RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazil’s commitment this month to end illegal deforestation in eight years has garnered much praise from world leaders, but an official report this week questioned that commitment after it showed that the rate of deforestation in The Amazon rainforest has been the worst in 15 years.
At the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, Brazil, seeking to change its reputation as an environmental violator under President Jair Bolsonaro, joined more than 100 countries in pledging an end to deforestation. According to the plan, Brazil has said it will reduce deforestation in the Amazon by 15 percent by next year.
But a report released Thursday by the Brazilian National Space Research Institute (Inpe) found that between August 2020 and July 2021, the world’s largest rainforest lost an astounding 5,100 square miles of tree cover.
Satellite data showed that deforestation increased by about 22 percent over the previous year. Also for the first time in the country’s history, for the fourth consecutive year, an increase in the rate of deforestation was reported. Since Mr Bolsonaro became president in 2019, the country has lost a forest area larger than Belgium.
“This is not surprising,” said Daniel Azeredo, a federal attorney specializing in environmental crimes. “Deforestation is the result of the destruction of Brazil’s environmental policy.”
In addition to questions about whether Brazil will meet those goals, the report was dated October 27, four days before the start of the climate summit known as COP26, which implies that the right-wing government had information in advance. But in a press conference late Thursday evening, Environment Minister Joaquim Leite denied knowing the numbers during the climate summit he led the Brazilian delegation.
“Perhaps Inpe delayed the release of this data out of caution,” he told reporters. “From the information I have, it was published today and that number is not acceptable.”
Acioli de Olivo, vice president of the union for space explorers working for the federal government, said his team was investigating the timing of the report’s release. According to him, the report was ready in mid-October and was uploaded to the government platform, available to officials, before the start of the climate conference.
“It sounds like a joke that they didn’t know about the report,” he said.
Isabella Teixeira, a former minister of the environment in a left-wing government, said the episode not only reflected the incompetence of the current administration, but also that her pledges at the summit were only meant to mitigate the damage.
“Brazil will be able to fulfill its obligations only when this government resigns,” she said. “We’ve completely run out of patience. There should be no dialogue. “
Mr Bolsonaro took office promising to develop the Amazon region, not defend it, which critics say seriously undermined the country’s ability to attract investment and strike lucrative economic deals on the international stage.
As Mr. Bolsonaro runs for a second term in next year’s elections, his policies of undermining environmental protection agencies and encouraging miners and ranchers to occupy the Amazon will inevitably be in the spotlight. The acute economic crisis has raised the unemployment rate and lowered its approval ratings in recent months.
New figures have also been released as the European Union and the United States discuss legislation that will prevent the import of deforestation-related goods. If passed by the Brazilian administration, which is unable to control environmental violations, these laws could seriously affect local agribusiness, the heart of the country’s economy.
But with the political will, Brazil has the tools to fulfill its commitments, ”said Marcio Astrini, who heads the Climate Observatory, an environmental organization in Brazil. From 2004 to 2012, the rate of deforestation fell by 80 percent.
“This is an eight-year job, it would be a titanic work,” he said. “But we’ve done it before.”