Brazil presidential election 2022: what a Bolsonaro or Lula win means for Amazon rainforest deforestation

Whether Lula or Bolsonaro becomes the next president of Brazil, global pressure on the country to tackle deforestation will once again come up at next week’s COP27 summit in Egypt.

The fate of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest may be sealed at the country’s presidential elections today when left-wing Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (also known as Lula) and far-right President Jair Bolsonaro go head to head at the polls.

During his time in office from 2003 to 2011 former president Lula radically reduced the deforestation of the globally important Amazon but much of the hard work was undone by incumbent President Bolsonaro who weakened environmental protections and Indigenous land rights after taking office in 2019.

The most recent available data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) shows the country lost 1.3 million hectares last year – the equivalent of 1.8 million football pitches’ worth of forest, and the greatest annual amount since 2006.

The latest polls suggest the incumbent president could lose the run-off election – but it is still a close race. Polling by AtlasIntel showed Lula leading the way with 52% of the vote, compared to Bolsonaro on 46.2%.

Whoever wins, global pressure on Brazil to get a grip of deforestation will once again rear its head at next week’s COP27 climate summit in Egypt. The UK Government said earlier this year that tackling deforestation in Brazil remains critical for the country to meet its climate pledges. Emissions linked to deforestation and agriculture make Brazil the seventh highest polluter globally, according to the UK Government. Despite Brazil’s pledges to rein in deforestation at the COP26 summit last year in Glasgow, it is still very much active in Brazil.

Here we reveal everything you need to know about global deforestation and just how bad the situation really is in Brazil.

How severe is global deforestation?

Millions of hectares of forest are lost every year around the world because of deforestation, according to the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Forest Resources Assessment (sourced from Our World in Data).

The UN defines deforestation as the conversion of forest to other land uses. It is often linked to illegal logging and agriculture. The UN estimates that 420 million hectares of forest has been lost worldwide because of deforestation since 1990 but the rate has declined substantially.

Data for the most recent five-year time period (2015–2020) shows the average annual amount of deforestation was at 10.2 million hectares, down from 11.8 million in 2010–2015. The chart below uses annual deforestation figures averaged over the last two five-year periods, compared to the two decades before.


The figures also show that deforestation is mostly affecting the global south, with Africa and South America the most affected continents during the 2015-2020 period. Africa lost more hectares to deforestation with 4.4million hectares, followed by South America with 3 million. Data for North America is unavailable.


How does deforestation in Brazil compare to other countries?

Brazil’s Amazon rainforest spans 6.7 million square kilometres and is around twice the size of India, according to the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), but it remains in a highly vulnerable position.

Brazil was the worst affected country by deforestation during the 2015-2020 period, losing 1.7 million hectares of forest per year. This is about eleven times as big as London and around 65 times as big as Edinburgh.

India followed in second place with 670,000 hectares, then Indonesia with 650,000 and Tanzania with 470,000. You can compare deforestation rates around the world using the interactive map below. Can’t see the map? Click here to open it in a new window.


Data for the UK is not available for the 2015-2020 period, however the latest figures for the 2010-2015 period show the UK lost 500 hectares to deforestation – the equivalent of 700 football pitches.

Is the Amazon safe under Bolsonaro?

Separate and more recent data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) shows how deforestation dramatically declined during Lula’s last time in office. By the time the politician’s reign as president came to an end in 2011, deforestation had plummeted almost 75% from 2.5 million hectares  in 2003 (his first year as president) to 640,000 hectares in 2011.

Under Bolsonaro’s watch, deforestation has increased again over the past three years. When he first came to office in 2019 the country lost just over 1 million hectares to deforestation, rising by 28.7% to 1.3 million hectares  in 2021 – two and a half times the size of the Grand Canyon National Park.


The destruction of the rainforest is not going unnoticed. Last year at COP26 100 world leaders, including Bolsonaro’s government, committed to a multi-million dollar deal that would halt and reverse global deforestation over the next decade So would a victory for Bolsonaro really be a death sentence to the Amazon?

Despite COP26 pledges, reports say deforestation is still very much active in Brazil. Last month (23 September) Re:Wild reported that at least 900,000 hectares of rainforest had been burned in the Southern Amazon over the past year, including 20,000 hectares in two protected areas that have historically been immune to fire.

Planet Labs Inc Images shared with NationalWorld from Global Forest Watch also show the impact of deforestation during Bolsonaro’s time in office. The images below show large-scale clearings near the intersection of the BR-319 and BR-230 highways in the Brazilian Amazon.


In a bid to push the Brazilian government on their COP26 pledges, COP President Alok Sharma visited the country in April this year to press for implementation of the Glasgow Climate Pact, urging for action ahead of COP27 which is taking place next week (6 to 18 November) in Egypt.