Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro approved on Friday a 24 percent cut in this year’s environmental budget. On Thursday, Bolsonaro promised to allocate more money, among other things, to fight deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and monitor environmental regulations.
Bolsonaro made this commitment to a hypothetical climate summit with international leaders organized by US President Joe Biden. Brazil’s right-wing populist president has said he will double the budget for implementing climate laws and that the clearance of illegal forests in his country must end by 2030. Those promises were a change in the trajectory of Bolsonaro’s environmental policy.
Barely 24 hours later, Bolsonaro signed the Brazilian government’s 2021 budget, with a budget of 302 million euros for the Environment Ministry and core agencies. In 2020, this budget was still around 392 million euros. Throughout the year, a decision can still be made with strict conditions to deviate from the budget and possibly spend more money.
Environmental Protection Institute cut off again
Bolsonaro vetoed about 198 million euros in environmental and climate measures. The National Institute for Environmental Protection Ibama has been sharply reduced. Ibama is overseeing compliance with Brazil’s environmental legislation and has also had to contend with heavy cuts in recent years.
The Brazilian government has not responded to questions about Bolsonaro’s promise to release more funds to enforce environmental law. Journalists who asked about the cuts were referred to the Ministry of Economic Affairs.
For Member of Parliament Rodrigo Agostino, the leader of a group of lawmakers fighting against climate change, Bolsonaro must put his money in his shoes. “The signal from Thursday’s speech is not enough,” Agostino said. “The Brazilian government must do its part.”
Agostino is not alone in questioning Bolsonaro’s promises. Since the president took office in 2019, he has never been a staunch advocate of environmental protection or compliance with international environmental treaties. The president wants to mine and farm in nature reserves and indigenous areas.
Bolsonaro has been upgraded. At first he lied only on the national level. Now he is lying on an international scale.
For example, deforestation and forest fires increased in the Amazon during his tenure. Between August 2019 and July 2020, satellite data shows that deforestation increased by 9.5 percent over the previous 12 months, with deforestation the size of Jamaica. Regulations to prevent deforestation and burning of forest areas have also been relaxed and drastic cuts made in supervisory bodies such as Ibama and similar organizations.
“It’s a lie,” said the head of Brazil’s climate observatory, Marcio Esterini, of Bolsonaro’s promise to double his budget to protect the environment. “Bolsonaro has made the budget line on environmental monitoring the lowest in the past 20 years.”
Marcelo Frixo, one of the fiercest opposition leaders against the Bolsonaro government in Parliament, does not speak Bolsonaro’s words at the Climate Summit. “We saw how Bolsonaro got promoted. Initially he only lied nationally. Now he’s lying on an international scale. It’s impressive to see how he said at the summit that Brazil is strengthening environmental organizations. That’s not what people think of Ibama, ICMBio (another supervisory body). There, the chief of police in the Amazon region, who called for the protection of indigenous people in the forest and acted against illegal logging, was recently fired.
Bolsonaro’s transition could cost Brazil a lot. Due to environmental concerns and human rights, resistance is growing in Europe against the Free Trade Agreement between the MERCOSUR countries (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay) and the European Union. This was negotiated in June 2019, but has not yet been approved by the parliaments of the member states, a process that has nearly stopped since the Amazon fires. Europe could be a lucrative agricultural market supported by Bolsonaro, but without the treaty, only Brazilian products are allowed in a limited amount and with huge import tariffs. This is costing money for the Brazilian agricultural sector.
Relations with the United States are also under pressure. Bolsonaro was previously described as the “Trump the Orb”, and Biden was not impressed with his counterpart. The US President is looking for reliable partners in Latin America, especially in the area of climate change and security. But when top representatives of his government visited the region in the past two weeks, Brazil – the largest economy in Latin America – was skipped.
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