In recent decades Brazil has outperformed comparable countries in its progress towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This progress has been mostly driven by sustained public spending in key areas such social policy and environmental protection. However, after the onset of economic recession in 2014 the federal government imposed severe austerity measures as a response to the crisis. Later in 2016 a constitutional amendment was introduced which established a cap on public investment in health, education, science and technology, and social protection. These austerity policies have remained largely unchanged even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The analysis of federal expenditure committed to 19 programmes directly related to specific SDGs shows that most had their budgets significantly reduced during the period of 2014 to 2017. The conditional cash transfer programme Bolsa Familia (SDG 1) suffered consecutive cuts amounting to a total of 15.3%. The Family Farming Programme (SDG 2) which aims at increasing smallholder farmer productivity and income had an overall reduction of 24.2%. The largest cuts however fell on the Food and Nutrition Security Programme (SDG 12), Decent Housing Programme (SDG 11), Confronting Racism and Promoting Racial Equality Programme (SDG 10) and Policies for Women (SDG 5). All of these suffered budget cuts of over 80%. Similarly, the Climate Change Programme (SDG 13) that funds initiatives to cut greenhouse gas emissions saw a budget reduction of 82.6% while the Biodiversity Conservation Programme also had a decrease of 9.9%.
In total the 19 programmes accounted for BR$1316.97 trillion from 2014 to 2017 representing 11.9% of the federal budget for this period. The total budget reduction amounted to BR$ 60.2 billion (US$ 15.3 billion)1. Only 4 programmes (Social Assistance, Electrical Energy and Sea, Coastal Zone and Antarctica saw budget increases. Nonetheless, the total amount of extra money was only BR$ 9.7 billion. The largest proportional reductions were in programmes that targeted the most vulnerable populations. It is clear from the analysis that Brazil’s austerity measures are undermining the achievement of the Sustainable Development goals. These setbacks are likely to become more serious due the impacts of the pandemic.
Brazil continues to be one of the most unequal societies in the world. Addressing persistent inequalities should be a main priority for the country, but instead successive governments have opted for economic policies that are likely to increase inequality. There is a risk that fiscal austerity will promote an economy that further benefits the most advantaged in society to the detriment of the poor, black, women, rural and northern Brazilians. The planet is also bound to pay a high price for the lack of investment in policies to protect biodiversity and address climate change.