Can Bolsonaro trust his word on protecting the environment? A look at his record

As President of Brazil, Bolsonaro rules one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, with 19% of the remaining main tropical forest in the world, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world and a vast 59% of its territory is covered by forest, much of it Amazon – which acts as an “air conditioner” for the entire planet, influencing global temperatures and rainfall, and absorbing carbon dioxide.
For some time, Brazil has been considered a model for the world in some environmental indicators. According to the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), from 2004 to 2013 the country reduced its annual deforestation by almost three quarters, and by signing the Paris Agreement in 2015, decided to reduce emissions by 37% by 2025.

But those trends are reversing under Bolsonaro.

Since the bombing “Trump of the Tropics” took office, and deforestation and emissions have increased, the INPE said. Meanwhile, Bolsonaro’s environment minister, Ricardo Salles, took a number of separate positions, considering his title: Just a year ago, on April 22, 2020, Salles was infamously registered, advising the president to take advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to weaken rules. Now, the Brazilian Supreme Court is considering whether to open an investigation into allegations that Salles prevented a Federal Police investigation into illegal logging in the Amazon. In response, the Environment Ministry told CNN Brazil, “The answer will be given in court.”
However, earlier this month the Brazilian president sent a letter to Biden, vowing to work towards zero deforestation in 2030 in Brazil – a statement praised as “serious” by U.S. climate envoy John Kerry.
A wave of skepticism followed. Climate activists, civil society groups and state-level officials have written to the U.S. government calling for the establishment of direct partnerships without the president. Fifteen Democratic senators including Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy said Biden to worry that Bolsonaro “uses climate-friendly rhetoric, with no concrete results.” Even Hollywood got involved, with actors including Jane Fonda and Katy Perry signing a letter with Brazilian artists like Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, who demanded that Biden not agree.

Such critics fear that an agreement between Brazil and other nations to protect the environment will encourage the Brazilian president, while initiatives that erode environmental protections continue swiftly, such as legislation to regulate public lands stolen by farmers and legalize illegal mining and large-scale agriculture among indigenous peoples. countries.

The core of the separation is this: Can Bolsonaro trust his word on protecting the environment?

The Bolsonaro office and the Ministry of the Environment did not respond to requests for comment from CNN.

‘Amazon is ours and we will develop it’

The Brazilian government defended its environmental history as sufficient, and emphasized the country’s economic well-being as a key priority. In a video posted on his social networks in September last year, Bolsonaro boasted that Brazil is protecting its environment, but argued that the Amazon region needs economic development for the well-being of residents.

“Brazil is the country that preserves the environment the most. Amazon is ours and we will develop it. In the end there are more than 20 million Brazilians who can’t be left behind. Congratulations to everyone on our Amazon day. Amazon will do more and more Brazilian, “he said.

On April 19, its vice president-general Hamilton Mourão told a press conference that Brazil is already doing its part for global environmental efforts and should not “beg” for funding at the climate summit to do better. “We don’t have to be a beggar there. Let’s put it very clearly: we have our responsibilities. Brazil is responsible for only 3% of emissions in the world,” Mourão said.

Salles, the environment minister, told the Brazilian press that his intention for the Climate Summit is to ask for foreign aid of $ 1 billion a year from the United States and other partners to help Brazil stop illegal deforestation. (The Biden government has not been shown offering new funding or support to Bolsonaro for climate action.)

But it is not clear that financial matters alone are behind the Brazilian government’s dull record of environmental protection. The Ministry of Environment has not yet spent available funds to combat deforestation: Salles has not spent a third of the money earmarked to combat deforestation in the Amazon available since April 2018. The program ended this April and the fund returned to the Ministry of Economy.
Otherwise, the environment minister has actually made it more difficult to protect the environment, according to officials tasked with the job. A letter dated April 19 signed by more than 600 environmental officers from the Institute of Environment and Renewable Resources (Ibama) and the Conservative section of the Ministry (ICMBio) said they were “paralyzed” by recent orders to suspend the processing of new fines and decreases field agents powers to issue fines for environmental violations. The Ministry of Environment did not respond to a request for comment.

Over the past two years, the Bolsonaro government has also opened the door to increasing deforestation and emissions.

Earlier this month, Mourão announced the first official goal of the Bolsonaro government to combat deforestation in the Amazon: a deforestation rate in 2022 16% higher than it was the year before Bolsonaro took office, although less than the current level of destruction – INPE estimates 11,088 square kilometers were lost to deforestation in 2020.

The target for 2022 was described as “very modest” by leading Brazilian climate researcher Carlos Nobre, while Marcio Astrini, head of the Brazilian environmental defense network Climate Observatory, denounced it as a confession to “environmental crime”.

Most of the deforestation in Brazil is due to deliberate clearing of land. Mining alone has deforested 405.36 km² of the Legal Amazon in the last five years, an area larger than the city of Denver, according to INPE data. And with deforestation come emissions. Heat-trapping gases are released when primary forests are cut down and fires set the earth on fire for other uses, according to the Climate Observatory.

Brazil’s latest update to its climate target for the Paris Agreement also allows it to emit more carbon than previously agreed, using an outdated methodology to calculate emissions – which would allow it to emit more greenhouse gas without changing the original percentage reduction targets.

Blame people for starting the Amazon fires, environmentalists say
In October, a Brazilian released an improved version of the calculation, correcting some flaws in the previous version that overestimated the deforestation rate. But according to a study by researchers at the Minas Gerais Federal University, the Brazilian environment ministry continued to use the outdated method until December.

Environmental services researcher Raoni Rajao and his colleagues from Brazilian Minas Gerais State Federal University (UFMG) say the outdated methodology allows Brazil to emit 400 million tons more greenhouse gas than promised when Brazil first signed the Paris Agreement. The Ministry of Environment has not responded to a request for comment on this matter.

Carlos Rittl, a senior member of the Institute for Advanced Sustainable Studies in Potsdam, Germany, says that given the past two years, Brazil will attend the Climate Summit “with nothing to show” as proof of its commitment to the environment.

“The government wants to present a photo of deforested forest and sell it as sustainability,” he told CNN.

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