Document is an attempt at addressing European concerns about the Environment and indigenous rights as free-trade deal with Mercosur enters ratification

In the second week of June, members of the European Parliament received a letter from the Brazilian government containing a series of informations on the country’s environmental policy. The move was an attempt to reassure European stakeholders about environmental preservation and indigenous rights at a time when the free trade agreement between Mercosur and the European Union is in the process of ratification by the bloc countries – and there is pressure within European society for its rejection.

The Brazilian government considers that there are “communication failures” with regard to its environmental policy and says that EU is a victim of misinformation perpetrated by NGOs. On more than one occasion several representatives of the first echelon of the Bolsonaro administration blamed civil society for an alleged defamatory campaign, driven by commercial interests.

The letter sent to MEPs is an attempt by the government to expose its version. However, it contains a series of false information, distorted data, cherry-picking and omissions, ranging from the attribution of the paternity of the Council of the Amazon to President Jair Bolsonaro (the council was created in 1993) to the extraordinary claim that Brazil was on the verge of meeting its Paris Agreement target in the year it was adopted.

The team checked some of the main points of the document. Read below.

Brazil’s Foreign Ministry had not responded to requests for comment until the publication of this post.

The creation of the National Council of the Legal Amazon was announced by president Jair Bolsonaro on January 21st, 2020, with the objective that it coordinate the various actions, in each ministry                                                        


The Amazon Council was created under the Itamar Franco administration as an advisory body to the Presidency of the Republic,  Decree No. 964/1993. Then, it was moved to the Ministry of the Environment (MMA), in 1995, under the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration, by Decree No. 1541/1995. Jair Bolsonaro transferred it from the MMA to the Vice-Presidency, under Decree No. 10231/2020.

In 2013, the Dilma Rousseff administration had already created the Permanent Office of Integrated Management for the Protection of the Environment (Gabinete Permanente de Gestão Integrada para a Proteção do Meio Ambiente), under Decree No. 7957/2013,  which put regulations on calling in the Armed Forces for environmental protection. This group was coordinated by the Ministry of the Environment and composed of; The Institutional Security Office of the Presidency of the Republic; Ministry of Defense; Ministry of Justice; Operations and Management Center for the Amazon Protection System (CENSIPAM); The Brazilian Institute for Space Research (INPE); Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA); Brazilian Intelligence Agency (ABIN); and the Brazilian Public Security Force (Força Nacional de Segurança Pública), among other invited institutions.

On that occasion, the  Hlieia Homeland Operation (Operação Hileia Pátria) was created to combat deforestation in the Amazon with the Army and other institutions. It was similar to Operation Green Brazil, announced by the Bolsonaro administration after the forest fires crisis of August 2019 and resumed on May 11. At the end of 2019, the Permanent Integrated Management Office for the Protection of the Environment was disbanded by  Decree No. 10179/2019.

The president also determined the creation of a National Environmental Force, composed of personnel from various States


Although the announcement had been made, until June 2020 there had been no guard created, staff assigned, or budget published. This is because Brazil’s National Public Security Force was created in 2004, under the Lula administration, by Decree No. 5289/2004. This public security force already supported environmental bodies and, in 2013, the Dilma Rousseff administration created a specialized environmental unit, the Environmental Operations Company of Brazil’s National Public Security Force, under Decree No. 7957/2013. A project in the Amazon Fund of over 30 million BRL was approved to structure the new unit, and the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) trained the police officers. Afterward, IBAMA signed an agreement with Brazil’s National Public Security Office and transferred funds from its budget to Brazil’s Força Nacional to receive support in the fight against deforestation in the Amazon.

There has been a significant reduction in annual deforestation rates in the Amazon region: from 27,772 km2 in 2004 to 10,129 km2 in 2019 (a 63,5% reduction)


Although there has been a significant drop in deforestation since 2014, this reduction came to a halt in 2012. Since then, there has been an upward trend, exacerbated during the Bolsonaro administration. The 2019 deforestation rate was the highest since 2008, and it was the highest percentage increase this century. From 2012 to 2019, there was a 122% increase in deforestation in the Amazon. The alerts data from  the Brazilian Institute for Space Research for 2020 indicate that deforestation is expected to be even higher this year.

Amongst the ten largest countries in the world, Brazil is the most environmentally friendly in terms of protected areas (24.2% of total land surface)3. The average of the total protected areas in this group of countries (excluding Brazil) is only 10.9%. Furthermore, protected areas in large countries correspond, to a great extent, to unpopulated deserts or to polar or mountainous regions, unsuitable for agricultural use or even for human habitation. In Brazil, almost without exception, protected areas are inhabitable and rich in biodiversity.


Brazil is the country with the greatest terrestrial biodiversity in the world and made a commitment to use Conservation Units to protect at least 17% of these terrestrial areas and continental waters and 10% of marine and coastal areas, primarily those especially crucial for biodiversity and ecosystem services. This commitment is known as the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, signed with the United Nations (UN) Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). To say that other countries are able to provide this protection because they have desert areas is fallacious, since countries smaller than Brazil, like Germany, give up “habitable areas” to conserve biodiversity.

Brazil is the only country in the world with conservation requirements whereby farmers are responsible for the conservation of a great deal of the territory, without receiving any financial compensation in exchange.


One 2011 study by Imazon and Proforest shows that at least 11 other countries have strict legal requirements for farmers to maintain forests within their properties. In Brazil, this requirement is known as a “legal reserve” (reserva legal). Other countries, such as South Africa, require that riparian forests be preserved to protect river basins at the expense of the owner. The new Forest Code establishes a system for a trade of forest quotas between farmers with forest deficits and farmers with forest surpluses, known as the Environmental Reserve Quota (Cota de Reserva Ambiental). The code also provides that farmers can receive economic and financial incentives for conserving or restoring native vegetation. The law was never enforced for several reasons, including pressure from the Rural Caucus to change it further in order to eliminate legal reserves completely. A law proposing to end legal reserves was put forward by Jair Bolsonaro’s senator son, Flávio Bolsonaro. In 2018, the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment (MMA) developed a project to pay farmers, indigenous peoples, and traditional communities for conserving and restoring the Amazon rainforest. Floresta+ raised 96.5 million USD from the Green Climate Fund, and the documentation was only signed this year to be implemented, because of resistance from the Bolsonaro administration.

In the Amazon, the main challenge is combatting illegal practices. 70% of deforestation takes place outside rural estates, that is, in public and vacant areas. And not because of farming, but rather through illegal activities, such as land-grabbing or wood theft, among others.


Most deforestation does occur in private areas, as demonstrated in MMA analyses for the elaboration of the Action Plan for Prevention and Control of Deforestation in the Legal Amazon (4th Phase). Although the value may vary from year to year, more than 30% of deforestation occurs in private areas, and slightly less than 30% occurs in settlements, which are also private areas. Therefore, it reaches more than half in these areas, about 60%.

The Brazilian government is interested in reactivating cooperation through the Amazon Fund, and other forms of financing are also being sought.


The Brazilian government is being sued in the Federal Supreme Court (STF) for leaving the Amazon Fund inactive for more than a year with no technical justification.

The country has been intensively controlling and restricting irregular activities involving loggers, land grabbers and gold miners, in order to reduce the rate of deforestation and encroachment on indigenous lands.


Deforestation in Indigenous Lands increased by 90% in 2019 as compared to the previous year, according to official data from INPE’s Prodes system. The invasions of indigenous lands in the first year of Jair Bolsonaro’s administration also took a leap. There were only 160 from January to September 2019, against 109 for all of 2018, according to the Missionary Council of Indigenous Peoples. The president introduced a bill to permit the planting of GMO soybeans, mining, and other economic exploitation activities in these areas. He has repeatedly stated that there is “a lot of land for a few Indians” and that he will not demarcate “one inch” of indigenous lands under his administration. In April, the IBAMA inspection summit was exonerated after a report showed the results of an operation against the invasion of indigenous lands in Pará, including Ituna-Itatá, the most deforested indigenous land in 2019. After the civil servants were exonerated, actions to combat deforestation in the Amazon were subordinate to the Ministry of Defense.

Brazil’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) provides for a 37% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, and a subsequent 43% reduction in 2030 based on 2005. In 2015, Brazil achieved a 35% reduction in emissions compared to 2005.


For obvious reasons, the emission levels of the year the target was adopted should not be counted as reaching any part of the target. After all, by definition, the policies and measures aimed at meeting the target were not implemented in the year of their adoption. Even now, Brazil has not only not presented an implementation plan for its National Determined Contribution (NDC), which should start to be implemented in 2020, but has emission figures heading in the opposite direction. In 2018, an equivalent of 1.932 billion gross tons of CO2 was emitted, a number that could grow from 10% to 20% in 2020, when NDC recommends reaching 1.3 billion tons by 2025.

Regarding Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) within the UNFCCC, Brazil has been making a concrete contribution to mitigating climate change in the pre-2020 period. The national voluntary commitment is to reduce its projected emissions by 36.1% to 38.9% by 2020. In 2015, Brazil achieved a 58% reduction in emissions compared to the 2020 projection.


Since the goals were adopted in 2009, the same year they were converted into a National Climate Change Policy and registered in early 2010 as NAMAS, Brazil’s gross emissions have fluctuated around 1.7 billion to 1.8 billion tons, which considers the same metric used in NAMAS (GWP AR2), which is different from the metric used in NDC (GWP AR5). Therefore, it is impossible to state that the country is making a “concrete contribution” of mitigation since emissions are not falling. On the contrary, the primary goal of the Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAS), an 80% reduction in the 2020 deforestation rate of the Amazon in relation to the verified 1995-2005 average, has not been met. Deforestation would need to be a maximum of 3,925 km2 at the end of this year. The deforestation alerts alone, which are underestimated, point to 6,564 km2 two months before the end of the calculation period.

The 58% reduction data in 2015 in relation to the 2020 projection (3.2 billion tons), possibly extracted from one of Brazil’s Biennial Update Reports with UNFCCC, contains two conceptual errors: first, it assumes a five-year “anticipation” in meeting a goal that is for 2020. Second, relying on net emissions (which would give 1.3 billion tons, instead of the 1.6 billion in gross emissions estimated for 2015 by the government). When the NAMAS were adopted, Brazil still did not estimate the net emissions, which discounted the carbon allegedly removed by protected areas. Therefore, it is necessary to consider gross emissions to verify compliance.

Brazil’s NDC is more ambitious than those of several developed G20 member countries. According to UNEP’ Emissions Gap Report 2018, only three G20 countries are on track to comply with their respective NDCs: Brazil, Japan and China.


In 2020, the government chose to use data from an old 2018 report that reflected past policies. The 2019 Emissions Gap Report, launched in November last year, shows a different situation in the country, stating that “Seven G20 members need more actions, to varying degrees, to fulfill their NDCs: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, Korea, South Africa, and the United States.”

The expansion of Brazilian agricultural production was due not to increased land use or to deforestation, but to greater productivity in the countryside, which, according to a productivity study carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply, averaged 3.36% per year in the period from 1975 to 2018. In the same period, grain production increased fivefold, while the area occupied by plantations remained practically stable. In the most recent period, from 1999 to 2018, productivity growth reached 3.5% per year.


This claim must be broken down into several points. First, productivity indeed overcame deforestation in Brazilian grain production (the operative word is “grain”). According to The Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA), grain production grew six times, from 38 million tons in 1975 to 236 million tons in 2017, while the area of cultivation “only” doubled – from 37 million to 61 million hectares (which definitely does not mean “practically stable”).

Second: the main form of land use in Brazil is not grain production but cattle. Of the 30% of the territory occupied by agriculture, about two-thirds are pasture. In 2018, beef production occupied 183 million hectares, or about 20% of the Brazilian territory, according to MapBiomas. Cattle is still a highly inefficient industry: 63% of the entire deforested area in the Amazon is occupied by pastures that support one head of cattle per hectare or less, on average, according to EMBRAPA and INPE.

Third, to say that the expansion of production “did not occur as a result of deforestation” is clearly false. According to MapBiomas, since 1985, Brazilian biomes have lost 89 million hectares of native cover, while agriculture, including cattle, has gained 86 million hectares. The Amazon has shrunk 19%, while the Cerrado, where most of the agriculture is located, has had 55% of its area transformed into agricultural land in the last 50 years.

Soybean production in Brazil is not directly correlated to the outbreaks of fire and illegal deforestation in the Amazon.


Although the bulk of deforestation is related to cattle, a study by ICV, Imaflora, SEI, and Trase showed that 95% of deforestation on the soy farms in Mato Grosso, the country’s leading producer, is illegal. This is in line with MapBiomas Alerts data, which showed that 99% of deforestation alerts in 2019 occurred in places without authorization.

Regarding beef production in Brazil, over the past two decades, there have been gains in productivity with an overall reduction of pastures areas. According to data produced by IBGE and INPE, from 1990 to 2018, livestock production in Brazil increased by 139%, while the total area used for pasture decreased by 15%.


The pasture data used in the government’s communication comes from an agricultural consultancy, Athena Agro, and is based on the IBGE Agricultural Census, which is based on self-declarations and covers only 41% of Brazil. Satellite mapping data from the MapBiomas project covers 100% of Brazil and has a transparent methodology validated by an independent scientific committee. The data show that the pasture area grew 24% in this period, from 147 million hectares to 183 million hectares. The 12% to 27% increase between 2000 and 2018 in Brazil’s pasture area can also be seen when consulting the IBGE data (released in 2020) on mapping the coverage and land use of the whole country. Cattle productivity (production per hectare) did grow, but by about 92%, not 180%, as implied in the government document.

Land tenure regularization is a process that aims to solve a historical problem in Brazil by formalizing the occupation of the national territory. Among other benefits, it is important to facilitate the identification and accountability of those who commit crimes against the environment, thus enabling the State to act in command and control.


Following MapBiomas Alerts data, two-thirds of deforestation in 2019 occurred in areas that crossed at least one Rural Environmental Registry (CAR). In other words, deforestation doesn’t happen because the responsible person cannot be identified. The other side of the coin is also true: between 2005 and 2012, Brazil reduced deforestation by 83%, even without a change in the land law before 2009 and regulating its riches since then.