Politics of the Amazon

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How green is Latin American public opinion?

Green concerns are sometimes dismissed in the region as little more than an urban middle class fad along with healthy eating and superfoods. It is clear that progress on decarbonisation will ultimately come up short if voters of most backgrounds fail to back the idea and see its benefits. There has been little systematic polling on attitudes to the environment, but the evidence suggests that voters do largely understand and support the need for environmental protection.  A poll by Brazilian market research agency Ipec, published in June 2023 in collaboration with Yale University, found that an overwhelming majority – 94% of respondents – believed that climate change is real and is happening now. Three out of four said global warming was the result of human activity. 70% of respondents believed climate change would have a negative impact on themselves and on their families. And 74% felt it was more important to protect the environment even if that might mean less economic growth and fewer jobs. Only 17% took the opposing view, prioritising growth and jobs over the environment.

What do you consider most important?

Source: Instituto de Tecnologia e Sociedade do Rio de Janeiro (ITS)

Crucially, although levels of concern have dropped a little since 2021, project member Anthony Leiserowitz of Yale says the latest results show “there is much more political wind” than had been imagined for any political party or candidate to assert that fighting climate change is an issue that their voters care about. Roughly half of all respondents (up from 42% in 2020) said they have chosen candidates for election considering where they stood on environmental protection issues. More than half (54%) said they thought the return of Lula to the presidency would be better for the environment.

The poll suggests that green sentiment remains strong among Brazilian voters in general, but it is also true that there are important regional variations and pockets of resistance. For example, after the October 2022 elections the right and far-right did particularly well in the gubernatorial races in all of the nine Amazon region states. There, settlers and urban residents tend to value rapid economic development over and above environmental protection. Despite national sentiment captured in the Ipec poll, this right-wing local and regional alignment will act as a limiting factor to the greener policies sought nationally by the Lula government. Creomar de Souza of Brasília-based consultancy Dharma Political Risk and Strategy says “the right has successfully painted environmentalism as the enemy of the people”. However, he notes that the federal government has instruments that it can use to fight back, such as offering subsidised farm credits to those who can show they are not involved in illegal deforestation.   

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