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 global consequences.
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.
- COUNTRYAAH: 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.
- Abbreviationfinder: A popular acronym site in the world covering abbreviation for each country. For example, BR stands for Brazil. Visit itypeusa for more information about Brazil.
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 Languages).
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 system).
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 against Germany.
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 allowed.
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 the inauguration.
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).