What does Brazil's election mean for the Amazon?

STORY: What does Brazil's election mean for the Amazon rainforest?

Brazil's presidential election on October 30 could determine the fate of the Amazon jungle, the world's largest rainforest.

That's after deforestation soared in the past four years under right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro.

He faces off against former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has pledged to stop all Amazon destruction and act aggressively on climate change.

Protecting the Amazon is vital to stopping catastrophic climate change because of the vast amount of climate-warming greenhouse gas it absorbs.

Let's take a closer look at what's at stake.

Deforestation soared under Bolsonaro

Bolsonaro took office at the start of 2019.

Since then he has pushed for more mining and commercial farming in the Amazon saying it would develop the region economically and help to fight poverty.

Bolsonaro has also weakened environmental enforcement agencies, cutting their budgets and staff.

"Some people say that we should fight harder. Do you know how giant Amazon is? Do you know how many countries fit in the Amazon?"

Environmentalists say his public criticism of conservation efforts has emboldened illegal loggers, ranchers and land grabbers.

Marcio Astrini is the executive secretary of climate NGO Climate Observatory.

“This government has established a true partnership with environmental crime organizations; it gained many benefits from the government, such as a collection of fines suspension, field operations halt, and budget cuts at inspection agencies. Prosecuting officials are being persecuted for enforcing the law and fighting crime, fighting deforestation.”

In 2021, destruction in the Amazon rainforest hit the highest level since 2006. That's according to the government's space research agency INPE.

An area of forest larger than the U.S. state of Maryland was destroyed during the first three years of Bolsonaro's presidency.

Lula's track record on deforestation

When Lula took office in 2003, levels of Amazon deforestation were near all-time highs.

His administration strengthened federal environmental enforcer Ibama and created the parks service agency ICMBio.

By 2010, his last year in office, deforestation had fallen to near record lows.

But the leftist former president also backed the massive Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in the Amazon, which destroyed river habitats and displaced indigenous people.

And deforestation began to creep up again under his hand-picked successor, ex-President Dilma Rousseff, who weakened some policies to favor development.

What are the candidates promising on the environment?

Bolsonaro has said little about his environmental proposals should he win a second term.

His policy platform emphasizes that Brazilians have the right to develop natural resources in the Amazon.

The campaign documents tout efforts by the military, police and other agencies to combat deforestation and forest fires.

But data shows that under Bolsonaro they have failed to reduce the destruction.

Meanwhile Lula has vowed to bring deforestation to zero by rebuilding the government's environmental agencies.

He has committed to the principles of "climate justice," saying that the environment can only be protected by increasing economic opportunities to reduce hunger and poverty.

“We don't need to cut down one single tree to plant more soy, more corn, sugar cane or to raise cattle.

He has been broadly endorsed by indigenous groups, after promising to empower them to protect their lands from environmental destruction.

But with Brazil's government facing a budget crunch, it remains unclear how he will pay for his policies.