levels. 

Sustainability key for Amazon

To preserve the forest and protect Brazil’s water supplies, the country needs to develop the Amazon, but in a sustainable way, said Raul Jungmann, Brazil’s defence minister from 2016 to 2018.

Brazil’s armed forces are conservationists, he said — but they see protecting national security, including from foreign interference, as a top priority.

“The armed forces have environmental actions as subsidiary. This is not their main focus,” said Jungmann. “The armed forces are primarily concerned with national sovereignty.”

He said he believes Brazil’s Vice-President Hamilton Mourao, who leads the government’s Amazon Council, is dedicated to stopping deforestation but lacks support within the government.

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