The ‘Lungs of the World’ at the mercy of ‘ruralists’ – In Other Words

Most of the Amazonian Rainforest belongs to Brazil, who has since January 1st been governed by Jair Bolsonaro. For those of you who are not familiar with South American politics, suffice to say that he has been affectionately nicknamed the ‘Trump of The Tropics’. It would be an understatement to say that the implantation of his administration has been rocky. In less than 4 months, the president has restructured the Brazilian Ministerial system almost entirely. And the ‘MMA’, the Ministry of the Environment, was no exception. In a turn that would be laughable if it was not so tragic, MMA’s current Minister is Ricardo Salles, the ex-Secretary of Environment of the state of São Paulo. While in office there, Salles committed environmental fraud (for which he was convicted in 2018).

Ever since taking charge of the national Ministry itself, Salles and Bolsonaro have extinguished the Climate Change and Forest Secretariat (responsible for the fight against deforestation). Both of them are what brazilians call ‘ruralists’, meaning they favour the farming industry’s interests when it comes to the environment. Wanting to lessen the country’s protection of the Amazon, Bolsonaro had originally promised to both exit the Paris Accords and fuse the Ministries of Environment and Agriculture. In a refreshing display of democracy, neither proposition came to be true thanks to popular and congressional pressure. However, the president’s latest pronouncements have been cause for alarm amongst environmentalists, since they undermine the power of ‘IBAMA’, the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Ressources.

Indeed, the new ‘Environment Conciliation Center’, created by presidential decree on April 12th, allows for the accused of illegal logging and fertilizing to indefinitely postpone being judged by IBAMA. It complicates legally pursuing these lawbreakers and shields them from repercussion. This news comes at a time when the government’s general anti-environment stance alone has already meant substantial losses for the Rainforest. A 54% rise in logging was already observed for the month of January (if compared to January 2018). 12% of those were protected areas.

The Amazonian Rainforest represents around 20% of the planet’s oxygen. In 2018, approximately 1km2 of it was lost every hour. Just how much will Brazil’s new politics add to that number ? There is no telling. But the prognostics are not comforting.

Maria Luísa Benjamin

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