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“The Bolsonaro government has a clear policy for dismantling national environmental policies. It is delegitimizing the federal environmental bodies and its employees, sacking competent staff and appointing ill-prepared people to head departments and ‘flexibilizing’ the regulations that form an important part of environmental policies in every country. He is destroying all this,” Suely Araújo told Mongabay. She is a senior specialist in public policies at Observatório do Clima, a network of Brazilian NGOs working on climate change issues.
What the dismantling of the country’s environmental agencies and policies looks like in practice has been described in detail in a new report, published 22 January by Observatório do Clima. It maps out how the Bolsonaro government has systematically slashed the budget for environmental monitoring and firefighting — reduced by 9.8% in 2020, then by another 27.4% in 2021. The cuts are so sweeping they make it impossible for the nation’s environmental agencies to carry out their work effectively, according to the report.
Critics point out that, if the government was truly committed to environmental protection, these cuts would make no sense at all. Another proof: even as Brazil’s deforestation soars under Bolsonaro (with an increase of 34% in the last two years) federal agencies’ capacity to punish criminals has steeply declined due to chronic funding shortages. The number of fines imposed for illegal deforestation and damage to vegetation, instead of rising with increased criminal activity, has fallen steeply by 42% from August 2019 to July 2020, according to figures supplied by the government’s environment agency, IBAMA.
A side-by-side comparison of rising annual deforestation in square kilometers and the plummeting number of forest-related environmental crimes charged in Brazil from 2014 to 2020. Image by Thais Borges / data by INPE (deforestation) and IBAMA (crimes).
Far from trying to stem deforestation, Observatório do Clima believes the government has a very different goal.
“It is opting not to have environmental policies, to have paralysis,” said Araújo. “The resources going to the Ministry of the Environment and bodies linked to it are so small that reducing them won’t make much difference to the country’s account.