Natural resources, energy and environment
Brazil has huge resources of ore and minerals.
Nearly two-thirds of the Earth's iron ore is estimated
to be in the Carajás Mountains in eastern
Amazon. Oil is extracted in the country, which is also
one of the world's largest producers of hydropower. Both
mining and power projects cause severe environmental
damage in sensitive environments. Forests in the Amazon
and savanna areas pose environmental problems with
The mining industry in Carajás outside the city of
Belém makes Brazil one of the world's largest iron ore
producers as well as one of the largest bauxite
producers. The iron ore is of high quality and is mined
in open quarry making production relatively cheap. An
even larger mining and industrial area is projected west
in the Amazon, where roads, airports and canal systems
are expected to boost trade between South American
countries. In the country also tin, aluminum, nickel,
copper, gold, precious stones, manganese, lead, coal and
more are mined. New large deposits have been found and
investments in the mining industry have increased since
the state mining giant Vale was privatized in 1997.
Major exports by Brazil with a full list of the top products exported by the country. Includes trade value in U.S. dollars and the percentage for each product category.
The oil is mainly extracted offshore. In the Santos
basin outside Rio de Janeiro, huge oil discoveries have
been made in recent years. The new discoveries are so
extensive that they can double the Brazil's known oil
reserves. However, the oil is found at several thousand
meters deep under thick layers of salt, rock and sand,
making extraction difficult. The government's decision
to auction the extractive right in 2013 led to protests,
but it was only a consortium led by the semi-state
Brazilian oil company Petrobras that bid. Petrobras is
one of the world's largest oil companies, with interests
also on other continents, and a leader in deep water
drilling technology. However, the company's reputation
has been seriously damaged by the deep corruption
scandal that shakes the country (see Current policy).
Brazil also has natural gas and has invested heavily
in the gas sector to reduce its dependence on gas
imports from Bolivia. Coal is used in the steel
industry. Brazil is the world's second largest producer
of biofuels (after the US), mainly ethanol made from
sugar cane and cassava.
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Powerhouse in the Amazon
Hydropower accounts for most of the electricity and
accounts for around 30 percent of the energy used.
However, huge dam construction has destroyed large
natural areas, mainly in the Amazon. The Itaipú
hydroelectric power plant, on the border between Brazil
and Paraguay, was the largest in the world when it was
completed in the early 1980s. Now, Three Ravines in
China are bigger, but Itaipú still produces more
electricity. The world's fourth largest power plant,
Belo Monte in the Xingú River in the northern Amazon,
was inaugurated in November 2019. The project has always
been strongly questioned due to concerns about the
environment and the rights of indigenous peoples.
Criticism is directed at the building destroying local
ecosystems and putting large areas under water so tens
of thousands of people have to move. The building, which
started in 2011, was stopped in court several times but
soon started again after the appeal.
Drought in 2001 led to severe electricity shortages
in Brazil and forced alternatives to hydropower. Two
nuclear reactors are in progress and plans are under way
for an expansion of nuclear power, although it is slow.
The government is also trying to invest in wind power,
which so far plays a limited role. Severe drought hit
Brazil in 2014 and 2015 as well, with water shortages
and reduced electricity supply as a result.
Mining, power plant dams and industrialization are
destroying vast areas of the Amazon, and indigenous
people living there are forced to relocate. In the
extraction of gold, mercury is used which is dispersed
in the soil. Improved environmental control, however,
has reduced gold mining. Private gold diggers,
garimpeiros, often end up in conflict with indigenous
peoples who defend their land, and many have been put to
death in such battles (see also Population and
The risks of large-scale mining have been brought to
light after two dust disasters in the state of Minas
Gerais in the southeast, 2015 and 2019 (see further here
and here). In both cases, dams burst and caused enormous
havoc. The first accident in Mariana led to severe
pollution along a 50-mile stretch of Rio Dolce, as well
as along the Atlantic coast at the mouth of the river.
The environmental effects are expected to be far
reaching. In the second Brumadinho accident, about 270
people were killed. The owner of the mining dams is the
mining giant Vale, the world's largest iron ore
producer. Vale's former owners and 15 other people have
been charged with the deaths.
The clearing of rainforest and savannah areas for
soybean cultivation and pasture for cattle is also an
environmental problem that has repercussions for the
whole world (see also Agriculture and Fisheries and
Geography and Climate).
Emissions from the large industrial sector pollute
air and water. The air in traffic-heavy industrial
cities is heavily polluted, especially in the São Paulo
area. Cubatão outside São Paulo is usually called the
"valley of death", as the population there is largely
affected by diseases and birth defects as a result of
pollution. The drinking water in many parts of Brazil is
threatened by toxins. Environmental requirements have
been tightened on the industry, but small companies
often do not consider themselves able to afford
increased environmental protection. When Brazil applied
for the 2016 Summer Olympics, a promise was made that
the seawater outside Rio de Janeiro should be cleansed,
as fears existed about the health risks of participating
in the sailing competitions. Around 70 percent of the
city's wastewater is estimated to run straight into
Guanabara Bay and the bay is described as an open drain.
FACTS - ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT
Energy use per person
1,471 kilograms of oil equivalent (2014)
Electricity consumption per person
2578 kilowatt hours, kWh (2014)
Carbon dioxide emissions in total
529 808 thousand tonnes (2014)
Carbon dioxide emissions per inhabitant
2.6 tonnes (2014)
The share of energy from renewable sources
43.8 percent (2015)
Truth Commission presents final report
A National Truth Commission with the mission to investigate human rights
violations 1946-1988 presents its final report (see May 2012 and Political
Rousseff wins the presidential election
The incumbent President Dilma Rousseff wins despite Neves being supported by
Silva for the second round. She gets 51.6 percent of the vote against 48.4 for
Neves. The victory margin is the smallest in a presidential election since 1894.
The election shows a clear divide of the country along social and geographical
dividing lines. Poor northern Brazil supports Rousseff, while the support for
Neves is greater in the richer southern parts of the country.
Part victory for Rousseff, government victory in congressional elections
In the first round of the presidential election, the result is somewhat
surprising, which was expected before Campo's fatal accident (see August 2014):
Dilma Rousseff and Aécio Neves move on to the second round, supported by
approximately 42 and 34 percent of voters, respectively. Marina Silva ultimately
gets 21 percent, a significantly lower proportion than many predicted. In the
congressional elections, the government coalition retains its majority in both
chambers, although both the Labor Party (PT) and the PMDB lose a mandate. In
addition to the PMDB, PSD and PR, the PT's Government Alliance also includes the
Progressive Party (PP), the Brazilian Republican Party (PRB), the Democratic
Workers Party (PDT) and the Socialist Republican Party (Pros). The number of
parties with a seat in Congress increases from 22 to 28. The number of parties
that govern at least one state also increases, from six to nine.
Mass arrests within the police
Police in Rio de Janeiro seize 22 in their own ranks, suspected of bribery
and extortion. Among the arrested are a highly regarded person in the city's
military police, with responsibility for special operations. Large amounts of
cash must have been seized and several people are looking forward to this.
The economy in recession
Statistics show that the economy shrank by 0.2 percent in the first quarter
and by 0.6 percent in the second. The information presented just over a month
before the election can be troublesome for President Rousseff. However,
unemployment is reported to be at a historically low level: 4.9 percent.
Presidential candidate dies
Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) presidential candidate Eduardo Campos is
killed in a plane crash in the state of São Paulo that requires the lives of six
more people. Both Rousseff and Neves temporarily suspend their campaign work and
the president announces three days of country grief. The 49-year-old Campos was
third in opinion polls. After the accident, PSB appoints Marina Silva as the
party's new presidential candidate.
The Soccer World Cup is conducted without incidents
Despite some protest actions, the World Cup is progressing well. But the
nation is almost in a state of shock and crows erupt in many directions when the
triumphant Brazilian national team gets knocked out in the semi-finals, with 1-7
Presidential candidates ready
As expected, Social Democrats PSDB nominate Senator Aécio Neves as its
candidate in the 2014 election. Neves is the daughter-in-law of Tancredo Neves,
who was elected president in 1985 but died before taking office (see Modern
History). Shortly thereafter, the Labor Party officially nominates incumbent
President Dilma Rousseff as its candidate. Eduardo Campos has left the
Governor's post in Pernambuco and confirmed that he is a candidate, with Marina
Silva as his Vice Presidential candidate (see October 2013). The election
campaign will formally begin on July 6, when political advertising will be
Strike chaos for the World Cup
A strike in public transport causes total chaos in São Paulo a week before
the World Cup begins. Angry travelers storm a stadium where Brazil will face
Croatia. The strikers demand greater pay increases than the employer wants to
agree to. Both police and other public servants also threaten to continue
strikes. The strike lasts for five days and is only interrupted two days before
Major military mobilization ahead of the World Cup
An extensive military effort is launched before the Soccer World Cup, in what
is known as the largest mobilization to date in the country. Over 30,000
soldiers are deployed to strengthen surveillance along the borders. In addition,
a total of 170,000 guards and police officers will participate in the
surveillance in the twelve World Cup cities. More than 600,000 foreign tourists
are expected to visit Brazil during the World Cup. Demonstrations in protest of
the costs of the World Cup are ongoing in several major cities, with some unrest
as a result.
No evidence of presidential assassination
The National Truth Commission reports that there is no evidence that
ex-President Juscelino Kubitschek was murdered, contrary to what a commission in
the São Paulo City Council had concluded a few months earlier. Kubitschek, who
was president from 1956 to 1961, had just regained his political rights when he
died in 1976 in the context of a car accident. It has long been rumored that he
was in fact murdered.
Petrobras ex-boss is arrested in suspected bribe
Petrobras former head Paulo Roberto Costa is arrested. It is blowing around
the state oil giant, which is becoming increasingly troublesome for Rousseff.
Petrobras has done a number of bad deals that are now being investigated by
prosecutors, not least the purchase of a refinery in the US has come into focus.
More and more are pointing out that this is not just bad business but
corruption. Prosecutions are also directed against Rousseff, as she was chairman
of the board of the oil company between 2003 and 2010.
Violent protest against raised ticket prices
Violence erupts in connection with a protest against an announced increase in
fare in Rio de Janeiro's public transport. A TV photographer is hit by a light
rocket and dies after a few days in a coma. Similar protests in the summer of
2013 spread to large parts of the country (see June 2013).