The Ministry also extols a failed military operation in the Amazon based on a social media post

The Ministry of Environment published a document in this Monday’s (7/26) Federal Official Gazette whose goal is ‘to make public the efforts and results obtained in controlling illegal deforesting and forest fires’ in 2020, a year in which the devastation broke records in the AmazonCerrado, and Pantanal. The Activity Report shows that the policy of misinformation and dismantling continues under Joaquim Leite, successor to Ricardo Salles, who was discharged from office in June after being accused of facilitating illegal timber smuggling.

IBAMA cancelled 44.5% of all operations planned for last year, according to the document: ‘Of all 1,171 operations planned for 2020, IBAMA carried out a total of 650.’ The Ministry of Environment blamed the Covid-19 pandemic, but it could have applied remote deforestation monitoring — an action started by IBAMA in 2016 and curtailed under the Bolsonaro administration. Moreover, the government is aware of a lack of enforcing agents since 2018, but never issued tenders for new hirings.

The outcome: the total amount of fines imposed by IBAMA for flora-related offenses in the Amazon dropped by half when compared to 2018, the last year of the Temer administration.

The document repeats data about the military operation Verde Brasil published in November 2020 by the Ministry of Defense showing the failure of the operation: a total of BRL 1.79 billion in fines imposed and 99 thousand hectares of land restricted in six months. While an additional 3,000 military agents were sent to the region as ‘reinforcement,’ the number of fines and land restrictions dropped in year-to-year comparison with 2019, as we showed here. Under Leite’s leadership, a Twitter card became a public policy outcome.

In its report, the Ministry of Environment spreads false information when it states that ‘the growth tendency [of deforestation] since 2012 indicates the collapse of previous initiatives and the need for new solutions which are more effective in preventing and fighting illegal deforestation,’ and also that ‘in this context, the Ministry of Environment sought to critically assess the gaps left open by previous initiatives and prepared a new National Plan for Illegal Deforestation Control and Native Vegetation Recovery.’

Actually, the Bolsonaro administration jettisoned the control plan developed in 2004 (PPCDAm), which had been the main responsible for the 83% drop in deforestation in the Amazon up to 2012 — after which the rate soared. From 2013 to 2018, the average was 6.5 thousand km² per year. In the years where Bolsonaro was in office, 2019 and 2020, the figure reached 10.5 thousand km² — a 61% increase. In July 2020, after more than one and a half year in office, the Vice-President Hamilton Mourão acknowledged that the country did not have in place a plan to fight deforestation.

The Ministry of Environment also affirms that the Inpe (National Institute for Space Research) data ‘do not distinguish illegal deforesting from legally authorized vegetation removal — i.e., private areas with an excess of Legal Reserve which, according to the Forestry Code, may be legally deforested for alternative land use.’ However, the role in Inpe is to monitor deforestation, not to determine what is illegal or not. This is the enforcement authorities’ job.

The fact remains that over 90% of all deforestation in the Amazon is illegal, and the Ministry itself acknowledged it in 2018: only 615 km² of the 7,536 km² deforested in that year had been authorized. Additionally, there is a Ministry of Environment Ordinance from 2018 in which the Amazonian states are requested to provide information on deforestation authorization for disclosure purposes, which has not taken place during the Bolsonaro administration.

The data provided by Inpe on forest burning are discredited too: the Ministry says that the institute’s platform ‘merely identifies active fire points, with no distinction between authorized burning, prescribed burning, and forest fires.’ Once again, the role of Inpe is to monitor, not to enforce. Furthermore, a presidential decree of July 2020 prohibited forest burning in the whole country for 120 days, in the middle of the dry season.

The report highlights Floresta+, an initiative by the Temer administration, among the ‘actions by the Ministry,’ but the project exists for two and a half year already and was never put in practice. In February, showed that the then Minister Ricardo Salles resisted to forwarding benefits to native and traditional communities, which were the original target public of this project that received BRL 500 million from the Green Climate Fund. This funding was obtained by the Dilma Rousseff administration.

No payment was made to date, and the document affirms that it will ‘compensate directly small farmers who provide environmental services in areas with an excess of native forest or permanent preservation areas in need of recovery.’ Native and traditional communities come second: ‘Resources will also be channeled to projects by communities dedicated to developing environmental activities and innovation projects that bring new solutions for forest conservation issues.’ Floresta+ was run by Joaquin Leite, recommended for office by Salles in June.

The Activity Report mentions as a Ministry ‘action’ the ‘structuration of the voluntary carbon market.’ Nonetheless, there are no practical results to be seen. A further point made is the ‘implementation of the National Strategy for Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, taking into account the role played by the conservation of forest carbon stocks, sustainable forest management, and increase of forest carbon stocks (REDD+).’ But in actual fact the Bolsonaro administration has impaired Fundo Amazônia, the largest REDD+ (payment for results in reducing emissions from deforestation) initiative worldwide.