India has had many distinguished heads of state and government as chief guests on Republic Day down the years, including Barack Obama, then US president, in 2015, Nelson Mandela , the first elected president of South Africa, in 1995 and former French president Jacques Chirac in 1976 and 1998. This year, the chief guest will be one of the world’s biggest climate change deniers: Jair Bolsonaro, president of Brazil.

Since he became president on 1 January 2019, Bolsonaro has caused more harm than anyone, barring US President Donald Trump, to international efforts to halt the climate crisis. As president of the country that is home to the bulk of the Amazon rainforest, not only did Bolsonaro facilitate its widespread deforestation, which ultimately led to the catastrophic fires last year, he also turned a blind eye to the burning for the longest time. He instead blamed hypothetical saboteurs and environmental activists. He fired the director of Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, Ricardo Galvão, in August, when Galvão released the damning data that the 2019 fires represented an 84% increase over 2018.

Click here to listen to the latest episode of Mint Climate Change Tracker podcast

Bolsonaro’s dismantling of Brazil’s previously admirable protections for its forests and indigenous communities means that there’s a high chance of similar fires this year. In the larger scheme of climate change mitigation, Bolsonaro has used policy changes as well as rhetoric to weaken the international effort. In Washington, DC in September, Brazil’s foreign minister, Ernesto Araújo, said, “There is no climate change catastrophe." Araújo has also abolished the office in his ministry that dealt with climate change. Brazil, which was a leading light in the fight against climate change, may now fail to meet its Paris 2015 commitments.

As leading members of the association of emerging economies, BRICS, it’s natural that India and Brazil should display fraternity at the diplomatic level. But for a government and a prime minister that want to be seen as leaders in tackling climate change, inviting Bolsonaro seems like a curious decision.

Follow the Climate Change Tracker with #MintClimateTracker. Click here to listen to the latest episode of the Mint Climate Change Tracker podcast hosted by Bibek Bhattacharya.

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