Last Thursday (9), Vice President Hamilton Mourão and Ministers Tereza Cristina (Agriculture) and Ricardo Salles (Environment) held a press conference to talk about their virtual meeting with the group of investors that in June expressed concern about Brazilian environmental policy. The government representatives once again tried to argue that the country is taking care of the Amazon and that external concerns are nothing but misinformation.
Fakebook.eco checked some of the statements by the top officials of the Bolsonaro administration and found a series of distortions, errors and untruths on issues ranging from Amazon fires to land grabbing, to causes of deforestation and supposed commercial reasons for external pressures. Asked to comment this fact checking, the Ministry of Agriculture said it would not answer and the Vice Presidency had not responded until the conclusion of this post. The Environment Ministry, which does not respond, was not sought this time.
In the first semester the fires in the Amazon occur mainly in the state of Roraima, which is practically in the Northern hemisphere and is the dry season, this is why there are more fire outbreaks (…) In the second semester the fire season effectively begins in the region that most concerns us, north of Mato Grosso and south of Pará. Today we have hot spots in this region still in compatible [average] numbers. We must always remember that the use of fire is part of the culture of field work for the people who live in this area. (Hamilton Mourão)
June saw the largest number of fires in the Amazon in the last 13 years, an increase of almost 20% over the same period in 2019. This year, Roraima registered only 4 fires in June, compared to 1,960 in Mato Grosso, according to INPE. Official data shows that, except for February and March, the entire first semester saw below-average fire counts in Roraima. The number of fires generally varies according to the deforestation rate. According to INPE, this year deforestation explained 50% of the fires in the Amazon States in the first semester. Still according to INPE, the number of deforestation alerts in the first half of 2020 was 45% higher than the average of the previous four years for the same period.
They [the investors] wanted to know if there is a chance that if the PL [2,633] is approved, it would increase deforestation in the Amazon. Quite the contrary. We made it clear that this will give a name, those lands will have ownership, and then they will be within Brazilian legislation. They will have the title and therefore they will have to comply with the environmental rules. With this, we believe that we will have greater control over that region. (Tereza Cristina)
Handing out land titles does not necessarily mean greater control of deforestation. An analysis of all the 2019 deforestation alerts done by MapBiomas showed that two thirds of deforestation in Brazil occurred in areas that crossed at least one Rural Environmental Registry (CAR) – that is, it is possible to know who claims to own the area and punish that person. Based on this, Ibama created Operation Remote Control in 2016, to monitor deforestation without having to go into the field in every case. Likewise, deforestation was reduced by 83% between 2004 and 2012 without the need of changing the law on land tenure.
We pursue our determination to keep seeking resources for the development of the Amazon, and in this sense the freeing the international market of forest origin carbon credits so that we can finally receive the international contribution for the role that the Amazon has. We have not yet managed to push this discussion of forest carbon credits forward, and it remains a priority, because it is a way of attracting annual resources in the proportion that is necessary for the preservation of our forest. (Ricardo Salles)
Brazil was already receiving international resources for the preservation of the forest, via the Amazon Fund and international fundraising projects at state level. However, the Bolsonaro government made it impossible to raise more external funds and is being sued at the Supreme Court (STF) for dismantling the Amazon Fund, under false allegations that the funds were misappropriated by NGOs. In the Amazon Fund alone, R$1.5 billion donated to Brazil are currently frozen by decisions of the Bolsonaro government.
The Brazilian government never accepted that the protection of forests would generate carbon credits in private markets in the Kyoto Protocol, a climate agreement prior to the Paris Agreement. Only reforestation projects can generate these credits. Today tropical countries can raise funds to conserve forests through the REDD+ mechanism (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), but in Brazil this can only occur a posteriori, as compensation for reduced deforestation – which is how the Amazon Fund works. Brazil also raised alone, in 2018, one fifth of all available REDD+ funds in the Green Climate Fund, created under the Paris Agreement. This was the origin of the Floresta+ program.
Our government is not responsible for dismantling the structures of environmental agencies. We inherited Ibama and ICMBio with reduced number of servers. With the budget issues that we live with and the ban on hiring we are looking for solutions to refill the agencies’ workforce. Criticism has been made, especially in relation to Minister Ricardo Salles, and I want to make clear that these criticisms are not being fair. (Mourão)
Although Ibama has been losing cadres year after year because of unreplaced retirements, this has not prevented the institute from taking action to crack down on deforestation in 2017, for example, when the devastation rates dropped. The formal ban on new hiring of civil servants started with Jair Bolsonaro’s own decree in December of last year. But by then, the government had seen almost a year pass by, deforestation increased, and the fire crisis had already happened. On Nov. 9, 2018, the president-elected had signalled that he would not hire new inspectors to replace Ibama and ICMBio agents, who were accused of promoting what he called the “fines industry”.
The claim of lack of resources to hire inspectors also is fragile, as two months of Operation Green Brazil 1, conducted by the army in the Amazon in 2019, cost R$124 million, and Operation Green Brazil 2, which began in May, has a budget of R$60 million per month, according to the government.
In the Bolsonaro government, many of Ibama’s and ICMBio’s main management posts remained vacant for months or were occupied by (São Paulo state) military police officers, Armed Forces personnel or people without knowledge nor experience in the environmental field. Regarding the dismantling of environmental governance, in a 129-page lawsuit demanding that Ricardo Salles be removed for improbity, the Federal Public Prosecutors’ Office (MPF) details the government’s set of decisions – from militarization to gagging on communications, from emptying the ministry itself to budget cuts, from persecution against inspectors to reducing the number of fines and the destruction of equipment – that, according to the prosecutors, highlight the “malicious destroying environmental protection structures.”
Today we have 84% of the Amazon forest preserved. (Mourão)
According to INPE, the total deforestation today corresponds to 798,481 km2. The original area of the Amazonian forest monitored by satellite in the nine states of the Legal Amazon is 3,994,454 km2. In other words, 19.98% of the forest has been lost, leaving 80.02% standing. This does not mean, however, “preserved”, since there are vast expanses of forest that are degraded by human activities. No one knows how much, but a 2014 study indicates that by 2013 there were 1.2 million km2 of degraded forests. This means that 40% of the Amazon may be under human pressure.
If we’re able to present a positive result in relation to the fires, this is something that can be shown on the negotiating table (with the donor countries, Norway and Germany), saying: “we are doing our part, now you do your part again” [in relation to the Amazon Fund]. (Mourão)
The Amazon Fund was paralyzed because the government has extinguished its guiding and technical committees, preventing criteria and guidelines from being established for the presentation of financing projects, and donor countries did not accept the government’s proposal to recompose the committees so that the Environment Minister could control them, excluding civil society. The application of the R$ 1.5 billion of the Amazon Fund that is frozen for more than a year only depends on the Brazilian government. However, new donations to the fund were suspended because the deforestation rate in 2019 was 10,129 km2. According to the rules agreed with Norway and Germany, this is only allowed for rates below 8,143 km2.
We are going to suffer pressure and one of the pressures is to say that Brazil is destroying the Amazon to produce food, which is not true. (Mourão)
According to Embrapa’s and INPE’s TerraClass project, 71% of the deforested areas in the Amazon in 2014, the last year of available data, were occupied by agriculture or pastures. According to TerraClass, pasture is the dominant form of land use in the Amazon, occupying 65% of the deforested area.
The forest is standing there. There is a lot that the forest is on fire. No. The fires occur in areas that have already been deforested. (Mourão)
Although it is rare for forests to catch fire in the Amazon, this does not mean that the forest is standing. On the contrary, fire is the last stage of the deforestation process and, except in extraordinarily dry years, the amount of fire varies according to the amount of deforestation, as shown in two technical notes from the Amazon Environmental Research Institute, which can be read here and here.
The responsibility for preventing strangers from entering these lands lies with FUNAI, and it also lacks the capacity for carry it out. (Mourão)
When invaders enter indigenous lands and commit environmental crimes such as deforestation, timber extraction and mining, the responsibility lies with the Federal Police and Ibama, institutions that have the power of police to investigate and punish. In this context, it is also the role of these institutions to carry out preventive measures to prevent these crimes and infractions from continuing to occur.
[We have] the Floresta+ program, the largest payment for environmental services program in the world; the Adopt a Park; in short, a series of actions that demonstrate that the government acts in a coherent line of sustainable economic development and preservation of our biomes, especially in the Amazon. (Salles)
Forest+ is not the largest PES program in the world. Regarding the Adopt a Park, there is no publication about the program in the Official Gazette or on the website of the Environment Ministry. The only piece found about the program was an advertising video posted in July on the ministry’s social media, which did not give any information about the program’s goals, mode of operation or companies that joined or would be consulted.
English translation by Shigueo Watanabe Jr., Instituto ClimaInfo