Site icon Conservation news

Despite expanding fires, Brazil suspends operations to combat Amazon deforestation

Deforestation in the state of Rondônia, Brazil. Courtesy of Maxar Technologies.

Deforestation in the state of Rondônia, Brazil. Courtesy of Maxar Technologies.

  • Brazil’s Ministry of the Environment announced it will suspend all operations to combat illegal deforestation and fire in the Amazon and Pantanal on Monday, August 31, 2020.
  • In a statement published on its official web site, the ministry said it would demobilize staff and resources across two agencies: the environmental protection agency IBAMA and the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation. The suspension affects 1,805 firefighters, 401 inspectors, six helicopters, 144 vehicles, and ten aircraft.
  • The ministry said the decision is the result of a federal budget cut of 60.6 million Brazilian reais.
  • The cut comes as fires are currently burning widely across the Amazon.

Update 8/28/20 17:00 Pacific: shortly after this post was published, the Ministério do Meio Ambiente (MMA) – Brazil’s Ministry of Environment – announced it had reached a deal to secure funding to maintain operations.

Despite surging forest fires and deforestation in Earth’s largest rainforest, Brazil’s Ministry of the Environment announced it will suspend all operations to combat illegal deforestation and fire in the Amazon and Pantanal on Monday, August 31.

In a statement published on its official web site, the ministry said it would demobilize staff and resources across two agencies: the environmental protection agency IBAMA and the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio). The suspension affects 1,805 firefighters, 401 inspectors, six helicopters, 144 vehicles, and ten aircraft.

The ministry said the decision is a product of a federal budget cut of 60.6 million Brazilian reais ($11.26 million).

Hotspots in an area with degraded forest, in Itanhangá, Mato Grosso state. © Christian Braga / Greenpeace

Greenpeace Brazil quickly condemned the move.

“By ending fire fighting and environmental enforcement in the midst of the raging annual fires and a global pandemic, Bolsonaro is escalating his radical attacks on the climate. All year, as deforestation has increased, his government has actively undermined the rights of Indigenous Peoples — the best forest guardians — and has dismantled crucial environmental law enforcement. The government is once again extending an invitation to criminals to keep burning the forest,” said Mariana Mota, Public Policy Coordinator at Greenpeace Brazil in a statement.

“This administration emboldens culprits in their illicit activities by intentionally weakening those whose job it is to stop environmental wrongdoings. There seems to be ample funds for costly ineffective PR stunts, such as sending troops to the Amazon, yet the Brazilian government keeps blocking international conservation funding and continues to starve its own environmental enforcement agencies of both resources and autonomy. Amazon fires and destruction is a crisis both Brazil and the world can’t afford.”

The cut comes as fires are currently burning widely across the Amazon. According to data published this week by the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), 516 fires covering 376,416 hectares (912,863 acres) have been detected between May 28 and August 25. 83% of these fires have burned in recently deforested areas, while 12% have occurred within intact forests. 97% of the fires are illegal.

Fires are also widespread in the Pantanal, South America’s largest wetland, which is known for its high levels of biodiversity.

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has risen sharply since January 2019 when President Jair Bolsonaro took office, reaching levels not recorded since the mid-2000s. Bolsonaro campaigned on the promise to open the Amazon to more mining, logging, and industrial agriculture. Accordingly, his administration has has relaxed environmental law enforcement and penalties for infractions; issued executive orders opening up protected areas and indigenous lands to logging, mining, and agribusiness; and disparaged environmentalists and human rights advocates.

But rising devastation in the Amazon in recent months has increased pressure on Bolsonaro to take action. After high-profile condemnation by a coalition of large Brazilian companies and investors in July, Bolsonaro issued a decree banning fires for 120 days in the Amazon and Pantanal starting July 15th. However the ability to enforce that ban has now been significantly undermined by the decision to suspend environmental law enforcement in the region.