By Anders Lorenzen
Environmental campaigners had worried that it would be bad news for the Amazon rainforest, with the election of the far-right authoritarian, Jair Bolsonaro, as President of Brazil.
And they were not wrong.
According to the Brazilian space research institute INPE, the DETER alerting system, registered deforestation of 739 square kilometres (285 square miles) in May, the first of three months in which logging tends to surge following the region’s rainy season. That is up from 550 square kilometres in May 2018 and more than double the deforestation detected two years earlier.
And the trend continued as the data from June was published by INPE, showing an 88% jump in deforestation. And the latest available data for July 1 to July 25 recorded 1,864 square kilometres of deforestation, more than triple the amount for July last year.
Environmentalists had warned that Bolsonaro’s anti-environmental agenda combined with his pro-business and agriculture policy would be devastating for the world’s largest rainforest, also known as the lungs of the Earth. During his seven months in charge, Bolsonaro has already inflicted damage by easing or completely removing regulations and dismantling conservation agencies.
Even though Bolsonaro has struggled to get some of his reforms through Congress, it is believed he would simply not enforce the laws when broken. When he took office in January, the country’s environmental agency IBAMA lost its authority and the forestry commission was moved to the Agriculture Ministry which is run by farm industry allies.
In addition, he has voiced strong scepticism about fighting climate change. And has threatened to follow the Trump administration in leaving the Paris Agreement, though that seems to have been dropped for now after lobbying from his own environment minister, Ricardo Salles.
In a further blow that human rights and democracy campaigners should be worried about, Bolsonaro and his government distanced themselves from the findings that deforestation has increased, calling the data false and manipulated.
As a result, the head of Brazil’s space agency, Ricardo Galvao, has been sacked after he had a spat with Bolsonaro about the data. He has subsequently released a statement saying that there is no doubt about the rise in deforestation, “There is not the slightest doubt, our data is absolutely correct,” he said.
Environmentalists, politicians, as well as think tanks involved in tackling the climate crisis, would be extremely worried by these findings as preventing deforestation in the Amazon is seen as a critical element in limiting temperature rise to below 2 degrees C.